Life + Style: Profile
Creators of Cool
How DSN x MFG builds experiences
by Nicole Beckley
Portrait by Leah Muse
Maybe you posted a pic on Instagram in front of the Hollywood sign-inspired ACL logo during the 2016 Austin City Limits festival. Or selfied at this year’s SXSW before catching a catnap at the Casper mattress experience. If you did, you’re already aware of some of the work of DSN x MFG, the group behind these made-for-social-media experiences.
“At the core of who we are, we’re an experience company, but it manifests itself in a lot of different ways,” explains Brian Simpson, DSN x MFG’s CEO. Social sharing is just one piece. Started by Simpson in 2014, DSN x MFG is something of an idea hub, design house, and fabrication shop rolled into one. With a background in digital technology, Simpson wanted to create a company capable of generating ideas and bringing them to life – whether it be physically building a pop-up shop or doing the research and design work to maximize the space inside a Kasita, the sub-400 square foot home.
“There’s such a visual component to what we do, social media just lends a natural fit for us,” Simpson explains. “And that’s the main reason most of our clients come to us too, because they’re looking for social media content as well.”In a less photo-focused, technologically connected age, DSN x MFG’s work might have only been known behind the scenes.
In today’s era, a lot of people find them through Instagram—including Facebook, which contracted them to build a “tiny office” in their Austin space, complete with small chairs, a white board, and classic white ceiling tiles. “There’s an employee at Facebook Austin who had been following us on Instagram; we found this out while we were installing it,” Simpson says, “They reached out to us, per her recommendation, and the next thing you know we’re building a tiny office for Facebook.”
With normal architecture, you may work on the design, or on the logistics of the piece or the budget, and then it gets handed off to someone else and you don’t get to have that satisfaction of seeing the whole process “through,” Starr says, “I love the whole process, the end to end of it.”
Part of DSN x MFG’s visual allure is their retro, get-your-hands-dirty style. “I think everyone who works with us, and I think this is indicative of anyone who does anything with their hands, has an old soul; I know I do,” Simpson says. He points to his team’s fascination with classic cars—machines that can be taken apart, fixed, put back together. Parked outside their 10,000-square foot facility off South Congress is their iconic dark grey ’58 Ford pickup truck, emblazoned with their simple white logo, and inside one of their large bays is a cream ’74 Volvo. “We have an appreciation for things that are built with your hands,” Simpson says, noting his preferred ride, a ’72 Scout.
Their offices are part design space—with the requisite computers and meeting room, part show room, and part creation space—with a laser cutter, CNC machine, and metal and wood shop areas. In the shop music pumps and a pallet jack roams the floor below a hanging Texas flag. While their core team is six full-time employees, this spring they joined a collective with four digitally-focused firms to expand their capabilities. “Blending the digital-physical is our wheelhouse; that’s really what we want to be focused on,” says Scott Starr, DSN x MFG’s general manager.
Starr came to the team with experience as an architect and fabricator, attracted to the quick pace of production and the ability to work on each part of a project’s creation. “With normal architecture, you may work on the design, or on the logistics of the piece or the budget, and then it gets handed off to someone else and you don’t get to have that satisfaction of seeing the whole process through,” Starr says, “I love the whole process, the end to end of it.”
Projects like the tiny Facebook office or the Tiny Texas Embassy mobile retail space, built for No. Four St. James, prove especially gratifying. “There’s such a novelty to just changing the scale of something, even though it’s a very traditional design,” Starr says. “Just by making this very boring corporate-looking office tiny, it makes it fun and interesting and silly and people want to take pictures of it and crawl inside of it.”
As for what’s coming next, DSN x MFG is pushing the frontier of physical spaces, integrating interactive games, virtual reality and digital projections. This way their constructions can be more fully immersive experiences.
“This company [DSN x MFG] is a culmination of me kind of finding my own self,” Simpson says. “I went through the digital technology side of things and always had a yearning to do something with my hands. All the knowledge I had learned through working with brands in a digital format, I’ve been able to apply that to physical spaces to kind of complete the loop of a holistic experience.”