This New York Design Duo Chooses Excellence Over Ego

Visibility’s Joseph Guerra and Sina Sohrab specialize in unremarkable objects that speak volumes through fluid lines and flawless forms.

Joseph Guerra and Sina Sohrab.

Humility seems all but forgotten in the age of the selfie. But for New York–based design firm Visibility, founded in 2012 by soft-spoken 27-year-olds Joseph Guerra and Sina Sohrab, making unflashy objects is their holy grail. The studio’s name—sometimes abbreviated as the flight term VSBY to signal their shared respect for engineering—encapsulates the duo’s definition of good design, which they feel should silently communicate its purpose. “You can make all kinds of statements that are unspoken,” Guerra says. “Starting a design project that wasn’t just about us meant we could focus on design itself.”

The ethos of their work—sculptural everyday objects that exude elegance and energy notwithstanding their simplicity—developed collaboratively from the start. As students at the Rhode Island School of Design, they studied with a small but eclectic cohort: Peers included artists such as Katie Stout, who was developing her playful stuffed chairs as Guerra and Sohrab were perfecting their archetypical seats. They devoured Jasper Morrison’s SuperNormal and Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows—books that underscored the power of quiet objects and tranquil environments—and realized that their shared idols and goals made for a fruitful partnership. (“We also realized how hard it’d be to go it alone,” Guerra says.)

Both men were reared by families who viewed objects as long-term possessions that were earned, and therefore respected. Born in Iran, Sohrab moved to the U.S. when he was 7; Guerra grew up in L.A. and Atlanta watching his entrepreneur father, a second-generation Mexican American, make purchases in the spirit of doing something meaningful with his hard-earned cash. “Our families attach a lot of sentimental value to objects,” Sohrab says. “When we design things, we hope people have that same kind of connection to them.”

Visibility’s latest work is an evolution from their initial 2014 collection, which was composed of porcelain kitchen tools, a bent-steel mirror, and a rubber-tipped wood coat stand. Launching early this year are bento box–inspired stacking trays for Normann Copenhagen, a 3D-printed steel bottle opener for Othr, and soft technical goods for a new brand cofounded by alums from Opening Ceremony and North Face. They’re also completing a to-be-announced interiors project, drawing on experience from similar work for Everlane, Away, and Thinx.

When the duo started their firm, outsourcing the production and retail to their clients made a lot of sense, a practice that continues today. Though it means fielding bizarre cold calls (like a request to design a toilet-bowl sensor), they wouldn’t have it any other way. Prior to cofounding Visibility, Guerra interned at London’s Industrial Facility (“We didn’t have to prototype all day—we designed,” he says) while Sohrab worked for lighting designer Bec Brittain, where he discovered his distaste for the self-production side of design.

Asked why industrial design is their creative outlet of choice, the guys turn matter-of-fact. “It’s a very literal way of sending things into the world,” Guerra says. “They’re just stools and bookends, but people buy them and put them into their homes. In their own way, they change the landscape.”

The Kyuzo collection for Matter Made.
Visibility’s Oaxaca Case.
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