FROM ACCIDENT TO AMBASSADOR OF DUTCH DESIGN
It all started back in 1984 as an accident. I had just graduated from the Eindhoven Design Academy (then the AIVE). I was in my workshop and started to carve sculptures from Styrofoam. Not naked women but scale models of sofas that I’d like to have in my house someday. Today, 30 years later, Studio Schrofer is a multi-disciplinary team with designs all over the world with some of the most reputable international brands.
This week, I’ll be travelling to Korea as a Dutch Design Ambassador to the Seoul Living Design Fair. As my departure date nears and I work on compiling my portfolio, I find myself reflecting over three decades of design. The journey from making my own models in my workshop with dreams of making them for real, right up to this moment, has been exciting, challenging and a roll-a-coaster of lessons in life. One of main things I’ve learnt along the way is that design is about sharing culture. In these moments of reflection, I thought I’d share some of my ideas on design with you.
THE ART OF ROASTING A SOFA
A good design is like a good meal but only if you know your onions. Only by understanding the inherent properties of your ingredients or materials, and when and how to combine them, can you create a visually pleasing and ergonomically appetizing design.
I have always been fascinated with how things work, how one technique affects another or how one material influences the properties of another. If you don’t know how to define and execute your style then you are captive to local interpretation and taste. Like instead of making a meal from scratch with fresh produce, you end up having to make something from what’s in the supermarket or worse from yesterdays left over’s made by someone else.
So get your hands dirty, start a garden, grow your own produce! Create a learning exchange with masters of different materials and processes and get them to explain these things in detail and listen carefully if they come up with alternative suggestions, cooking, like design is a fusion of materials made and delivered by experts in their field, like farmers rearing live stock or growing vegetables, sometimes they know things you don’t.
So get to know your onions and you’ll have the basis of great design.
DESIGN IS A DEMOCRACY – NOT A BEAUTY PAGEANT
Beautiful design concepts cross the desks of branded manufacturers every day but beauty is sometimes not always in the eye of the beholder, designers need to pitch their design clearly. Just like in elections, everyone wants something different from a good design. The president wants a design that represents the company’s values. Management wants healthy profit margins, sales people need acceptable prices, R&D teams demand clarity in construction and assembly, and suppliers need to plan materials with logistics. If any single faction is left unsatisfied, your design gets vetoed because one or more of these things fails your concept.
If you experience this, use diplomacy and find out why. Can you bend a sympathetic ear? If not top management, tug at the sales people who have their fingers on the pulse of their market. The difference from being a good designer to being a leader in your field is learning from your feed back and making this a tremendous learning opportunity to understand where improvements can be made and what skills need polishing. In the land of Democratic Design, the customer is King, the more votes you get, the more royalties (pun intended) you receive so get the public in and on your side, show your concepts off and get their voices to support you!
NO JOKE – LEARN TO IMPROVISE
My designs are coveted because of their voluptuous, sculptural, three-dimensional quality. We produce sketches, technical drawings, proto-types and still, even after 30 years in the industry, despite all the preparation and confirmations, I can still find myself eye-to-eye with R&D specialists who have a problem with a specific construction issue. Upholsterers challenge the curves, technicians confront the dimensions and welders question the strength. And on top of all that usually the clock is ticking to get the model completed for show time.
Designers need to work with the tools available at the factory and within the limitations of the tooling at hand so learn to improvise. Everyone is usually staring at you for solutions so dare to dare. Substitutions? Eliminations? Different tooling? We call these brain crackers “Beautiful Headaches” so never be afraid of adapting if and where you can and I promise you, I discovered the result is usually sweet and the audience applauds.
WHAT I KNOW NOW
Thirty years of design have taught me that by being a Jack-of-All-Trades I am slowly becoming the master of my own concepts. The exciting part is that I still learn something new with every concept I create or design everyday, I hope you do, too.