In a society full of objects a young generation starts living light from a suitcase and it often crosses our minds that we have enough stuff. In regard to this designers and the world of design are closely related to producing more and more. There is certainly concern about this, but how to combine that concern with the desire to research, explore and create new objects in an industry that thrives on new and where being able to obtain objects is seen as an act of luxury for long?Meanwhile design has a much more prominent position in society than ever before and there has been a shift: design is not only about objects anymore, but also about strategies for future developments. The profession has grown up, it can take action and set examples for new directions. Does design move from tangible to intangible results and can this be the new luxury?• Are there good reasons to design yet another chair?• What is the role of technology and the designer?• Can we reduce by choosing our topics and strategies well and more conscious and if so: what are the area's where design is needed and can make an impact?The first round table conversation started off with looking at the status quo of Furniture design, the last will look into good reasons to design furniture and focus on design directions: the luxury of less, and future parameters for design.
Date & location: 1 February 2017 - Studio Tord Boontje, East LondonModerator: Oliver Stratford (Disegno Magazine)Start-up speakers:- Daniel Golling (Summit) wrote an essay for Stockholm's National Museum: 'How We Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Chair'. He will take a reflective view on the issue and talk about the unavoidable need for yet another chair.- Tord Boontje- initiator of electrocraft, keeps his finger on the pulse of the latest 'electro techno' developments in design, works for clients in the field of luxury and on new strategic concepts. He will speak about his experiences.- Jeremy Meyerson (professor & researcher for the RCA's Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design) is curator of Design Museum's pop-up exhibition 'New Olds designing for our Future Selves'. He will talk about topical themes in our society where design can make sense and influence our future.Participants: Riya Patel (Aram Gallery) Joni Steiner (Opendesk), Marion Friedman (Marion Friedman Gallery), Max Fraser (London Design Guide) Jana Scholze (Kingston University), James Mair (Viaduct), Karen Cheung (studio director) and designers Fred Baier, Max Frommeld, Tim Simpson (Glithero), Paula Arntzen, Mathias Hahn, Nina Tolstrup, Adam Blencowe, Ineke Hans, Thor ter Kulve (photo's)
Ineke Hans: Welcome to this last salon and thank you Tord for having us. Oliver Stratford will guide us through the evening because he can do things that I cannot since I am always too carried away with conversations. I also like to thank our speakers: Daniel Golling who has come all the way from Sweden to be with us tonight. (applause sounds)I am happy that Tord will also speak and Jeremy who curated the exhibition New Olds in the Design Museum that is on at the moment... I have a catalogue of it with me tonight that you can see and heard him say at one point that it's a great gift for Easter, but that is all up to you of course. I pass you over to Oliver now: Enjoy!
Oliver Stratford: I want to give over to our speakers as soon as possible, but I'd like to say a few words to the idea of 'luxury of less'.My starting point was the 'What's luxury?' exhibition that took place at the V&A and did a good job in breaking down the ideas that we have about luxury. We speak about luxury predominantly in relation to objects and qualities in the object itself: the craftsmanship that has gone into it, the expertise that has produced it and the precious materials that have gone into it.Interesting thing about that though is that most of the commonplace uses of luxury that we have don't seem to fit into that. When labelling something as luxury, I am always thinking of Christmas when supermarkets start labelling things like 'luxury mince pie', or you can book luxury holiday experience online. We apply the term luxury to objects and experiences that were traditionally a luxury itself.So, what do we mean with the 'luxury of less'? What we don't mean is luxury as an indulgence, where it is very tied to excess. Another interesting use of 'luxury' that is relevant for design is where it is used as a value judgement, as a normative term and where it suggests a quality, an exclusivity or superiority and people want something that is luxury since it is better or somehow it betters you. Owning that object is a reflection on you and is doing something there.If luxury operates that way, that is interesting for design because it depends on what values are put into design.In the notes Ineke send over to us - which I agree with - she speaks of a general tendency in design of discomfort with production and a discomfort with consumption. This is particular apparent in student projects, but there is also IKEA's phrase 'Peak-stuff'. We have an abundance and a desire to move away from that and we have an acceptance that that abundance is not a good thing. There is Hella Jongerius' 'Beyond the New Manifesto' that sets out on that out too. It is obviously tricky because there is no obvious way for design to move away from production and creating new things. Particularly when production drives new ideas and technology where designers experiment.So what does it mean for 'luxury'? I think we have to link luxury to those values which drive those fears about consumption and production: climate change, fears over the economic model, ceaseless consumption and neo-liberalism. There is a desire in design to produce outputs which are bettering and if values are moving away from the creation of more, it is a good case to be made perhaps that luxury gets associated with this idea of less.So, if there is a desire for social improvements, ecological friendly products, for design strategies that will reduce the need for new objects and for rationalisation of systems and greater efficiency and encouraging new social values in the audience this has also interesting implications for the role of the designer! That perhaps moves away the designers practice from the more traditional industrial model.Anyway... these were my initial thoughts around 'less and luxury', so I am going to hand over now to Daniel who wrote an essay for Stockholm's National Museum.
Daniel Golling: First of all I want to say that I wrote this essay together with Gustaf Kjellin of Summit. The thing you mentioned in your introduction Oliver is that we actually like production and this was one of the starting points when we wrote the essay: 'How We Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Chair'.Sometimes when you are in the debate about design you hear people say things like: "we don't really need more chairs, so we should stop making chairs". And we thought: What do they mean? Do they mean stop making, or stop designing? And why mention specifically chairs and not tables? What role does the chair play in society? Can we really do without more chairs in the future?We quickly came to the conclusion that we can only speculate about the future, we don't know anything about it. So we looked from that to design. One of the things about design is that it's about problem solving and where we might know about our problems today, we don't know about our future problems and that in itself is an argument that there will be stuff for designers to do then and also on chairs.There is also a political dimension to the comment to stop making chairs, because if we are in a state of Utopia - where everything is already accomplished - there would not be any need for design and creativity anymore. The political vision of Utopia is that it is a society that we are striving for and as long as we do that, design has a political dimension with the idea that a better world can be realised through design.Next to that we wanted to point out the role the chair has played in history as a symbol of equality. It is not that long that just a very few people sat on chairs. Only people of importance started to sit down and do nothing like kings, clergymen and like us doing here today. (crippling laughter). So a chair is also a symbol of how society has in fact evolved and became more equal.Not sure if this fits in at all with the idea of less, since we were arguing for the need of more, but you could say it is a luxury to sit down and relax.Oliver Stratford: Do you think there is any stigma around the chair - as an archetypical object and emblematic of 20th century design - that it becomes a posterboy for a particular vision of design that it does not fit with ways we speak about design now?
Daniel Golling: Well, yes looking at how we sit here today, you could say we don't need more chairs for that and that we should give our creative capabilities and resources to other stuff: solving problems that the world is facing, or finding new ways to work as a designer with new meanings for design. The chair is a very powerful symbol, since everyone has a relationship to it and there are not many other objects of design that we all relate to like a chair.
Oliver Stratford: Maybe this is a good thing to open out a bit. Ineke your first salon focused on the status quo of furniture design today we are now looking a bit to the future of it. Has anyone any thoughts on this?
Max Fraser: I meet a lot of students and there is a feeling there that it is a bit mad to go these trade halls where you look at chairs: hour upon hour, days upon days. There is definitely an appetite from the younger generation that we need to embrace some of the bigger problems in the world.But just to your point about the definition of 'luxury'... I was involved in a talk series about 'dystopia' in New York recently where Alice Rawsthorn said: "one man's utopia is someone else's dystopia". This of course counts for luxury as well: one man's luxury is not for somebody else.Then your point about the validity of the chair... I have been guilty of saying that we don't need more chairs a few times myself, but I say it provocative and flippantly. Ultimately your definition about design is it being functional, where a chair is a totally functional prop for your body and we vanish in endless variations of a chair, which is in a way a form of luxury.Getting back to the original point though... I do get a sense that there is a desire to move on from furniture into problem solving in other area's.
Ineke Hans: I did a small exhibition in the Furniture Galleries of the V&A this summer. Interesting to see there that people would mimic luxury: if you could not afford gold, you guilded furniture, or you painted trompe oeil on it to make it look luxurious.Of course it is also a matter of taste, but at the moment there is also a reluctance of that world. In Holland we had these big standing clocks, grandfather clocks. I have a friend whose father was in the business of those clocks when they were worth a fortune. His father died and he got some of them and found out no one was interested anymore and they were not worth a penny. There is a generation that starts to live from a suitcase and is not so interested anymore in 'having'. For me it is interesting that we seem to move away from a material to an immaterial world.
Max Fraser: There is less status from stuff.
Ineke Hans: Well stuff is boring! You just have to drag it along with you.... My son loves books, but he is not going to move them with him his whole life.
Fred Baier: That clock is very poignant, since it belonged to a time where it was special and where time meant something different then than now, but it has been of all times that we have to adjust our furniture and tools for living and the idea of luxury changes along with it.
Adam Blencowe: I was thinking about technology and the relationship to luxury. When you talked about the clocks they were very valuable because they were the best. Highly crafted instruments at the time in the same way as an iPhone 7 is now and people now yearn for that as an instrument. The latest technology has always been linked to luxury.
Jeremy Meyerson: If you then look into our culture, a chair is so much in advance of a smartphone. If we look at our language you find 'seats of power': seats of government seats of learning... when you become a professor at university you get a chair, you don't get a smartphone. We should not forget that the role of furniture is deeply embedded in our culture with thrones and who sat on the highest chair, etc. That has gone right through medieval, renaissance and Victorian times upto the modern day. We are in fraud to technology at the moment, but we are in danger of underselling the fundamental cultural importance of furniture.
Oliver Stratford: You are dead right: chairs are embedded in culture and connected to power structures, but I wonder if some of these symbols are not changing? Interesting enough if you nowadays become the president of the USA you get a special encrypted smartphone. Mr. Donald Trump refuses to use his and still uses his old android, but as time goes on other things seem to be woven into our lives. Maybe the current social and political events will shape that a bit?
Tord Boontje: Something has shifted - say since 2008 - when the crises started. One of them is space. A lot of young people do not expect their own living environment anymore, or the furniture that goes with it. Where if we count how many chairs we have, we have a lot more chairs than smartphones. Young people don't spend any money on furniture, they spend it on experiences and go on amazing holidays. They find it easier to spend three or four hundred pounds on a dinner at Noma in Copenhagen than to buy a chair.Chairs are however expressions of our culture. If we go back to 2004 when I started working with Moroso I made embroidered chairs. I tried to make a romantic world and it was how I tried to change the cultural environment that I was in. In 2004 Konstantin Grcic did 'Chair_One' which was a huge success, because of a good price but also because it expressed the rise of the digital world. It is not a comfortable chair - not less than any other chairs - but it sells less than the Thonet 14 chair.
Ineke Hans: Well... they sold a lot of that one. It was the worlds number one seller ever.
Tord Boontje: But nowadays anymore. I am just not particular struck by any chair that I have seen in the last 3 years in the sense of: 'wow this is an expression of the world we are living in now'. I think we go through a poverty - maybe because young people are not interested in furniture - but I see a lot of retro. Maybe it is because of Trump, but I think through chairs you can also read the mood of society as well.
Ineke Hans: I am actually very optimistic. I think that there is a lot of interesting stuff going on now. Joni is doing interesting things with Opendesk and open source furniture. The way we have to look at flat pack again with furniture that is send around when sold online. There are very interesting challenges for designers now. You can say: yes but that is only about functionality but in the end... if people do buy furniture they do that because they are in love with it so you have to work on more than just functionality. I don't mind buying apples with a funny spot and I buy furniture with a funny twist. Again there you could say that I am distorted as a designer because I look at things like: 'hmm that's an interesting piece of cultural heritage to move on from". I do think there are interesting challenges for furniture.
Max Fraser: I just looked at the 'Designs of the Year Award' and they seemed to have ditched the Furniture category. It is now 'Product'.
Oliver Stratford: Maybe this is a good point Tord to bring in what you were piling to speak about. You worked on furniture, but also with technology and as a consultancy for brands. How do commissioners in design respond to these ideas of luxury?
Tord Boontje: The world I operate in has an old fashioned understanding of luxury: things that make life more comfortable, like a good raincoat that lasts for years.I just think of Perriet-Jouët now a champagne brand that I work with and Tim does too. What they have to do is: innovate to be noticed by people, otherwise they quickly disappear. We do installations and work for them at cultural events like fairs only to get that name circulated as a taste maker for society.But I am also working with people in Senegal on the chair Jeremy sits on. That is only since Moroso takes an interest in working with these people next to working with their factories in Italy.And because Moroso links their infrastructure to it these products become economical and by providing also social and cultural component to this furniture it becomes luxury for us.
Oliver Stratford: Tim, in the context of Perriet-Jouët. How do you feel to work in that context?
Tim Simpson: For me the term 'luxury' comes from marketing where you are promised a dream. With Glithero our focus is often very much on the process. We started working with Perriet-Jouët and made an installation for Design Miami called 'Lost Time'. Our challenge was to use as little material as possible. We hanged constructions of beads in an environment, used light to shine on it and we worked with reflection. The value of the piece was in the reflection in the water underneath (a kind of dream) and if disrupted by the visitor it would not be there.
Joni Steiner: Why did you choose minimalism to represent a very luxury brand?
Tim Simpson: We were able to evoke a feeling of something they could not posses, of something ephemeral.
Ineke Hans: So in a way you offer an experience.
Tord Boontje: The piece is moved now to their cellars and when you go in there it's all very cold and suddenly when you go around the corner there is a magical moment. It's a serious moment.
James Mair: I bet it is a serious moment. The Perriet-Jouët cellars!
Joni Steiner: You create a brand experience obviously.
Ineke Hans: Isn't it interesting that if you go to the fair in Milan nowadays that Zona Tortona has turned into an experience park? Big companies like Canon, Sony, Perriet-Jouët, whoever create installations and if you are lucky you can find a chair in a corner. Most of the time you enter a theme park where designers are very much involved in and where people want to be a part of because it is attractive.Back to old times: I once saw the excavations of a room in Crete where every one sat on stone benches. Also the King, but he had just an extra decoration painted at the back of him on the wall to make him standing out. This is in a way also an experience.
Daniel Golling: Has the luxury experience of champagne not to do with the fact that for most people it is unobtainable? It is something different than going to McDonalds.
Ineke Hans: The interesting thing is the position of the designer in this, where we move from people that think about functional objects with lumbar support to designers of situations where there is no lumbar support but an experience, for instance to sit on an orange knob like here in front of me.
Tord Boontje: In a restaurant like Noma in Copenhagen you can still sit on a chair, but furniture and interiors go more hand in hand with experience. Still I wonder why companies like canon or any tech company likes to show in Milan at all?
Ineke Hans: Like Perriet-Jouët: they need to have their name exposed!
Riya Patel: Technology is still not very differentiating. Designers have that knowledge of materials and aesthetics to make things distinctive. These companies are interested in that.
Nina Tolstrup: What is the reality of producing less? Are there any numbers?
Joni Steiner: Well the reality is that we are in a society that is focussed on growth for companies that have investors. The idea is that growth is success and that you cannot have prosperity without growth. In a company like IKEA they have also a sustainability section with guy there whose task it was to look at sustainability and to see if it would be possible to sell less things. As you know they had this phrase 'Peak-curtains'. This guy came up with this very convincing diagram showing that if you would sell a sofa for £ 200.00 that is also the end of a clients association with the brand. But If you would design a system where you could repair the sofa you can extend the life cycle of objects and even if you recycle the sofa you extend the contact with the client and extract the amount of money you make on furniture. As soon as this adds up for their accounting department they will implement it and then IKEA will not only be a source for consuming, but also a material bank or something. Now they are talking already about fixing things... Not sure if it's about luxury, but it is about another scale of consumption.
James Mair: The thing comes down to how you want to experience products. And that is much more a thing in the contract market where for instance restaurants want an experience. In contract you can already rent furniture for temporary use, but the next step for contract and domestic could be leasing deals. Would it not be fun if you could have a Corbusier for a year at home or Sottsass!
Ineke Hans: It could be very desirable if you see how people change their living environments now by changing pillow covers and wallpapers.
Oliver Stratford: As a curator of this exhibition 'What is Luxury?' Jana I wonder what you would have to say about luxury?
Jana Scholze: More than about luxury I like to think about a renaissance of chairs coming back soon because life has changed so dramatically! We are sitting far too much and our life is reduced to sitting. Chairs are the closest to our body, but we are not shaped for the chair and also not for sitting so long. I think that one of the major challenges for the future can be taken up by medicine, but also by furniture design! Yes there was perhaps some saturation for furniture, but we have to engage with this soon, so that it will become a luxury when you don't feel your back and your body after sitting for a day.
Oliver Stratford: Considering the impact on the body I think this is a good moment to hand over to Jeremy to talk about 'design for our future selves'. He curated the exhibition 'New Old' which I think is a good and very thought provoking show that's on at the Design Museum at the moment.
Jeremy Meyerson: What I am talking about in the exhibition is not about the luxury of objects, but about the luxury of having extra years. It is an exhibition around society getting older, because of economic developments and better healthcare. What I deliberately tried to do is - instead of looking at old age as a demographic time bomb - celebrate the fact that most of us will live 10-15 years longer than our parents. So I looked at it as a gift. Not as 'a life full of years' but as 'years full of life'.The exhibition tries to show what the products and services are that will support that and there is a range of design disciplines in there like fashion design, transport design, product design, service design, interaction design and also furniture design. I did want furniture in there because I think it is the key design challenge and intellectually it frames a hole lot of other design activities.I also commissioned for different sections of the exhibition and asked Konstantin Grcic to do a piece. He chose to work on the 'Work-brief' and took a painting that is in the National Gallery by Antonello da Messina called 'St. Jerome in His Study' of 1475. In this painting you get this older vulnerable scholar in his study on a raised dais where you can see out over the Tuscany hills. Konstantin took the inside to the outside and made a galvanised structure with a disability ramp that goes up. He created a work station for old people with a beautiful view. In our case you look at the hyperbolic roof of the new Design Museum.What is interesting about the piece is that it is both functional to sit and work on and open to the heavens. What Konstantin wanted to say is that older people are not retreating from the world. They are out there and looking at the heavens. It's the most symbolic and abstract piece in the exhibition and it is actually the discipline of furniture design that has enabled that. I think that is interesting because the luxury we are talking about here is not the luxury of the object itself, but the luxury of having extra years to do things.So in a way, having written a lot about furniture early in my career - profiling people like Fred - and then moving away from it into technology, I come back with this exhibition finding that furniture is incredibly relevant as a way of thinking of the design process.
Ineke Hans: We talked earlier about experience and furniture. I think an interesting piece in the exhibition is also the one from Industrial Facility where they actually propose that a company like Amazon also becomes a service organisation. If we talk about luxury and experience than service is very much about experience and that is an interesting connection on a functional level!
Jeremy Meyerson: You raise a good point. One of the key commissions for the exhibition is by Sam Hecht and Kim Colin of Industrial Facility. They came up with a concept themselves imagining that Amazon or a tech company would do apartments for older people.This apartment is very pure. All the domestic appliances are two dimensional and flush with the wall. There is a fridge, a washing machine... and at the other side of the wall there is a service corridor. You sign a contract with Amazon and instead of just delivering the appliances they also take care of the service and stuff your fridge at the other side, they make sure the detergent is not running out and they replace a washing machine when it is broken. The point is that Amazon - delivering millions of appliances already - collects your data and it is about how much data you want to seed, where on an other level you get something back: a no-cares apartment. It is stressfree living and I have heard people in their twenties saying: "I want that fridge, I'll sign a service contract!".
Ineke Hans: It combines the world of high-tech and data with furniture.
Fred Baier: I am all for it. It is the reinvention of 'Below Stairs'.
Tord Boontje: But it is a bit cold as well: for the same amount of money you can have a housekeeper or a friend who would go to the shops with you and have a chat.
Ineke Hans: Ok, but in the exhibition you also have Paro the seal which is a robot that is camouflaged as a seal and here I really felt: 'This is what we get if we have a lack of hands to take care of old people'. With the pieces of Sam I had the feeling: 'This is a good thing half way, where it is very human on one side and on the other side dealing with us giving away our data when you click on internet'.
Jeremy Meyerson: What Sam Hecht and Kim Colin have done is really clever. They have not done a scary scifi-movie of the apartment.
Max Fraser: Did they develop that specifically for old people? The reason I ask that is that if I think of anyone old that I encounter, they find hugh validity in those mundane tasks and they might think: 'Jesus what is there left to do?!'.
Jeremy Meyerson: Basically what happened is that Sam's father's washing machine had broken down and they got another one and that did not work either. Sam told this scenario where they ended up with three done washing machines in one tiny apartment and an old man pulling his hair out! At that point Sam was trying to sort it all out for his dad and he realised that actually consumer electronics companies can get a box in an out of an apartment, but they don't understand the service element. They don't understand how stressful that is with an apartment full of dirty clothes, when you are living on your own, etc..
Adam Blencowe: Do you deal with loneliness and older people?
Jeremy Meyerson: Well, there is a section about communities and we have some data on loneliness which is quite shocking actually, it's about how often do people feel lonely in older age, it particularly effects older women whose spouses tend to die, etc. But we commissioned an Ipsos-MORI poll and one of the questions was: 'Do you want to be taken care of by robots or humans?'. I was expecting 98% would say 'humans', but 25% of the survey said 'robots'! Amongst the younger people it was a third!But then, when you see what is coming out of Japan with Paro the seal... Japan is a very homogeneous culture, they don't have immigrant labour to take care of their aging population. One in four in Japan is over 65 now. That is not cultural acceptable for the Japanese and the thing that has driven their advanced robotics program and their soft robotics program is not to be in the technological lead, but it's their aging problems.
Oliver Stratford: We spoke a lot about different outcomes for design. We talked about objects and their interactions and also about dematerialised outcomes and systems. If we talk about design more in terms of interactions and less in terms of objects that perhaps connects to one of the big cultural symbols of our time which is: 'the network' where you stop seeing yourself as a sole object or individual, right?
Tim Simpson: I am wondering: 'is the desire for less objects not just a response to going through this phase of abundance that we had and is it maybe something cyclic?'.
Tord Boontje: Another reality our time to that is immigration. During the Second World War you would put all your belongings in one bag and leave on a minute's notice. You separated yourself completely from possessions. What was valuable was in your bag and the people you were with. Objects and a home got destroyed and meant something else. Now you see that again with wars in Syria, refugee camps. People have a different feeling of belonging and that filters through to people like myself.
Ineke Hans: I don't know... especially our western society has always been geared up for possession. Possession became a sign of luxury and of status. We went through a democratic system where you can say that now everyone is wealthy. You can complain about the costs of space, but we live well here. Do we have a generation that is not interested in possession anymore because they take it for granted? The grandfather clocks are not so welcome anymore because there is less interest in status.
Thor ter Kulve: Back in the days when these clocks were hip, the nicest thing you could do with your money was buying a hip thing: buy a wicked clock. Now you can travel and can have awesome dinners around the world. If you then look at objects and experiences, the experiences became affordable and the objects are still rather expensive.
Tim Simpson: Now you put the photo's of your travels and dinner on your facebook page and you do that for the same reason as when your aspiration was 'the clock'.
Max Fraser: There is a sort of abundance verses scarcity thing. I was talking to somebody the other day about experience where the great luxury now is to go somewhere where there is no wifi and no connection at all. That in itself is a scarcity on its own now we are constantly bombarded with information.
Ineke Hans: I once mentioned an app called WhiteSpots. It tells you where to go to be offline completely.
Tord Boontje: The last apple update switches off your iPhone as well.
Ineke Hans: And that is all service offered through design!
Oliver Stratford: Maybe that's a good point to close it there. I mean: 'we spoke about sitting down for too long...'
Max Fraser: Lets have a luxury biscuit!