issue #20: everyday design
Caleido’s interview with Georg Schnitzer & Peter Umgeher, founders of Vandasye, Vienna-based design office, is the cover story of Issue #20, entitled: Everyday design. Welcome to Caleido, an inspirational diary, that narrates many stories: about creative people, trends, travels, objects. / Read the Editor’s letter here.
Diary of: @vandasye
1. Vandasye is a Vienna-based design studio founded by Georg Schnitzer and Peter Umgeher in 2008. What are the main experiences that led you to meet and join forces?
Let’s start from the beginning… I (Georg Schnitzer) studied graphic design and Peter got into industrial design and we met at university. We started seeing each other regularly and working on different projects. But it was after 2006 that we thought about joining forces… It was interesting to work together, combining graphic design and industrial design, to find out what the results could be.
Between 2006 and 2008 we were in London and there, I think in 2007, we started to intensify the four-handed work and ask ourselves what the deeper meaning could be. At that time we still didn’t have a name in the industry, how could we start from scratch? What did we have to do to be recognised as a real studio? What was our language supposed to be? So we decided to take a year off from everything and focus on one project. That was our first portfolio, a kind of manifesto. At the time we had recently moved into a new flat, which was quite empty. So we thought: ‘how can we exploit this empty space, turning it into our starting point? How can we imagine a flat of the future, creating simple furniture and products? With these questions in mind, we developed a series of furniture using 3D printing and laser cutting, combined with pre-production objects. It was an easy, inexpensive technology that did not force large-scale production, and allowed for simple assembly, using only a few screws.
In parallel, we were working on a digital archive, which we called ‘context’, created to show visitors to our site that we knew design had quite a long history and what direction we wanted to work in.
2. In this kind of ‘mechanised’ production, data and prototypes can be made anywhere automatically. If the value of design is no longer only linked to production, i.e. to quality and the ability to produce something, what could the value of design be in the future?
I don’t know if this answers your question, but we believe that design should find its true value in design or material aspects, or in the combination of these things, rather than on production. Many companies are too involved in their production process, and therefore often devalue the conceptual power of design and the opportunities it could generate. People in companies often do not have the time, or the focus, even to understand the potential of a design. With decentralised production, companies could instead have the opportunity to do something different than in the past, concentrating their efforts upstream, and this could perhaps lead to an impact of surprising magnitude.
3. You are responsible for the curatorship, set-up and visual identity of the exhibition ‘Design Everyday’ at @viennadesignweek, a kind of archive highlighting what is happening in the contemporary world. What are the main changes that society is making that designers should consider for their work? Are there any main lines that society is giving designers as briefs?
This is a very complex question that we would struggle to answer, as we are part of the very society we live in… There was a time when designers contributed to society by creating, or responding to, needs. Today, however, I am not sure that designers are still responding to society’s needs. I have the impression that many designers instead just study which archetypes sell well, and come up with variations on the theme. Speaking of us, each of our projects starts from a zero-point, from researching what already exists and then focusing on how to improve it. Only time will help us evaluate the impact of what we create: maybe in ten years we will be able to sit back and think about it. But in the meantime it is difficult to know what the direction is, where we are really going… For now it is a long-term test.
4. You work on projects ranging from industrial products to exhibition design. What design traits distinguish Vandasye?
Many designers have a very strong style of their own, while others start from the study of client companies and adapt their design to them… When we collaborate with a company, we see design as a partnership and think that everyone can learn from each other. We are always really curious to learn from the company because everyone sees totally different things.
If we think back to different starting points, we don’t remember a project where we could already imagine the end from the starting point. So we have to understand and respect the fact that each project is always a process, which develops in a context of continuous change. Of course, if we did not start from scratch every time, it would be a shorter process in terms of time. But we like to start from scratch and really think about everything, to explore a new direction each time. I don’t know how to describe it… it’s a constant feeling: if we start doing something, we have to rewind the tape to the point where we see a new starting point. The greatest satisfaction? Stopping along the way and saying to yourself: ‘OK, let’s keep going, because it’s working!
5. Is research into materials part of your stylistic identity? I see a lot of materials here in your studio, so I think it is a fundamental pillar of your style…
Yes, I think we are very attracted to materials, from many points of view. First of all from the aesthetic side, i.e. how they look and how they can be combined; especially when we can make materials talk to each other in a completely new and surprising way. This is one of the advantages of working together and not just alone: sometimes you can surprise yourself. I believe that materials are also important for two other reasons: an economic one, as a large part of the cost of the final product depends on them, and another ethical one, related to their environmental impact. We have been working on these issues since 2012, also doing exhibitions on the concept of no-waste materials. We always try to combine materials that are already available, reusable, and above all, durable. And this is not so easy, because new generation materials that combine these three parameters are rather expensive.
6. You have touched on a central theme: the cost of design… Nowadays, design is often associated with luxury, as it is expensive. But according to the historicity of its nature, it should be more related to the typical accessibility of an everyday object. How can we bring these two characteristics together?
You are absolutely right. Design historically comes from a different background, that of the Bauhaus, which wanted to make furniture accessible. And to make them so, they started using machinery to produce them, which was much cheaper than human labour. I’m always very surprised when I hear people say, “Is this a design object?” Of course it is! It couldn’t be otherwise, because behind every object there is a designer, a designer in fact… So here we enter into a territory of discussion between the goals of an object (in itself), and the goals of ‘design’. Which of the two should the designer be concerned with? I think both. And to succeed, he must necessarily start with the subject of price: how do we keep the price affordable enough so that people can afford it and use it properly? By using less material? Or by using a cheaper material? Or by using a more expensive material, but one that lasts longer and therefore allows people to buy less and use what they have for longer?
7. This issue of durability is a huge theme for many sectors, think of fashion… Are there any other characteristics that an everyday object must have in order to be considered noteworthy, and therefore become part of your exhibition at @viennadesignweek?
We honestly don’t have a checklist, we’ve never had one. I confess that we thought about it from the beginning, but we always ruled it out because we wanted to keep a space for subjectivity. If you look closely at the products on display, you can see that they are very different from each other… They also come from totally different design studios, whose directions of investigation are heterogeneous. Some designers work closely with industry, others for their own self-produced brand, others are more related to craftsmanship. In our work as curators, we try never to judge our colleagues, but rather to enhance their productions in order to capture their most interesting or attractive aspects. Ours is a ‘simple’ choice, aimed at stimulating the visitors of @viennadesignweek.
8. What is the DNA of Austrian design? What are the common characteristics of their way of doing things, and what unexplored spaces do you see?
Every year we do a lot of research to be able to intercept the many students who are conducting very interesting studies and experiments; we go to exhibitions or ask studios we know the names of other creatives working in this field… The team of designers in Austria is not very large, it is a real community. I think one of the main aspects of Design Everyday is precisely to show, as part of @viennadesignweek, what Austrian design is and the areas it deals with. It is true that many people still don’t know exactly what design is, and find it hard to associate simple, everyday products with design. And this is certainly due to a major gap in Austrian design itself: we go from a large number of Austrian designers, such as Otto Wagner (1841 – Vienna 1918), exhibited in design museums all over the world, to an almost total vacuum after the Second World War. Only in the 1970s do we find a new Viennese vibe, revived by experimental architecture. The after-effects of this vacuum we still pay for today, still having to explain here in Austria what design is. What does a designer do? What is the process? How do designers and companies interact? I’ve always wondered what that dynamic is like in other countries, whether it’s the same or not?
9. For us in Italy, the word ‘design’ is synonymous with furniture. So if I use the word ‘design’ in Italy, it does not mean project, but furniture. So the first time I went to @viennadesignweek, I was very impressed by the totally different focus compared to ours: there is a lot of talk about experimentation and process, and less about finished objects. Maybe they are prototypes or maybe they are concepts, they are not finished objects.
It’s incredible! It’s true, and that’s exactly why we want to focus on finished objects instead, to show the ‘end’ of the story as well. We want to show finished, marketed or marketable objects, so as not to confuse people too much. The aim is also to focus on the new generation of Austrian designers, to look in them for the elements that make up the DNA of Austrian design: a design that likes to investigate conceptually unexplored spaces, in a – perhaps too – intellectual dimension, in which form – mistakenly – is not always so important…
10. What is an object in your home that you would never give up? What is the memory attached to it? Would you send us a picture taken by you?
It is very difficult to find just one object. Although we spend our lives creating objects, I am not so attached to one particular object… I think for me it is more important how I get an object. I think if I were to give away all objects or products and keep only one, it would be a gift received from a special person…. Maybe the first letter my daughter wrote to me when she learnt to write.