SAM HECHT 15
Cover: Liteplug Muji Japan (2008)
I am still looking for my big break through
A DECADE AFTER SAM HECHT FOUNDED INDUSTRIAL FACILITY TOGETHER WITH KIM COLIN – AND LATER IPPEI MATSUMOTO – THE COMPANY IS FIRMLY ESTABLISHED. BUT HE DIDN’T STOP DREAMING: "I AM NATURALLY INTERESTED IN HOW A FACTORY CAN ACCOMMODATE CULTURE, DEVELOP IT AND MAKE IT AVAILABLE."
Branca Chair Mattiazzi (2010)
Who is Sam Hecht? I was born in London in 1969 and studied Industrial Design at the Royal College of Art. On graduating in 1993 I briefly worked for David Chipperfield Architects and then at IDEO in both the USA and Japan before becoming Head of Industrial Design for IDEO Europe. The environments that inspire me the most are the city for productive struggle, the desert and seaside for replenishing.
Like puppeteers we (at Industrial Facility) are discrete, unseen but still control every move What was the first object you officially designed? I designed my own slide projector when I was 11 years old. I am not sure if that counts as official. And if you ask about my big break through: I am still looking for it… When, how and why did you establish Industrial Facility? American designer Kim Colin and I founded Industrial Facility in 2002 in London. She is originally from Los Angeles where she studied art history at UCLA and architecture at SCI-Arc. Previously Kim worked for the artist Mike Kelley and for Phaidon Press, and taught Architecture and Interiors at the Royal College of Art. In the 1990's I collaborated with Japanese designer
Naoto Fukasawa. It was here that I first met Ippei Matsumoto, who studied Product Design at Tama Art University in Tokyo before studying Product Design at the Royal College of Art. We decided to work together because we found that our ways of thinking are complementary – that when we work together, the project gets better. We were small, but we felt very able to work with large companies. We wanted to perhaps confuse them into thinking that we, like they are, were also a large company, and easy to talk to. How did you come up with the name Industrial Facility? We chose something very banal. The word facility also means easier, more facile. We wanted to make clear that our adopted world would be industry, whom we believe need help in defining and constructing the new economy. Can your studio best be described as an office, a workshop or a factory? It has become all of them. It is an office where people start working in the morning and leave in the evening. It is a workshop in that we do not know what will be produced from the morning till the evening. It is a factory in that what is produced must involve certain criteria of creativity and quality. You collaborate with among others engineers and filmmakers. What can they add to the world of design? It is now not possible in my opinion to not collaborate and to expect authentic progress. Progress in my opinion requires a collective effort.
My respect to and the conversations I have with engineers, filmmakers and many more lead to progressive ideas. How would you describe your work? Designing for everyday, our work has a strong functional aspect. Whether a corkscrew, a printer, a pendant light, a coffee maker or a kitchen knife, these items all have a clear function and while all are mass-produced, each enjoys a close relationship with the user. As relevant as the relationship between the user and the object is the relationship of the product with the other things that fill our lives. We see our designs as component parts within this complex fabric. We condense the design to its most essential by simplifying the form, reducing the technical complexity to what is really needed and using a limited tonal palette. We create design that can be enjoyed when in use and that can also sit contentedly in the background of our lives when not needed. And what would you say is your signature? We are not interested in bringing our own personality to the objects, actually we almost go out of our way to mask them. Like puppeteers we are discrete, unseen but still control every move. Once a product has found its way into an office, on a table at home, or on a person’s wrist it carries with it our identity in a very thoughtful way that is expressly unobtrusive. This subtle tone is paradoxically a distinctive character of our work. Rejecting the recent notion that a designer must have a recognisable
signature style, one that is often used as a selling point, we try to balance an international presence while remaining true to our design beliefs. This is due to our skill at knowing what the essence of a product is and also because our work fulfils a need for quietness in a very busy object-rich world. What is typical Industrial Facility? A unifying quality of our work is its criticism of superfluous user and environmental specifications, created by a combination of focus groups, brainstorms and market research. The coffee maker or oven dishes are as comfortable in a kitchen or on a dining table and can move gracefully between the two. The Taylor’s Eye Witness kitchen knives abandon moulded hand grips which can as easily restrict the user’s movement as much as aid it. The Muji watch is both male and female and the Epson printer can be used by a child in a bedroom or by a senior manager in his office. Your products look so very simple. How come? Sometimes a product’s simplicity is viewed as a radical step by a client especially as for many years manufacturers have supplied the public with more and more complex functions. However, it is neither a simple task to take things away or to add things in a critical way. It is only by finding new solutions to problems that we are able to simplify forms without losing any functionality. It is because of our understanding of the technological requirements, engineering and manufacture of a product that we know
what to remove. It took two years to reorganise the internal components and remove the irrelevant elements when designing the Little Disk hard drives for LaCie. When designing the Muji coffee maker we relocated the internal elements, positioning the water reservoir around the outside of the filter for the first time, and so we were able to create a seemingly simple cylindrical form. Sometimes adding a new feature can also simplify the result. With the Jetlag travel clock for IDEA, a second display face gives a greater functional clarity.
I would be foolish to think that my journey is in anyway unique There are more designers with simplicity as a signature. Would you say you’ve got specific competitors in the business? A small practice with a strong impact, we can be seen as part of a wider group of product designers working in this vein, from Jasper Morrison in the UK to Konstantin Grcic in Germany and Jonathan Ive in the USA. They also aim to create design that is enduring, that does not fight for attention or strive to be intentionally different. But I wouldn’t call them competitors. Could you describe a design process? What are the important steps? When is it done? We like to get involved in a project as early as possible. Sometimes this means we help formulate a brief, but
not always. We like to understand the current culture of a company that we work with and where they want to go. Often we help on a strategy level, where our work helps articulate deeper strands of thinking within a company. Our design process is clear and direct. When working with a new client we combine our wide expertise as designers, curators and teachers. In most cases we take a critical look at the brief and if necessary extend it, often questioning previous conclusions. Research is practical and honest, looking at how the object is used or taking an existing product apart. A dialogue of ideas starts with discussions and sketches that pass between the three of us with speed. Once an idea is formed it is developed as a model and together with a narrative or ‘book’ it is presented to the client. Sometimes we will present only one solution. Because of our rigorous approach the end product is often remarkably close to the initial model. How do you find the right materials for a project? The project informs the right materials. I do not start with material but with the relevance for what the design must bring. Each material has its own qualities and usefulness that lend itself to what the project must fulfil. How much do you consider similar designs already on the market while working on a new one? I am on my own journey and that of the studio. I do not take much interest in the media of design because it is regressive. But I would be foolish to think that my journey is in anyway unique.
Who are your clients? Both comprehensive and innovative, our work cuts across commercial and cultural practices as well as high-tech and low-tech models of production. We work with blue-chip and independent companies in constantly shifting fields of production. These may include electronic products, appliances, furniture, kitchenware and interiors. We design digital pianos for Yamaha (Japan), furniture for Herman Miller (USA), hard drives for LaCie (France), store environments for Issey Miyake (Japan) lighting for Established & Sons (UK), coffee makers for Muji (Japan), pottery for JP (Jersey), cooktops for KitchenAid (Italy) and strategy for Panasonic (Japan).
Our office always stays slightly smaller than the workflow so we are always busy What is it that attracts clients to come to you instead of someone else? I have never asked them that question… maybe I should. It seems like you keep close relationships with clients for ages. We have several clients in different domains (like Muji and Herman Miller) whom we work with on a continuous basis; we call this a retainership, where we often work as creative advisors, or simply on a long term basis. This involves a longstanding commit-
ment between us resulting in an intimate familiarity with their business culture, enough to contribute more deeply to their future. We never have more than one retained company in the same domain. As retained designers to Muji, we have adopted a different working method over many years. An enduring relationship cultivated with the client has generated a mutual trust enabling us to confine our energies to both the product development and how the company’s future can be shaped, rather then to the process of persuasion. What do you have to do to get enough work? Very simple… our office always stays slightly smaller than the workflow so we are always busy. How important is meaning in design? In my work, meaning is something I’m getting less and less interested in. When you think of something and you design something, you obviously have this thing in your head you want to express. Basically, there are ideas you want to generate in the work. But now I have very little interest in trying to reveal those ideas. The person buying or using the product, whether they get it or not, it doesn’t really matter to me. I like it myself because that’s what generated the process, but if it needs to be explained I don’t feel it has really succeeded. When I see people using the things I’ve done, and they are completely oblivious to what was necessarily behind it, I’m fine. Whereas before I always felt: "Ah, but you don’t understand where it came from. That’s not the idea – the idea is this!"
Under a Fiver is one of your ongoing projects. What is it exactly? Under a Fiver is for some people a collection of tat, but for me it represents value beyond price. It’s a colourful assembly of objects that serve primary needs in a roundabout way and it is continuously expanding. People find the collection amusing and captivating. An important point to note is that Under a Fiver is non-curatorial in that there is no particular mandate and certainly there are examples of very poor design. But that too is vital to understand that mass-consumption has little to do now with mass-production. The processes of production that were once reserved for only the masses are now available to the small-sized manufacturer. This further extends the choices of objects to join Under a Fiver because even the most primordial of human activities can be targeted by localised manufacturers. Each object is a testament to un-global culture. Communities the world over continue to need things that serve their local needs, where design plays little if no part at all. I guess this is partly why I feel refreshed because there is so little design as we know it today. As long as this local attitude continues my collection will grow and grow.
In my work, meaning is something I’m getting less and less interested in
Design has the ability to subtract, and in doing so, makes what already exists far more valuable How do you collect the Under a Fiver pieces? On my travels, I’ve wandered through hundreds of local hardware stores, chemists and supermarkets, finding low-cost objects (all of which are under £5) that say something about how we live. These objects represent value beyond price. Others might visit landmarks or museums, but I prefer to stop the taxi by small local shops. It’s here that you get a real reflection of the local culture. I take the objects back to the studio where they might inform our work or start discussions. Each of the objects appeals to me for a specific reason. It might be an ability to address and identify a small and localised need that communicates something about where I have been. Where, for instance, other than in Japan, would you need ‘sock glue’? (The glue secures socks and protects against the exposure of calves.) They all hold the hope and promise of a man-made progress. I started to collect these objects some fifteen years ago. If I see something beautiful that is progressive and effective I buy it, but I also buy the most curious objects that are somehow quite ordinary to the local
resident. Some people see it as a collection of oddity. One thing that it is not, is novelty. While some of the things might seem novel, none have been produced for this purpose. What binds the collection together is that nothing has been sold on the merits of its design but instead on its proposed local usefulness. The majority of Under a Fiver artefacts are a promise for a better life made by manufacturers to consumers. They are signs of the desire for a better future; a future that addresses every (even small) need whether it be real or pseudo.
I am involved intimately with every project, and so is Kim. I still make models by hand, but I am also the accountant, the coffee maker and the cleaner. I don’t believe in distinctions which might remove me from the realities of the day to day. Is there still a goal you want to reach? Yes – I am naturally interested in how a factory can accommodate culture, develop it and make it available.
What do you think design actually adds to the world? It is not about adding, but about equilibrium. If design is to ‘add’, then it is not necessarily enriching but often complicating. Design has the ability to subtract, and in doing so, makes what already exists far more valuable. How much has design changed throughout your career? Enormously, but I think that is not surprising since design and technological prowess are so intertwined. What was/is a better time for design, ten years ago or nowadays? Why? I believe the best period was in the formation of the subject – when architects and artists found themselves paying attention to design in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Now we are in a period of design dissemination which is exciting but with it comes complexity. How has your own role at Industrial Facility changed with time? Do you remain hands-on?
Branca Chair (part of) Mattiazzi (2010)
Little Disk Hard Drives LaCie (2007 - 2012) Ten Key Calculator IDEA Japan (2007)
Bell Clock IDEA Japan (2009) An Alarm Watch IDEA Japan (2010) Two Timer Clock Established & Sons (2008)
Twinstopper Droog (2010) Enchord Table Herman Miller US (2008) Table, Bench, Chair (TBC) Established & Sons (2009) Equipment Whirlpool Italy (2004) Picnic Sofa Group Herman Miller US (2012)
Cycle Shirt Margaret Howell London (2010) Surround Sound Eyewear Royal Institute for the Deaf (2005) (not in production) Pentagon Pen Collection Elephant & Coral (2011) Dryerhair Wallpaper Handmade (2010) (not in production)
Jersey Dishes Jersey Pottery (2007) IF4000 Knives Taylor's Eye Witness (2004) Flexlamp Droog (2003) Chantry Modern Sharpener Taylor's Eye Witness (2004)
K9 Post Office Kiosk Design Museum London (2009) (not in production) Issey Miyake Display Issey Miyake Parfums (2009) V Tent Louis Vuitton (2012) Cantilever Piano Yamaha (2008) (not in production)
01 CHRISTOPH NIEMANN Illustration 2009 02 MICHEL MALLARD Creative Direction 2009 03 FUN FACTORY Product Design 2009 04 ANDREAS UEBELE Signage Design 2010 05 HARRI PECCINOTTI Photography 2010 06 KUSTAA SAKSI Illustration 2010 07 5.5 DESIGNERS Product Design 2011 08 NIKLAUS TROXLER Graphic Design 2011 09 JOACHIM SAUTER Media Design 2011 10 MICHAEL JOHNSON Graphic Design 2011 11 ELVIS POMPILIO Fashion Design 2011 12 STEFAN DIEZ Industrial Design 2012 13 CHRISTIAN SCHNEIDER Sound Design 2012 14 MARIO LOMBARDO Editorial Design 2012
PUBLISHER Design Friends COORDINATION Stéphanie Rollin LAYOUT Christophe george(s) Peiffer INTERVIEW Merel Kokhuis COPY Editing Nadine Clemens PRINT Faber Imprimerie PAPER Scheufelen (Heaven 42 softmatt) PRINT RUN 500 (Limited edition)
with Carrérotondes asbl Mapping August. An Infographic Challenge 2010
ISBN 978-99959-717-5-5 PRICE 5 € DESIGN FRIENDS Association sans but lucratif (Luxembourg) BOARDMEMBERS Silvano Vidale (President) Nadine Clemens (Vice-president) Anabel Witry (Secretary) Heike Fries (Treasurer) Mike Koedinger (Boardmember) Guido Kröger (Boardmember) Pit Kuffer (Boardmember) Stéphanie Rollin (Boardmember)
09.26 SAM HECHT_FLYER 148x148.indd 1
This catalogue is published for Sam Hecht's lecture at Mudam Luxembourg on September 26, 2012 organized by Design Friends.
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