Design is a Passion...and a Voyage

author Konstantin Grcic
interviewed by Maja Ivanič

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Konstantin Grčić belongs to the generation of 1965. This is the generation characterized by the interesting historical fact that they outlived the principles of Viktor Papanek’s triple F. He surpassed average contemporary designers due to his “deindustrializing” relation to industrial design. He could sense the directions of new trends and he participated in their formation with his products. His creations are recognizable, all of his products are unique in concept, and he also researched into and played with new materials. He covered and designed a wide spectrum of industrial design. His ideas contributed to the theme of furniture, chairs, lamps, small items for everyday use and household appliances.


ORIS: The life of an industrial designer, like the life of an architect, is suffused with what they do. There is nothing separating private life from work. you are very successful in managing your life and your job. How would you describe yourself? 


Grcic: I believe I am a very serious worker. My attitude to my work, which I do with pleasure and joy, is very serious. Of course, this does not mean that I design only serious products, but that my ideas are serious and strict. It means that I take each order very seriously, be it large, small, serious or frivolous. Design is not a comfortable occupation, but a comprehensive task requiring personal responsibility. I am certainly not a designer with abstract visions. I concentrate on a specific problem or a concrete project. Every task demands a new start, a new approach. I realized that I react much better when I form anew. 


I need a context, restrictions and conditions, directing my creative thought.


ORIS: Your mother is German and your father came from Vojvodina. Do you think that such varied family roots are an advantage for your ideas and work?


Grcic: Hum... I cannot think of any advantages right now. Maybe it is subconscious. Actually, families with varied cultural backgrounds are quite common in the globalization of our time. In my opinion, it is a great thing. I travel around the world and there are always people who think similarly, people I can work with.


My mother owns a gallery of modern art. Our house was always full of artists. I was attracted by how those people were free and easygoing, how they lived. You could not separate their work from their life. I realized how it was possible to seize the day joyfully.


On the other hand, I hated school years. For me, school was coercion and it did not meet my expectations. After secondary school, I went to England. I learned the trade of cabinet-maker in a village workshop. I soon realized that my greatest joy in the process of making furniture was the first, creative phase. The finishing phase started to annoy me. So I enrolled in the Royal Academy of Arts in London. 


ORIS: You gained practical know­ledge and experience before studying. Is that an advantage? What did you learn at the academy?


Grcic: As a carpenter, I gained much basic and traditional knowledge about how to really make something. On the other hand, the academy taught me there is no single truth, no single way to a solution, but as many ways as there are people. Colleagues who undertook the same tasks proposed their solutions, often better than mine. Therefore, in creative work, we cannot talk about a single right idea. Different solutions offered by different persons do not have to be mutually exclusive. They can complement each other or live parallel lives, one next to another.


ORIS: You have worked on a wide range of objects, from jewellery and household appliances to lamps, furniture and technical products. How do you handle designing specific products?


Grcic: Despite all the contemporary computers and virtual technologies, it is still important to physically feel the object you are shaping. You need to understand its actual dimensions, its relationship with space. This is why I start shaping each new object by making a working model to a lifelike scale. Our studio has a well-equipped handy model workshop. I could not even imagine working in this area without it. 


ORIS: When designing a new product, what are the roles of your concept and of the investor? How much do you follow the client’s wishes?


Grcic: In the creative process, the client is always important – after all, you create for him. Before I start working, I always carefully ponder the issue, I analyze, dissect, explore... I try to find its essence. At the same time, of course, I become familiar with the clients, with their production, materials, technology, business strategy. Moreover, I always ask myself: why, for what reason and purpose, am I doing this? What can I do that other designers have not done?


ORIS: Still, don’t you think that designing another lamp in a crowd of lamps or another table in a crowd of tables is somehow futile?


Grcic: Yes, I believe that industrial design has reached a critical point, where a new, more beautiful or different variant of a product is not enough any more. In the future, design will be subordinated to new technologies and science, which will create and mould market demands. 


ORIS: What do you think of the famous phrase Form Follows Function? Is it still a key element of industrial design? Or did it end with the time when design was usually made by architects, so it was rather an architectural approach? What is the status of triple F today?


Grcic: In the 1980s, all the relevant designers purposely negated the sense and meaning of that phrase. FFF was the enemy of creative freedom. Today we are much more relaxed about its meaning. In fact, what is function? The emotional element of an object is just as important as the function. In the history of creation, objects were never strictly rational. The age of the Bauhaus with Gropius, Breuer and others was also very artistic.


ORIS: The Austrian-American designer Viktor Papanek, one of the key players in the development of industrial design, promoted ecological design. What is your attitude to his concepts of design? Are his thoughts still relevant?


Grcic: We certainly have a personal responsibility for our work. Ecology is also a part of the personal and moral responsibility of the individual. Good design is always ecological, both as a clear concept and from the aspect of economy or distribution. Actually, such things need not be told, they should be self-evident. Castiglioni’s lamps were ecological, for example, even before the word “ecology” came to be. Papanek’s concepts of designer necessity or need have been subordinated to the laws of the economic market. Industrial design is not only about creating the basic necessities, but also about redesigning, sometimes just improving, what is already there. That is the true way of trends and markets.


ORIS: Do you have any moral or ethical scruples that would make you refuse an assignment? Also, is there something you want to do at all costs? What is the assignment of your dreams?


Grcic: I never got into such a situation. I refused several projects, but primarily because I did not get along with the client. I was never asked to design a bomb. I do not know how I would react, I have no final answer... On the other hand, designing a gun is not necessarily a bad thing. Even a car could be seen as something deadly. A dream project is an assignment that you cannot dream about, it is better than dreams. It appears without warning and opens the doors of incredible, unthinkable possibilities.


ORIS: What is your favourite material - plywood, wire, plastic, ceramic…?


Grcic: I do not give priority to any particular material. What matters is the purpose and use of the object.


ORIS: In 2001, you were awarded the Compasso d´Oro for your Mayday lamp, which you designed for Flos, an Italian company. The lamp has been included in the permanent exhibition of the MOMA collection in New York. What is the secret of its success?


Grcic: Actually, Mayday was created as a follow-up to our first cooperation. The first assignment by Flos was a technical lamp, a multipurpose reflector, which we later called Boxer. While designing Boxer, a purely technical product, stripped of any typology, I needed a mental pause, a distraction. In that way, another lamp was made at the same time, and it has achieved the greatest success to date. Yes, I was free to design it any way I wanted. 


Mayday was conceived as a practical lamp for kitchens or gardens, but it retained a strong character. I tried my best to make a useful lamp that looks like a tool, e.g. a handy reflector for a construction site or a lamp in a service station. A tool to be taken in hand, to be used when needed. It is important that the lamp is affordable. We tried to make a good design that is cheap enough for a wide segment of people. 


ORIS: Industrial designer is a recent profession. Industrial design used to be the job of architects and engineers. Could it be one of the reasons why contemporary industrial design deals more with form and less with function?


Grcic: I do not agree that contemporary industrial design deals more with form. Still, it does often happen, as the consequence of marketing requirements. I am very critical in that respect. 


Of course, things have changed since the 1920s and 1930s. The market of that time was “empty”, industrial technology was starting to develop, there were almost no household appliances, no technical products... Architects had the idea of progress, of a modern world, which resulted in a design “from the spoon to the city”.  


It is different today, products are more specific. Ours is a specialized world of industry and technology. Design is much more complex nowadays. The function of an object has become much ampler, so its practical use must be perfect. We industrial designers must know all the aspects of a specific product, its use, form, production technology, characteristics and behaviour of material... At the same time, we must understand the marketing concept, foresee the market behaviour. Today the profession of industrial designer is specialized, we need very specific knowledge. An architect, of course, can make very successful industrial design. Freedom from the laws of a profession often yields the most interesting results. Of course, it all depends on the intellectual dimension of a person.


ORIS: What is the difference between industrial and architectural design? Do they understand space and form differently?


Grcic: I can only guess... I see a great difference in the fact that you architects think very globally. Not only because of scale, but also because of the interdisciplinary thing. When you get a project, you first need to analyze it from social, psychological, artistic, economic, spatial and other aspects, then you give it shape, which is reflected in the material, sound, texture, form... and, of course, in space. You need to include all that in the project conception phase, while precisely visualizing the final result. And you need to have personal, abstract visions all the time, not being able to plan to a true scale. I must say I am always amazed by how you architects understand scale. It is an abstraction of thought, of an idea that must eventually be realized. Moreover, when architecture is realized, it is always a prototype, a one-time project. In the planning phase, you form only a model, never the real building, so you must have a highly developed abstract understanding. 


We designers are different. We concentrate on smaller projects, smaller objects, which can be realized in their natural and final scale in the planning phase already. We monitor the project during the entire development process. We participate in the creation of prototypes, which we can improve or amend later. We definitely work closer to reality. Still, we sometimes concentrate on the object too much and lose the big picture more easily. On the other hand, their abstract and global view can make architects lose control over the realization of details. I am glad to be an industrial designer, because I can immediately check everything at a small scale. In the end, however, our objects and products are always placed within architecture.


ORIS: What are your current projects? What companies do you work for?


Grcic: We have several projects on our desk. A very exciting one has been finished already. It is a new chair ordered by Plank. It is called Miura. The chair is very interesting, expressive, and sculptural. Its form results from the study of its applicability and usableness. The material is recyclable - monobloc injection modelling. I am pleased and stirred by the fact that we can work with state-of-the-art industrial technology. I am very satisfied with the project. Also, we had good relations with the client, a very successful cooperation. It is a small but very enthusiastic company. 


Another interesting project is being done in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Luxemburg. The building has a small museum, a two-storey satellite, where we are setting up an installation in space. Its concept is based on the question of how to use that space. It is not interior equipment, but large-scale industrial design.


Thirdly, we are designing an exhibition of our own projects, objects and designs. It will be opened next year in the Haus der Kunst in Munich. We are trying to find our own way of presenting ourselves. The project is very demanding because we deal with ourselves. And because the scale is architectonic. We want to build a house within a house, where you can walk through various separate spaces. Each space is adapted to a specific object, idea, creative process... We want to set up a “sanctuary for objects”.


ORIS: If you had to make a quick decision, who would you choose as your favourite designer of lamps and which lamp would you have in your apartment at all costs?


Grcic: I would immediately choose the Castiglioni brothers. I especially appreciate Achille’s work. As for lamps, I would probably choose his standing lamp Luminator.


ORIS: All creative work needs a muse. What motivates you in your work?


Grcic: Every aspect of life is an inspiration to me. Simple, everyday life, as well as the glamorous moments. I find my motivation in people I meet, in their happiness, joy and efforts.