Interview with Roel Deden, Mats Lönngren and Dan Salisbury: Design for a Better World
The 3D-printed prosthesis Printhesis by Roel Deden, the connected lifejacket Ahti X1 by Mats Lönngren and the intelligent Fuse Box by Dan Salisbury and his team won Gold and Silver Awards in the Braun Prize 2015.
We talked to the three prizewinners about the way in which they work, the designer of the future and their entries for the Braun Prize.
All of your projects are specialised in some way and quite complex. How did you approach the problem and how did you research it?
Roel Deden (RD): I went to a lot of hospitals and doctors and asked them how they make prostheses nowadays and what the common problems are. They told me that it is extremely labour-intensive to make all the custom parts fit to the body. In addition, I met Lianne Scheepers, a woman who lost her arm. It was helpful to work with her one-to-one and develop the Printhesis together. My university had just acquired a 3D printer at that time, so I could easily make 3D models to test whether it was good enough, or too heavy, too long, and so on.
So it was largely about trial and error?
RD: I think that for this project it was the best way to work. It was helpful having someone, the user, to comment on the design.
Mats, you have introduced a new technology to a very specific context. How did you research lifejackets and the maritime context?
Mats Lönngren (ML): Well, I own a boat, so being at sea is something I do regularly. I have a lot of first-hand experience of my own and I know a lot of people who sail. I discussed the topic in general with them and asked them whether they thought it had potential. I also talked to sales representatives who deal with marine products and, of course, I did a lot of research about the kinds of solutions that are already out there. However, there are still quite a lot of steps to be made, such as working with users, improving the design and making it more practicable, to name a few.
Dan, in your case you had to deal with a lot of regulations. Who or what were your sources of information?
Dan Salisbury (DS): The main driver for the development of the Fuse Box was personal insight, because almost everybody has inherent experience of dealing with consumer units. From there it was just a very quick concept, which again was based on research about the regulations – what we can and cannot do. Maybe you could have remote control over the circuits and turn it on and off via your phone, but the regulations wouldn’t allow you to do that. We then worked with our electronics team as well. We had to understand what was actually feasible. We wouldn’t present anything that was super expensive to manufacture, so all components are affordable, accessible and used in a lot of similar systems.
Why did you enter the Braun Prize?
RD: Actually, the idea to apply for the Braun Prize came from a friend of mine. He was submitting his project and prompted me to do it as well. I had finished the project before the Braun Prize started, but I thought it really chimed well with the theme of simplifying things.
ML: I have always taken note of the Braun Prize because it stands for high quality design. As far as I was concerned, if I felt that I had a good idea I would participate, but if not, it would not be worth working on it. Especially now that the competition is also expanding to the professional sphere including digital experiences, it is going in the direction I am interested in – that is, products being connected and having a digital identity.
DS: The theme of the Braun Prize just seemed to fit so well, but for me the Braun Prize is also that little bit more special than other competitions. It is only once every three years, they only select three finalists per category, and so on. Besides, Dieter Rams is a very big inspiration and I always try to apply his values to my work. People said we could put the Braun logo on the Fuse Box, so it looks like a Braun product. That wasn’t deliberate, because it was actually designed before we saw the Braun Prize. But I’m proud to hear those kinds of comments, because I think that simplicity and simple usability should be our aims as designers in order to help the world to be a better place; we shouldn’t just throw products out there for the sake of it.
What do you think you can contribute to make this better world become a reality?
RD: What I really love to do is to work with computers and digitisation, but I think it is important that it becomes physical at some point. At the Design Academy in Eindhoven I have a lot of friends who have done really amazing projects and inspired me to do the same. I know the guy from Phone Blocks, for example, and some other friends travel a lot to Malawi and other countries to help, and that, in my view, is the way that we should approach design. These guys say: we’re living in Europe and making all these things, but aren’t the stores already full, and shouldn’t we design for people who need it the most? Sometimes it’s not the sexy-looking ideas that are the best. They might not need to look amazing, but just to work really well, and that’s what interests me.
How do you view the role of the designer in the future, Mats?
ML: I would like to reiterate what you, Roel, just said about working in different locations. I think that a designer can also play the role of a facilitator. If you work in another country or culture, it is so much more about involving people in the process of creative problem solving and sharing the ownership of what is being done. I think that in such a role the designer’s task is not only to create something but also to see it through. Furthermore there is the question of technology: will it be everywhere, and is that even something desirable? I think it makes sense to have technology as part of solutions in cases where it either simplifies something or makes it more usable, or more enjoyable to use. But I don’t see the benefit of technology in absolutely every instance – in many cases there are perfectly good analogue solutions. Nevertheless, technology is here to stay.
As a designer, do you think you can be a real game changer?
DS: I think we have a responsibility to make sure that people actually need the things that we are designing and putting out there, that the world actually needs them. And that they get to the market in a way that has as minor an impact as possible, so that we’re not consuming unnecessarily. It is hard to stick to that, of course, because a lot of the time, particularly in agencies, your clients define what their goals and aims are. We have to ask ourselves: do we actually need this? If we do, then does it make a difference?
ML: I think design can be a game changer when it comes to problem-solving and creating visions for a better, more user centered and sustainable future. Then you actually need to be a really good collaborator. You need to collaborate with other people, you need to understand how they work and what they see. I think the human aspect becomes much more relevant within the whole process and that the era of the designer as hero is over in some ways. Individuals come up with great ideas and they should belong to the individual, but to a large degree it’s all about making something in a team, and that’s a really important factor for progress.
Does that mean that the world is too complex to work on your own as a designer? Which mode of working makes sense nowadays?
RD: I think that things often start with a single designer having a great idea. But when you launch it into the world and it becomes popular, then you need more people to do things that you could never realise on your own. You always need collaborators.
DS: You cannot know everything. You could have an idea, but you might not necessarily know how to make it work or how to articulate it. I think the role of the designer is becoming broader, we are expected to do more things. It is not enough to be an industrial designer; you are designing packages, user interfaces and user experiences for instance. The way we work as a company is having designers, engineers, electronics, software guys, model makers in one place so that we can draw on their experience when we need it. If you’ve got a design intent and you want to make it work, you’ve almost always got to work with others to make sure you know how to do it in the best way.
Do you feel that you have had the right preparation to be that kind of designer, for example through your education?
RD: My university is really focused on what you want to do, what your strengths are, and then you get the confidence to go out and find the projects that you like. Before my graduation project I didn’t know anything about prostheses, so I just began to talk to people and gained knowledge in order to design something new. So I think that you don’t necessarily need to know anything about a project – just be interested and start and the rest will follow.
ML: I think education, at least for me, has been more like a platform for me to start working in the field. I have been working professionally now for six years and learned a lot about things I didn’t know before. Each project is a new learning process. How you learn depends on what the focus and the goal are. The way in which you tackle a project is also a learning curve: how to manage time, how to run a project, what methods and tools to use and how to do your work efficiently, these kind of things you learn in professional life.
What do you hope that the future will hold for you, as Braun Prize winners?
RD: Well, that people will know about you and what you do, so that they might be able to see the potential of you working for them. But first and foremost, winning the prize motivates me to keep doing what I do and also to invest in what I do, because now I can really take it to the next level.
DS: The promotion side is one thing, that’s nice, but I think it is also about recognising those simple ideas that really make a difference to the world. I most appreciate the recognition from my peers and other designers of my work, that’s a really good feeling.
ML: I think in addition to what you both said it’s a great opportunity to put your ideas to the test. Concepts can be very fragile and there is a lot you can criticise about them. One might say it doesn’t work, but this prize is kind of a badge showing that your design has reached a certain level of quality, a level at which people might sit up and take note when you talk to them about it.