Milan In Perspective 2011

A report by Mariel Brown and Karen Rosenkranz from the Research, Trends and Strategy team at Seymourpowell, 20 April 2011
NB: If you wish to use any/all of this report for press purposes please credit ‘Seymourpowell’. All roads lead to Milan. A lighthouse which illuminates the future of design, Milan is both geographically and aesthetically the centre of the emerging design universe. The cultural zeitgeist forms here first. This year marked the 50th anniversary of the show and we were keen to explore the broader relationships between cutting-edge design and the cultural trends that surround them. Survivalists The global recession, concerns over fuel shortages, highly documented natural disasters, and political unrest are contributing to a feeling of unease , the desire to be self-sufficient and to live ‘off the grid’. In Milan the design response to this trend was seen through the creation of products that encouraged independence. One of our favourite design expressions of this trend is Jorge Mañes’ project ‘Ultreia’, which explores an alternative and more flexible process of manufacturing. He created a portable self-sustainable factory on wheels comprised of a rotational moulding machine, a tent and a solar panel. To show off Ultria’s capabilities Mañes cycled his factory around the 700km El Camino ancient pilgrim route in Spain. On his two-week trip he created a series of products that were informed by the locations, materials and people he met along the way. ‘Ultreia’ celebrates the sociable nature of this trend and reflects the necessity of working together with like-minded people in order to make a success of ‘off the grid’ living. The ‘Survivalist’ trend is intrinsically eco in nature and as such we witnessed many examples of designers exploring new uses for waste products. From Mieke Meijer and Vij5’s ‘KrantHout’, which is a wood created from old newspapers to Gionata Gatto and Mike Thompson’s ‘Trap Light’, which converts waste energy back into visible light, the emphasis is on creating less of a drain on the world’s resources and re-thinking the way we make life’s necessities. Studio Formafantasma take the thought of sustainable materials to the extreme with their exciting new project ‘Botanica’. They imagine a post-fossil age where fossil energy sources have been completely exhausted. ‘Botanica’ is based on the principles and science of botany and takes inspiration from the 18th and 19th centuries, a time when scientists first began experimenting with plant secretions in order to create new material sources with plasticity. The studio explores plant derived materials including Rosin, Dammar, Copal, Natural Rubber, Shellac and even Bois Durci, a 19th century material composed of wood dust and animal blood! To underline the origins of these new resins, Formafantasma created plant like forms, whilst colour palettes of natural amber and honey like tones were chosen to evoke early bakelite objects. With

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‘Botanic’, Studio Formafantasma have created a strikingly ingenious project that is both archaic and contemporary. Whilst this new aesthetic may not appeal to every taste, we believe it will have a strong impact in the long term. To many, the Survivalist trends implies a rustic design language, however, renowned Anglo-Indian design duo Doshi Levien showed that this trend needn’t look unsophisticated when they presented their new project ‘Impossible Wood’. ‘Impossible Wood’ uses a new material (a synthetic fibre) that is an eco-compatible compound, which can replace the usual plastics while maintaining its characteristics of pliability and strength. The elegant chair is testament to the fact that Survivalist living ideals needn’t be niche. New Mythology In an age of austerity, folklore and mythology offer an opportunity to magically escape the bounds of human existence and reconnect with the planet. Designers are going back to the early origins of man and are reviving forgotten customs, skills and narratives. Old traditions are re-appropriated for our modern times in a bid to imbue products with character and soul that respond to our need for storytelling and narrative. Front, an all-female design collective from Stockholm, have always been interested in stories communicated through design objects. For their most recent project, ‘Story Vases’, Front worked in collaboration with the Siyazama project in South Africa, which promotes women who work with traditional bead craft. The vases tell the personal stories of five women living in remote villages in post-apartheid South Africa. This project is a fantastic example of how designers can take on a more cultural role by raising social awareness and empowering local communities. Designers are giving them the tools to help themselves. On a lighter and more playful note, we noticed many designers mixing narratives and techniques from different periods to create new and imaginative objects. Taking inspiration from Finnish folklore, history and nature, design duo Klaus Haapaniemi and Mia Wallenius’ ‘Mammoth’ tapestry for Established & Sons gives a modern twist to mythology. Made using a 15th century craft technique, the characters of folklore are elegantly aligned with the motif of an erupting volcano - a reference to last year’s ash cloud chaos in Milan. Harking back to more primitive roots, we found the primal aesthetic (a prominent feature at last years fair) was explored further, especially by younger designers. As part of the ‘Thinking Hands’ exhibition in Ventura Lambrate, Israeli designer Hadar Snir exhibited a captivating set of knives for modern carnivores. The knives, made from cast

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aluminium, evoke images of pre-historic artefacts and respond to a more emotional and instinctive level of consciousness. We noticed a new trend for designers displaying tribes of objects, assembled artefacts one would expect to see in a museum cabinet. Amba Molly’s ‘Mitose’ project and Yael Barnea Givoni’s ‘Parting Line’ both explored variations of one recurrent theme, responding to a growing desire for the unique and imperfect. Whilst the individual objects have their own identity, it is only when they are shown as a collection that they form a family or tribe, telling a much more complex and textured story. What will resonate with consumers in the future is the idea of owning something unique that is nevertheless part of a bigger story or community. Reassemble The ‘New Utility’ trend, which first emerged back in 2008 as a response to the recession, had moved on this year. Where the robust and indestructible was once celebrated, this year’s show indicated that a lighter weight trend was developing. ‘Reassemble’ takes many of the concepts of ‘New Utility’ and expands them to exploring products that are easy to take apart, mend and recycle. A wonderful example of this is the Bourellec brothers ‘Baguette Chair’ for Magis. The ‘Baguette Chair’ is distilled down to the essential using the least possible materials and parts. What makes this chair feel particularly progressive is its lightweight appearance, which has been enhanced by the form of the back of the chair that is reminiscent of a knife blade. Tord Boontje’s new ‘Stitched Collection’ for Moroso was also made of minimal parts. He had created lamps chairs and tables out of plywood that has been stitched together. We enjoyed the visual openness of the pieces and the joyful simplicity of stitching as a production technique. Boontje commented, “I started to think in a more functional way about sewing, the idea of creating holes in materials and connecting pieces with yarns... I like the idea that the stitching is a very simple, low-tech way of making.” Boontje’s piece reflects one of the most exciting aspects of the ‘Reassemble’ trend; the emergence of furniture that is easy to assemble and disassemble. As a society we have grown accustomed to assembling flat pack furniture, however, easy disassembly is a dream that has, until now, evaded us. Jore van Ast’s ‘Clamp Table’ for De Vorm is a wonderfully uncomplicated example of knock down design. The table is comprised of four individual legs with clamps that can be fitted to the table top and then just as easily unscrewed. What’s particularly useful about van Ast’s work is the fact that the legs can be adjusted to fit on top any table top or surface.

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Jack Smith’s folding stool has an equally intuitive mechanism, by picking up one side of the seat the stool folds away. Gravity and the angles used enables the stool to fall shut when put back down. Boontje, Van Ast and Smiths works imply that designers are recognising that our lives are more transient and that traditional structures in the home are disintegrating. They are embracing and helping to forge an exciting new future where the rigid and immobile becomes flexible and easily transportable. Sense and tactility As a reaction to the increasingly digital landscape of our lives, people are looking for reassurance and comfort in the real world, which has led to a craving for tactility. Qualities such as volume and materiality are more important than ever, giving a calming and grounded feel to our living environments. We were particularly inspired by two exhibitions crafted by visionary Li Edelkoort that aimed to promote the role of textiles in our homes; one showcasing established designers using innovative technologies, the other championing young talent in the field of textiles. It became apparent that textiles can capture our senses in many ways. While textiles can capture our senses in a visual and tactile way they also have the ability to transform the sound of a space. The ‘Cloud Stool’ by Joon&Jung takes inspiration from the flexibility and softness of the cloudscape and gives the illusion of being alive by using irregularity in texture and tone. Prestigious design house Moroso also echoed this trend for tactility with a fantastic new collection. We enjoyed the relaxed and welcoming vibe of their show, which had a very feminine feel to it. For example, the pieces by Patricia Urquiola invited visitors to touch and stroke, and we noticed many people were doing exactly that. Her ‘BiKnit’ chair features a blown-up knitted weave that becomes both surface and structure. The chunky wooden base gives the piece a grounded yet upbeat presence. The urge for wellbeing and sensorial nurturing are also part of this trend and designers are exploring new ways to make our homes more connected to nature, imitating natural cycles of daylight and season. ‘Screened Daylight’ by up and coming Norwegian designer Daniel Rybakken simulates the ambient light that enters a room through drawn blinds and curtains. The piece functions primarily as a light, but it also expands the room through the suggestion of that which is obscured. “People really feel that the room feels larger, because you get a hint of something outside”, the designer tells Seymourpowell. His ‘Daylight’ pieces have a positive impact on people’s mood, very much like natural light.

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Moooi’s ‘Mistral’ lamp is combining the functionality of a fan with a lampshade, featuring different settings for summer and winter, depending on the temperature in the room. As the product description says: “Get rid of the heat and flies, welcome fresh air and light”, it’s a simple idea to stimulate our senses. As these sensorial experiences are entering the range of our aspirations, we see textiles playing an increasingly important role in the future, creating environments that are mood enhancing and nurturing. Restrained Luxury In the wake of the economic downturn, people’s values have shifted. We are witnessing a long wave trend in which our perceptions of luxury are changing. Many people have rejected ‘bling culture’ and its overt displays of wealth and are instead embracing experiences and demanding products that have a more timeless aesthetic. A natural home to luxury, the Milan furniture fair has over recent years offered us a fantastic insight into this trend. So we were once again keen to find out how the new luxury aesthetic is developing. An obvious first stop was Hermés’ show ‘La Maison’ which was the French brands first ever appearance at the fair. In a house made of cardboard by Shigeru Ban we found their two new furniture collections Matiéres by Enzo Mari and Métiérs by Antonio Citterio both of which display beautifully refined expressions of ‘Restrained Luxury’. They achieved this by focussing on Hermés heritage of artisan craftsmanship. Cittero states that: “What interested me about working with Hermés was the chance to work at timeless products for a company renowned for craftsmanship quality that is becoming rare to find nowadays in the industrialised world.” Echoing this Mari comments “I felt it was an opportunity to show that luxury objects do not have to be vulgar”. What we felt really added to the sense of luxury was the quality of the materials used. Clémence bull calf leather plays a key role in the collection and gives a wonderful impression of longevity. Another design house that had the crowd sighing with pleasure due to the quality of materials and manufacture was Sé. We discovered the latest additions to their Autumn 2010 ‘collection II’ by Jamie Hayon at Spazio Rossana Orlandi. Sé describe themselves as being ‘at the forefront of a new spirit of luxury’ and we found it hard to disagree as we observed and delighted in the fantastic finish of the pieces. Their new ‘Bala’ solid ceramic side tables particularly caught our eye with their beautiful crafted carrera marble tops. Sé’s exhibit illustrated that although luxury is changing, people will continue to desire the precious and rare in the future.

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Also showing at Rossana Orlandi but with a different approach to luxury was Nica Zupanac whose new pieces explore the ideal of comfort. Her ‘Homework Chair’, ‘Homework Table’, ‘Homework Cabinet’ aim to question self-discipline or the lack of it. She explained to us “ I think we all feel, especially in the West, a little bit too comfortable. I think it’s really time for a more self-restrained approach to living. I used this literally in the measurements of the pieces, for example the chair which is quite small so that it’s not really so comfortable. If we are comfortable all the time then I believe we stop thinking critically”. We were drawn to Zupanac’s work, as we believe it reflects an intriguing new idea of ‘Restrained Luxury’ where objects no longer shout about their quality but rather relieve them on close inspection and over the course of time. Invisible A continuation of last year’s ethereal theme was the trend for transparent, fluid objects, not only in a literal sense, but also in terms of providing a calming and tranquil atmosphere, helping to de-clutter our homes. It was the Japanese designers that traditionally employed this purist aesthetic that also stood out at this year’s Salone. It is important to note that the spaces in which these ‘invisible’ pieces were presented had also been carefully considered, giving the visitor a pleasant break from the hustle and bustle of Milan. A master of poetic design, Tokujin Yoshioka’s ‘Twilight’ installation for Moroso was a prime example of this trend. Variations of his ‘Moon’ chair were presented in a white, atmospheric environment, only revealing the subtle differences in texture through reflection of the light. ‘Transparent Table’, a beautiful piece by Japanese designer Nendo, explores the different levels of transparency in all its gradations in space between transparent and opaque. Cast in a wooden form with a strong grain, the clear acrylic table appears transparent at first, but with a closer look the wooden texture becomes visible. British designer Paul Cocksedge worked in collaboration with BMW and Flos on a captivating luminary installation named ‘Sestosenso’. Inspired by the new BMW 6 series, the first BMW with full LED headlights, Cocksedge designed a conical light sculpture that hides the source of illumination. The LED light is guided through the edges of the lampshade, creating a very soft and gentle light. “What I like about them is that they are voluminous shapes, they’re cones and usually a light bulb would be in the middle. But here it’s hidden away and comes from somewhere else. It’s the idea of being invisible, being deleted, not showing.” Cocksedge explains.

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He also thought of a clever way of letting people experience the car. Visitors could step within one of five red ‘Sestosenso’ lamps hanging from the ceiling and magically a video of the car appears on the white wall that wraps around the room. This points towards a bright future, where technology will be embedded into our environments in a fluid and harmonious way. Technology will be ubiquitous, but without competing with the look and feel of our homes, leaving space for a calmness and serenity when we need it.

Choreographed Creation Just as people desire to know the provenance of their food, so too are they becoming interested in the provenance, authenticity, and narratives behind their other products. Designers are revealing projects where the process and moment of creation is documented, observed, or even taken part in. At Wallpaper’s Handmade show, we came across an exciting new piece of work by Studio Glitherio that reflected the new trend of ‘Choreographed Creation’. Their exhibit ‘Paper Planes’ was the result of a commission by Wallpaper who had teamed them with Baddeley Brothers (a 4th generation London based printing company) and asked them to create something for their show. The result was a collection of 5 paper planes and a film that documented and condensed the story of the process. Whilst the paper planes were beautiful in themselves they were almost outshadowed by the wonderful film that had been created. Tim Simpson of Studio Glitherio explains, “Films are important to our work because we are much more interested in process… the moment of transformation, when the material becomes a product. Our intention is not to open up and reveal ourselves, it’s actually to capture a very particular moment and to embellish and dramatise it. Sometimes the products are almost an afterthought, so the products have become the support actors to the theatrical process we make.” Another wonderful example that allows the audience to bare witness to the moment of creation is Eske Rex’s ‘Drawing Machine’. The machine is constructed of two towers each suspending a pendulum. The pendulums are connected by “drawing arms” and moveable joints, where the pendulums meet a ballpoint pen rests on a large sheet of white paper so that when the pendulums are set in motion by hand their movements are represented on paper. What was particularly poetic about the project was the swishing noise of the pen as it marked the paper. So mesmerising was it that many people found themselves unable to leave the room before the drawing were completed. Allowing people to not only witness the creation process, but to have an active role in it was explored in Bejamin Newland’s dynamic new project ‘Nomadic Sound System’. It is a wireless, battery powered, speaker marching band system that explores new ways

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for sound to interact with people and space. Newland’s aim is to socialise the consumption of music, outside iPods and club culture he explained “ I’m a bit frustrated with music culture, particularly underground music culture, as it’s all in the head phones, in that it’s personal, and I wanted to make it much more of a group social activity… it’s about giving it a bit of pageantry”. What impressed us was the relevancy of his work to the music industry that is struggling to give music a value when it is so easily downloaded and shared. Newland has recognised that true value lies in communal activities and the creation of memorable shared moments. As such several of his designs are suitable as open source designs where people can download them, adapt and make them for themselves. Chorographed Creation feels particularly potent to us as it reflects the value of experiences. Everyday delight A couple of years ago, a lot of design was driven by technology and somehow became out of touch with the end user. However, the global financial crisis has forced many designers and manufacturers to reconsider the value of design and we can now see the positive impact this rethink has had. Designers are taking on their traditional role of inventors again and are questioning the norm, giving us delightful products that offer simple yet joyful improvements to daily life. We were excited to see so many designers responding to the need for adding a bit of magic to everyday, mundane tasks. A lot of work on show wouldn’t draw much attention at first glance, but revealed surprising functionality once discovered. The broad appeal of this trend can be linked to the revival of analogue. We are once again enchanted by products that offer original and tangible ways of interaction. Martha Schwindlinger, a young German designer, exhibited her ‘Dressing Table’ as part of the fantastic Wallpaper Handmade exhibition. By rolling the round mirror to one side, a small storage compartment on top of the table is magically revealed, whilst the mirror, balanced in a wooden frame, stays at the same angle. “I wanted to do something with a twist to it, nothing too conventional or too serious, playing a game a little bit”, she tells Seymourpowell. Another simple, yet delightful, product was Barber Osgerby’s ‘Tip Ton’ chair for Vitra. Developed for educational environments, the all-plastic chair defines a new kind of dynamic seating, discreetly incorporating a forward-tilt action without any mechanical components.

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The benefit of this motion that straightens the back region is an increased flow of oxygen, which has a positive effect on health and concentration. Manufactured from a single cast, Tip Ton is also practically indestructible and 100% recyclable. Also capturing our imagination was Leon Ransmeier’s ‘Revolver’ barstool for Established & Sons. The simple four-legged barstool integrates a ball bearing into the lower ring, enabling a 360º rotation. A conversation piece in the truest sense! The British design powerhouse also showed some new additions to their ESTD collection, the more affordable accessory line of the brand. The pieces with names like ‘Loaf’, ‘Pour’ and ‘Serve’ are designed to create a delightful moment in your day. Interestingly, the names behind the creations are never revealed, so one could be buying a piece by Japser Morrison or BarberOsgerby for very little money. This inventive spirit that so many designers are returning to has also resulted in new product typologies. Daniel Rybakken’s ‘Counterbalance’ lamp is a wall-mounted light with a two-meter reach, offering an infinite amount of adjustments, elegantly blurring the boundaries between task and ambient light. In a time were technological advances enable everyone to be a designer, it is expertise and true talent that stands out again. Whilst the democratisation of design we talked about in the beginning of this presentation can be a very positive thing, it is also becoming apparent that not everyone can create meaningful products for the demands of our modern world. Observation, a thorough understanding of process and craftsmanship, and a connection to the end user are more relevant than ever. Summary We feel that this year’s show has been a real turning point, with designers taking on a more cultural role. We believe that the social aspects of design will become increasingly important, engaging with and empowering local communities. No longer are designers just producing pieces, instead they are asking people to contribute and become involved with the proces. Storytelling will remain relevant, imbuing objects with character and soul. We hope to see more technology companies recognising the need for calm and decluttered environments, where digital functionality will be fluidly embedded. We are also pleased to see that the previously very male dominated market has started to become more feminine, with more and more talented female designers leaving their mark. And whilst there will always be a place for high profile designers, we feel that what resonates with consumers today is a much more simple and honest approach.

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For further information: Tim Duncan Head of PR, Seymourpowell Email: tim.duncan@seymourpowell.com Tel: +44 (0) 20 7386 2369 Mariel Brown Mariel Brown is part of the Research, Trends and Strategy team at Seymourpowell. Mariel gained a first-class honours degree in Design Futures at Napier University and a Masters degree in Design Products from the Royal College of Art, London. Whilst studying she won a D&AD Award for Product Design and a D&AD Award for Environmental Design. Since Mariel joined Seymourpowell over four years ago she has worked on a diverse range of projects including user research, product strategy and global trend studies. Currently co-head of the trends department, Mariel helps translate trend, market and user insights into tangible future directions for numerous clients. Karen Rosenkranz Karen Rosenkranz is part of the Research, Trends and Strategy team at Seymourpowell. She joined the company in 2007 after having worked in design consultancies in Amsterdam and New York. Karen’s experience covers many facets of the design process - from uncovering user insights to translating them into brand relevant propositions, from spotting emerging trends to defining a brands’ visual language. She has worked on a broad range of projects for clients including Ford, Nike, Panasonic, Unilever and Nokia. About Seymourpowell – the shape of things to come Seymourpowell is one of the world’s leading design and innovation companies. Founded in 1984 by Richard Seymour and Dick Powell, the London-based group of award-winning designers has produced some of the ‘milestone’ products of the last two decades. Seymourpowell is currently the UK’s number 1 design company (YouGov, Nov 2010). The company is part of the Loewy Group. Seymourpowell is currently 85 people, combining a design studio, research centre, materials library and prototyping workshop. Seymourpowell has a unique holistic approach to design and innovation, which combines in depth experience and up to date intelligence about people, markets and businesses. The company has the ability to forecast and interpret the vital implications of behaviors and work out future scenarios to give its clients the confidence and reassurance they are making the right decision.

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Seymourpowell is skilled in exploiting ideas that create real value and always look to move clients forward creatively. Seymourpowell is not just a company of visionary thinkers, but future ‘doers’. Ultimately, Seymourpowell is about making things better: better for people, better for business and better for the world. Specialisms include design innovation, transportation design, ethnographic user research, strategy and new product development (NPD), trends and forecasting, product design and development, 3D structural design and 2D graphic design. ***ENDS***

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