Whether it’s a vase, glass collection, ceramic tile, luminaire, car tyre, sofa or wash basin – her creations are quite simply beautiful – and sensuous. And she has the looks to match. In the course of the interview, however, multi-award winning product and interior designer Defne Koz turns out to be not just charming and sensitive but tough and uncompromising as well – especially when it comes to quality issues in design. She thinks today’s design scene is lacking in diligent research, serious design, passion and courageous visions for the future. Following her participation in this year’s Trendboard Workshop for the imm cologne, she joined us in a café on the banks of the Rhine for an extensive interview about trends and the future of interior design, the power of design traditions and the hierarchy of visions.
The design philosophy of the Turkish-born product designer who currently lives in the USA was shaped by none other than Ettore Sottsass – it was in his studio that she completed her training. With branch studios in Milan, Istanbul and her new home town of Chicago, she is making her quiet but enduring mark on a wide range of sectors, from jewellery design all the way to architectural projects. She designs furniture for Mobileffe, Liv’it and MPD, luminaires for Foscarini and Leucos, decorative objects, household goods and accessories for Alessi, Egizia, Aski, Cappellini, Guzzini, WMF or Authentics, impressive tile collections for VitrA and bathroom items for Rapsel-Nito and Merato.
She has also come up with some offbeat concepts for a tyre decor for Pirelli and ritual porcelain items. She has just designed an innovative architectural glass for OmniDecor and created some new cups complete with packaging design for Nestlé. Her work is a deliberate expression of her dedication to the future and thus also of her aversion to aesthetics that relish in doom-mongering and melancholy. She dreams of objects made of light that can be seen but not touched, of materials that surprise you with their lightness, of spaces made tangible by sound and of technology that is both designed to be sensuous and controlled by the senses. Defne Koz wants her future back? It’s spread out before her, ready for the taking.
You’ve just spent two days discussing design developments and the furnishing culture of the coming year. What do tomorrow’s trends look like?
We just have to improve the things we think are important. At the end of the day it’s us, the creators, who make the trends. I’m not following a trend. So in that respect I ought to be willing to talk about trends.
So what’s important to you?
In my case I want my future back. We never live the future that we’re expecting. We expected to be living a completely different life in the new millennium, and now ten years have passed already and we’re still doing the same. So let’s recreate that future and let’s make it realistic. I’m very optimistic that we can.
What does the future look like?
To me it’s pink (laughs). No. It should be the future of the future and not the future of the past. Totally new ground. We have to be more innovative without losing sight of the human measure. Technology should be invisible and accessed via the human senses. On the other hand, objects that I use in my daily life really ought to awaken feelings in me. Either because they represent a totally new typology, because they introduce a new form, or because they have a completely different tactile feel. But working on the materials is even more important than the form. More than anything else, I’m interested in the porosity, the lightness, the luminosity, the transparency and the depth of the materials.
What might that look like in practice?
Well, for OmniDekor Design, we’ve just given a two-dimensionally structured architectural glass an added value by using 3D effects, for instance. And if, say, a fabric takes on a three-dimensional effect, it’s a lot more interesting, it gives the object richness and fullness. I encountered something similar in my work for an Italian machinery producer. They wanted to try out their highly developed technology for manufacturing digitally printed ceramics by creating a series of visionary sample products. The possibilities are tremendous – as the material samples of ceramic tiles with a wood effect show.
Is that the future?
Three-dimensional printing is the new approach. It’s very interesting. But for me, when it comes to the materials, their immateriality is important as well. It’s opposites that attract me. Ethereal objects like the work of Olafur Eliasson fascinate me because, even though they have a volume, you can’t touch them. That’s a new aspect: when the space becomes the object, I can shape it and elaborate it. And that shows that it’s not about combating acceleration, as people so often say, but about revolutionary evolution.
So what are you appealing for?
For us to work on the future. We have to be revolutionary in the sense of developing completely new things, and we have to evolve the traditional approaches in design.
How can you get the consumer on your side?
The job of the designer is to study the person, to study his environment and offer him the right product. We should continue with that and try to avoid doing “stylish” design. That kind of thing just makes me sad. When design is seen as a style, that’s what makes me sad.
The imm cologne’s Trendboard Workshop didn’t define styles either – instead, it described different ways of dealing with design. As well as the innovation-happy design devotees, there’s a group you could call the fun-loving anarchists as well. The interior trend attributed to them, “Transforming Perspectives”, sometimes plays irreverently with design and mixes it with other media. Isn’t that a very communicative way of reaching people through design?
Yes, but ultimately all these four categories lead to the same end, i.e. to quality. So if design is done in the right way, it doesn’t matter which design world it comes from, it will appeal to people because it improves their quality of life. Wherever you go, whether it’s the Salone del Mobile, 100% Design or the imm cologne, there are lots of good design projects. And sometimes the students’ work is even better than the real products. But you’ll always find plenty of simplistic, gimmicky exhibits as well. For me, that’s not design. There’s more to it than simply giving concrete form to an idea that happens to pop into your head. You have to do really good research to arrive at the right product.
At the Trendboard Workshop for the imm cologne, you and your fellow panellists had a very heartfelt discussion about what developments you’d like to see in design in future. What direction do you think it should go in, and what is lacking in the design world right now?
Well, I can definitely think of one very obvious thing: the lack of depth. I think many designs lack the willingness to research and ask the right questions, and I find them a little lacking in passion too. Each piece should be elaborated more to achieve the optimum result. There are plenty of nice designs out there, but most of them don’t say anything to you.
Is that a new tendency?
No, it’s a development that goes back at least ten years or so. It seems to me that there used to be more designers with a strong personality. Today there are tendencies, a kind of fashion: Everybody is doing the same sort of chair, table and so on. When it comes to furniture, there’s hardly any difference between the various companies at all any more.
Isn’t that a consequence of the demand for one design for all?
I’m not against consumption, I just think that all these products ought to have more depth. Instead of making lots of products, we ought to be making products with more sense. And it’s our responsibility to push companies to develop something new and give the products an added value.
But won’t ‘democratic’ design ultimately lead to declining investments and a gradual levelling out?
Let me be perfectly clear: it’s good that everybody can afford design nowadays and that design is no longer an elitist product. I’m really happy when I see fantastic packaging or a well-designed shopping basket at the supermarket, because that’s precisely what I love about design: it gives quality to everyday objects. But that should be the same everywhere. A company like Cappellini can’t produce a sofa for the same price as Ikea, but it gives us a reference point for what a good sofa can look like. They set the benchmark for high quality design. That’s why they shouldn’t stop at that point, they should carry on with their research and go deeper. And it’s not true that there’s no time for that any more. New technologies have made researching forms, materials and manufacturing techniques very much faster, with the result that development doesn’t take any longer but we have a lot more time to think about it. And if you can reflect more, you can understand more.
But surely the dwindling willingness to invest in research and development is actually a general development that’s not just limited to the design and furniture industry. What does that say about us?
You’re right, it’s something that’s affecting a lot of different industries. Our lives are increasingly governed by immediate goals. That’s bad because they won’t survive. I guess that’s part of our lifestyle nowadays. In the past it was more important to acquire a profound knowledge of things. In Italian you’d say ‘saggio’, which means something like wisdom, an attitude that older people have and that makes them more respectful of the things they’ve learned so much about. That was a genuine gain. For me as a designer, it’s precisely this respectful attitude that distinguishes companies who do thorough research instead of just producing lots of good commercial stuff.
Where does your passion for design come from – is it a question of education or culture?
I think the time I spent in Milan had a formative influence. I had the good fortune to work with Ettore Sottsass and to live in an environment that was shaped by the school of Italian design embodied by people like Castiglioni, Bellini and so on. That showed me how important it is be respectful of design history and to have a good knowledge of it so you can use it as a basis for building something new. You have to have respect for what you do, and you can’t have respect without passion. The same applies to any other kind of work. But nor can you stop at what’s already been achieved: you’ve got to add something new.
What attitude does design take to the call to preserve the old?
It’s the same as with the design tradition. Design can definitely preserve cultural identity without repeating itself. Many cultures – be they Turkish, Mexican or African – are incredibly rich, and yet if we only ever move forward without looking back some of them will eventually disappear. If we don’t research it properly, if we don’t bring it into the here and now with today’s technologies, materials and needs, much of our cultural heritage will disappear. A historian who wants to preserve history for ever writes a book; a designer does something similar when he treats arts or crafts with respect for the work, passion and patience that went into making them and brings them into the future by adapting them to our contemporary values.
In the age of the Internet and flash mobs, do we actually still have the patience for that kind of thing?
I’m positive in that respect because the way life is speeding up in general will also help us work faster. I’m a big fan of technology. I’m not interested in integrating the past as a citation. But nor should we throw it away. Instead, we ought to keep developing it with new aspects so that we don’t lose our identity.
How are people’s private living environments changing?
The biggest change is in the hierarchy of spaces, the importance that’s attached to them. In the past only the living room was important and nobody cared about the kitchen, bathroom or studio. But then first the kitchen and then the bathroom experienced a huge increase in importance. And that’s a clear indication that, wherever we go, we seek quality. I really like the idea of all rooms being equally important, because it means you can feel at home wherever you happen to be.
So design is gradually entering all areas of life …
It’s more an offer of diversity rather than complete coverage. I’m sure everybody has met someone who looks nice and seems stylish, and then when you go to his home you realise it doesn’t seem to fit in with the way he looks. That makes you think his appearance is just a mask, a fake. Today homes can reflect far more of their owner’s personality because there are so many interior design options to choose from.
So private homes are a stark contrast to many public spaces like schools, then: nobody seems to take any interest in how they’re designed – not even designers.
Things always progress in stages. Of course schools should be given priority, they should be right at the top of the list, but unfortunately the fashion in design right now is to build stadiums – before that it was offices, and then banks. It’s a kind of showing-off. In our system of values, prestige comes first. I think it will be hospitals next and then schools – yet again, education comes last, unfortunately.
Is it because we find it hard to identify with children or the sick?
It’s always related to having a vision. If a lot of visionary people care about a certain theme it becomes a kind of fashion and then designers can put more into it as well. And it’s a question of money too, of course. And although there are more and more private hospitals and schools, unfortunately they only ever invest in equipment because they haven’t got enough vision to realise how much children are influenced by their environment and the objects that surround them.
17. November 2010
Categories: Designers in Dialogue, Interior Trends 2011, top designers
Tags: Alessi, Aski, Authentics, Cappellini, Cologne, Defne Koz, design, Egizia, flash mobs, Foscarini, future, Guzzini, imm cologne 2011, international furniture show, Internet, interview, Leucos, Liv’it, Merato, Mobileffe, MPD, Nestlé, OmniDecor, Pirelli, quality, Rapsel-Nito, Top-Designer, Trendboard, Trendbook, WMF