While in Singapore to present their latest works for Herman Miller, the designers from the Berlin-based studio chat with us about design as a team sport.
7 August, 2013
I’m here at the Herman Miller REACH exhibition in Marina Bay Sands, Singapore to interview Carola Zwick and Burkhard Schmitz, two of the four designers (the others being Claudia Plikat and Roland Zwick) who make up Berlin-based design outfit Studio 7.5.
We’re each seated on a Mirra 2 ergonomic task chair, a recent product designed by the studio for Herman Miller, and our first topic is lunch.
The designers working on 3D models in their studio
Studio 7.5 is known for having no rules, except to make time for an afternoon meal together, and Zwick explains why.
“We use it as a [way to have a] daily conference… this is also a time to catch up on what is happening in a casual way. We have a cook, and the interns help!”
The team at Studio 7.5 are keen to stress that the firm is driven by a culture of collaboration. “[Design] is always a collaborative effort. It’s not this one guy or this one lady, but a huge team. [This fact is] neglected because it’s much easier to sell a designer by his or her name,” says Schmitz.
“Since we are four partners, we are [always] discussing and bouncing around ideas. There’s no hierarchy; everyone in the office contributes,” Zwick is quick to add, explaining that this also forces the team to be very explicit with the ideas they put forth. “You have no chance to convince [the others] with a drawing on paper. You have to at least go to the model shop and create a little model to convince the others. If it’s touchable, if you can test drive [the product], that helps.”
Within this open, non-hierarchical working environment, even the cook will offer up an opinion and test out the designs.
“Nobody at Studio 7.5 is in it only for the money,” says Schmitz, “We are friends, and because our main client is Herman Miller in the United States, and we have a 6 hour time difference, we usually work long hours. You either complain about it all the time, or you try to make those times as pleasant as possible.”
Studio 7.5 is celebrating its 21st birthday this year, and also its 20th year in partnership with Herman Miller.
“Sometimes we call ourselves ’truffle pigs’,” says Zwick, in describing the studio’s relationship with Herman Miller. “So we are the ones swarming around looking for ideas, [making] observations, then dwelling and working [on them]. [We] then only bring the stuff that we [have] filtered back to Herman Miller. We don’t work with a brief. It’s really about consulting [with] them [on] strategic product decisions.”
On the new Mirra 2, which comes ten years after Mirra 1 was launched to market, the designers explain that they have tried to maintain the DNA of the first while creating a new chair “with the learning of today”.
“For us it’s like the reincarnation [of Mirra],” says Zwick. “We have the chance, if we don’t start from scratch, but start from a refined plateau, to [look at] what can be achieved.”
Various features have been improved, like the arms, which now move back and forth. There’s also the chair’s butterfly back, now more responsive to the body’s movements thanks to a new method of merging the fabric layer with polymer veins, and the larger ratio of ‘holes’ versus solid surface, which make up distinctive design of the back.
Being smarter in every detail also means that the chair is now 22% lighter than the first, which Zwick gamely proves by lifting it up without breaking a sweat. Its carbon footprint has also been reduced by 25%.
All in all, it is a leaner, lighter, and more intuitive and sustainable Mirra.
The pair are also enthusiastic to talk about Metaform, another project they’ve recently worked on with Herman Miller.
“It’s created out of the notion that we think the time for facility managers is over. We want to have change immediately,” says Zwick. Metaform is made up of lightweight, modular blocks, and can be easily configured and reconfigured without tools to allow users to work naturally and more intuitively in an evolving workspace. And there are no drawers – everything is organised and displayed on shelves.
“We’ve noticed that people don’t put much into drawers anymore, because [many things have] become virtual. And what is left over they pile up on their desk… therefore [Metaform] is organised like a photo studio… it serves as a visual repository for your ideas,” says Zwick.
“The material used here is the same as what is used for car bumpers and bicycle helmets. It’s very strong [yet] squishy so you can tag [things] on it,” she adds.
And with that product tour complete, we can’t wait to see what Studio 7.5 will dream up next in their workshop.
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