Cool and casual, and cutting-edge
Together with the specialists at gumpo Ana Relvão and Gerhardt Kellermann have created a collection of office furniture to be presented at this year’s Orgatec. How did it work out? A conversation about successful collaborations – in life, and in work.
Ana Relvão, Gerhardt Kellermann, what will office furniture of the future look like?
GK: Furniture does not have the same quick turnover as technical appliances – it needs to remain up to date for as long as possible. We think about screens, dividers and height-adjustable desks. The steadily growing demand for electrification must be met, as everybody needs ports for laptops and smartphones. Yet at the same time we have to have to be as flexible as possible.
AR: It is not about styling, but, rather, how people will work tomorrow. So, we don’t create super futuristic designs, but furniture with the potential of becoming a classic.
That’s a challenging claim. What exactly have you designed?
AR: A stand-sit table, for example. The challenge lay in creating something singular composed of standard components, but something that would be a proper gumpo product. Along with that we developed a meeting and conference table. We were aiming for an easy and casual solution made of panel material, netting and flexible power sockets – a reflection of contemporary office worlds.
GK: Another project revolved around a new typology for the high table, outfitted with rollers and a special folding mechanism to ensure easy setting-up, transportation and stowing. Basically, this table is built of panels. The idea behind the design was to reduce purchase parts.
GK: And the trolley has smaller dimensions than others and does without the usual filing systems. This piece offers space for personal belongings and office stuff, since the rest is no longer under the desk anyway, but on the server. Thus the top of the trolley can be used as a further storage space, which can be structured with simple accessories. Furniture can indeed be very different from the standards spanning 30 or 40 years.
The trick is then to…
AR:…find innovative forms without ditching proven practice. This is why a flipchart is part of the collection.
The collection appears to be very understated. Why is that?
GK: Because architecture often leads the way with smart, minimal solutions. Our furniture reflects this – we try to deliver fitting pieces suitable to the architects’ way of thinking.
How do you know how architects tick?
AR: Because we have collaborated with a number of architects. Our projects focus on space and people. In our work we seek as many perspectives as possible, and as many different ones as possible. It is about creating products whose pricing, functionality and aesthetic are so compelling that they can be integrated into projects. Simple and easy solutions, much like what contemporary architecture attempts with intelligent floor plans, materials and designs to provide modern and interesting spaces.
GK: Our office neighbors are architects, whom we often show our designs during a break, to see what they would appreciate. We present prototypes and receive immediate feedback.
Did you get comments?
AR: Especially concerning the height-adjustable table, along the lines of: “That’s exactly what we need!”
As designers, how did you approach this collection?
GK: The question was, what can gumpo realize? We wanted to use processes that were already in place. And to create and develop in such a way to allow gumpo to manufacture as much as possible in their own shops, without too many purchase parts and suppliers.
How did you achieve this?
GK: We even tried to do without metal and foot frames, in order to incorporated components from gumpo’s stock. We even studied existing injection-molded parts in their archive to see what we could use in order not to have to develop and manufacture everything again from scratch.
Do you see yourselves as author designers?
AR: Not at all. It would be presumptuous to speak about our project, because we always work with a team. gumpo had a large stake in this collection. The most crucial aspect for us is collaborating well with our clients. We certainly know a lot about production methods, but nobody understands methodology like those dealing with it daily.
GK: The term author designer is too closely linked with one individual. This is not about our taste or other externals. It is about finding common ground, finding solutions together that absolutely work.
So it is not about appearance?
GK: We are actually focused first and foremost on the logic of how something is used. And not on dictating a certain style to be imposed on a company. We try to thoroughly understand a company before collaborating on projects. Style is…
AR: …the result of partnership. Our design language evolves from function. We believe that the simplest product is also the most attractive for users.
Which is why your designs are very distinct?
GK: What’s exiting is that this collection for an office furniture system turned out to be quite neutral. These pieces are intended for large projects, hence none of the future buyers should be bound to a specifically articulated style. It is supposed to be comfortable, and reduced.
But you also specifically address architects and their preferences. How come?
AR: It was highly crucial to develop objects that align with contemporary architecture. We always had modern office spaces in mind, which is why our designs are so minimalist. Rather than dominating a space, they are integrative, becoming part of a whole.
Partnership is an important aspect of your work. You are not only a professional team, but also a couple in your private life. How do you pass the ball to each other?
AR: It is not a big deal for us. Where others tend to separate work and leisure, because one part is about making money and the other about real life after hours, we have nothing that divides us. We see our profession as a vital part of our life. Each morning we discuss that day’s agenda, apart from that, everything runs its course very naturally.
GK: To separate working from living would be really difficult, maybe even impossible, because we are surrounded constantly by products and projects. So when one of us has an idea, we immediately talk about it. It is always exciting when we can come together to tackle a projec
How would you describe each other’s strengths?
AR: Gerry is a visual person; he quickly understands the key issue of a project and visualizes it immediately, preferably late at night.
GK: And Ana is the best critic, allowing us to arrive at a much better solution. She keeps the bigger picture in mind.
But criticism can also be destructive…
AR: I am not at all a negative person (both laugh). But not really positive either (both laugh even more). I’m more in the middle. When I criticize, it is about finding the best possible solution. I am neither tough nor sweet, just normal. Just behaving neutrally, actually.
GK: This is how Ana introduces elegance into technical solutions – she is not content with that first answer.
So what is good design?
GK: Design is communication, beginning with that first conversation with a client. At the end of the day, that designed object must match the customer as well as the user. Obviously, it should be able to perform its function. It all comes down to one question: why do I look the way I do? Design must be self-evident. When that is the case, it will be appreciated because it interacts with its users. This is good design.
AR: A product is never just an aesthetic solution, but an answer to several demands.
You are both very young and yet you have created a lot of products. Presently, you are teaching in Stuttgart. Has that affected you?
AR: Not really. This professorship is an extension of what we are doing here: we help others to find their individual path. Basically, it is about the same problems, with new issues being added. But this was also the case when we were working as external designers for Huawei. We give input. And, naturally, we are inspired. Not so much through the products of our students, but through their questions.
GK: Diversity is always thrilling. This is why rather than being specialized we are convinced that we can draw insights from different industries and transfer them to others in order to innovate. Being at the university keeps you fresh and edgy, because you are dealing with different people, subjects and interests.
Like your design?
Interview: Oliver Herwig
Fotos: Tanja Kernweiss
The designers Ana Relvão and Gerhardt Kellermann often compare their work with solving a Sudoku puzzle: what is present must continuously be questioned and each time aligned anew; yet the function and the practical value of an object remain fundamental to their designs.
The result of this process are self-evident products, which users can easily understand, products, whose reduced forms radiate nonchalance and discreet elegance.
Relvãokellermann live and work in Munich. Besides being sought by international companies, they also work for cultural institutions and teach as visiting professors for industrial design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart.