Hella Jongerius
A Conversation with Hella Jongerius…
Louise Schouwenberg + Vitra M, August 26, 2013
Hella Jongerius/ for Ikea_Gullspira
Hella Jongerius/ for Ikea_Gullspira
LS: Theorists who are concerned about the crisis and the consequences for designers feel that we have to embrace more humanist, more sustainable production methods and that we need to seek production locations closer to home. They also suggest that designers must discourage consumers from perceiving products as throwaway objects. How do you see that issue?

H.J.: I have never been involved with durability as an explicit subject as such, at least not in the ecological sense. My products have always been about psychological durability. I find it important that people become engaged with things. You do not achieve that just by working with good raw materials. That is a condition for every design, but not an adequate guarantee for cultural change. That is something you have to seek in improved relationships between people and things. As soon as people are able to relate to things in a meaningful way, they are less inclined to just throw them out or exchange them. I have a responsibility as a designer. I have to design products that are worth being cherished.

LS: That means products that function well?

H.J.: No, it is much more than that! Design is about added value. 

Hella Jongerius/For Ikea_Mikkel.
Hella Jongerius/For Ikea_Mikkel.
LS: For functionality, we can formulate very concrete quality criteria, but added value is harder to understand. Added value becomes a plaything of marketplace effects, vulnerable to manipulation and illusion. In the course of the 20th century, design increasingly revolved around a hard-to-define added value, and communications and the media became very important. It was not the real products, but their representation in the pages of glossy magazines that convinced customers of their desirability and their market value. That in turn had consequences for what was produced. The media demand strong, iconographic images and a recognizable style from a designer. However, in the last few years, that is no longer enough. In design, as in the fine arts, people are seriously searching for a different kind of added value. Perhaps you could call it an inherent value, added value that has to be found in the physical quality of products, the materials, the manufacturing, and the details. That has produced a curious tension between the illusory image in the media and the physical attractiveness of the product itself. How do you deal with that tension?

H.J.: For me, it is not such a contradiction. Virtually all my work is about the process of making it and the attention to materials and details. My products literally happen in my own hands, not in my head, as an idea or mental image. Obviously, I am a child of my own times. I too want to define a clearly recognizable line in my work, find my own signature. Clearly, I am aware of the importance of strong images, but all that is contained in the products themselves, both in the concepts that underlie them and in the way they are realized and finished. For the plates I designed for Nymphenburg, I wanted to show the craftsmanship and all the choices and possibilities that the firm traditionally represents. Idea, image and production all come together. Every handmade plate is, as it were, the painter’s palette, with which the manufacturer works. The same thing was true for the Polder Sofa. My image of that piece says something about its different layers, about having diverse options and about the past. You can literally experience that through the different textiles, the nuances in colour, the differences in textures and, for example, the old buttons that we found at rummage sales and secondhand stores. 

Hella Jongerius/For Ikea_Pelle.
Hella Jongerius/For Ikea_Pelle.
LS: Products communicate a story or idea and are made with the greatest possible care. That strikes me as a condition for every design.

H.J.: That is not as obvious or logical as it seems. I am aware that today, a lot of companies and designers talk about the narrative character of designs. Sometimes it is even literally stated in the commission or assignment that they are looking for an emotional design. These are hollow concepts, and they lead to inflation. But that does not mean that when we first began investigating that, 15 years ago, it did not bring important insights. Design can tell a story. At the same time, you risk the story becoming more important than the product. Here, the media play a more important role. Because of the media, a discrepancy has arisen between the experience of the product in the picture and the experience of the physical product. For a lot of design, the picture is more important than the product itself.

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