The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

A conversation with the participation  of  “banica”, “tesla”, Alberto Alessi, good and bad design examples.

“” said Elric Petit in the middle of a round table friendly talk in Generator. This fraise came from one of the founders of BIG – GAME and it somehow centered the meeting with Bulgarian designers, architects and media people. Solutions are sometimes so close that it is hard to see them.

Generator’s shiny washed floor generously reflects the November sun coming thru the windows at 10am. Coffee and tea are served, “banica” is hot and ready to at the start of the breakfast. Fewer chairs around the table this morning. There were many more at the previous evening venue when Elric Petit of the Swiss design trio BIG – GAME started his talk infront of a full house with the casual “I’ll try to explain what happens in our design studio”. An hour later he was surrounded by people asking questions and passing some of the studio products he brought with him between each other.

Elric was invited in Sofia by by Studio Komplekt and the Prototype Platform and last night he did show that he could explain in a simple and comprehensive language what design was according to BIG –GAME and he melt the distance between him and the audience faster than the sun melting the snow on the streets outside.

Same natural ease and openness seemingly coming from BIG – GAME’s approach to design is at presence this morning. This is to be the second breakfast talk organized by the Social Club Initiative after one earlier this year with the Portuguese architect Pedro Gadanho.

This morning meet’s aim is to make space for a personal and direct contact with the guest by a group of local designers. Today sides can exchange ideas and discuss work process.

Chaired by Adriana Andreeva and Boyana Gyaurova the talk starts with introductions round the table. Microphone is passed on by architects, marketing consultants, media reps.

Penka Stancheva – architect, Elia Nedkov – architect, Lora Variiska and Ilian Hadziin of architectural studio FUNKT, Lidia Manolova and Tsvetana Shipkova – journalists, Galya Zanatto of SKLDA design showroom, IKEA Bulgaria marketing head – Joana Tsoneva.

“It is not easy for one to introduce himself. This is a moment you find out who you really are” says Penka Stancheva at the beginning.

 

Adriana:

  • Preparing for the talk me and Boyana picked up few important subjects we could discuss at the breakfast. Relationships between designer and manufacturer, education, public’s lack of interest in design but please feel free to ask your own questions and discuss all matters that excite you here. Suggest we start with BIG –GAME’s collaboration with the big brands as they do have experience with that.

At the talk last night Elric mentioned Alessi, Magis, HAY.. We are curious what was your approach with them? Were you the more active side in the process?

 

Elric:

Your question is in the heart of our business. A designer alone is nobody and one needs brands to work with. At the beginning we put a lot of effort to promote ourselves and to communicate what we do. The design school ECAL were the three of us studied helped us with that. There we studied not only design but also graphics, photography and communication. This helped our step by step development. We were shy at the beginning but 4-5 years later and after we showed at the Salone del Mobile in Milan we started meeting the right people. The start was 14 years ago at Salone Satelite – young designer’s show at I Saloni. It is a good start – there you meet Cappelini, Alessi, the big brands – they come to see what the young designers do. It helped that there were three of us – three is better than one when you communicate and make contacts.

 

Boyana:

Bulgaria and Switzerland differ in that respect. The wide audience and even some professionals in the field here seem to lack confidence and interest in design. Design education seems is not at level. As a tutor in ECAL can you say something about the education there and your way of teaching?

 

Elric:

Education in Design is the big issue indeed. I am lucky to teach in ECAL. The place has huge energy, students are motivated and they are thought by people from all over the world. But I am confident that my way of teaching would be the same in Bulgaria. I think teaching design is universal. Generator for example could be a very good school. Even with only weeklong workshops and limited material but with lots of energy you can achieve a lot in this exciting space. Sometimes we don’t need too much to do good things. We can do good design everywhere. Did I answer your question?

 

Penka:

I’ve been thinking a lot how could we change things here. My personal answer would be: Step by step as we do what we believe in. I’d like to go back to the connection with the producers – do you get technical support from the manufacturers? At the end of the day one does not know everything about all materials as that would limit creativity I think.

 

Elric:

We are not engineers but industrial designers and we get educated about materials every day. At the factories meetings we are not only designers proposing a beautiful form. Clients must see us as professionals. The IKEA shelving for example – they drove us quite far and we learned a lot from them about how you make little changes to make the product more affordable. This shelving now costs less than 100 Euros and it was five times that at the beginning!

 

Lidia:

Looks we don’t have such producers in Bulgaria. Studio FUNKT, you often make the furniture for the interiors you create. Have tried to contact BG factories trying to get one of your ideas in mass production?

 

Ilian:

 

I think first we should try to stop looking for excuses. For sure there is no communication and coordination between designers and producers. Such a big chairs manufacturer as the one in Troyan is just not interested in a chair with good design. We tried once to approach them although we were not very active. It is somehow easier to make things in our workshop and with our low-tech approach. But I think we must work on improving our communication with the producers that for now turn out only ugly stuff.

 

Elric:

An ugly things producer is good news for designers. It means it is time for a change.

 

Penka:

A problem is our lack of confidence.

 

Lora:

More like we feel tired to deal with people that are not willing to make beautiful things. Preoccupied with our jobs we are not trying to find new channels. And this a problem Bulgarian designers have nowdays.

 

Adriana:

You need a manufacturer open for new ideas together with designers and the media as good stories always help. A good example is IKEA’s VASSAD – the whole range in made in Bulgaria.

 

Elia:

I am a designer but turned maker and investor at the end. It’s more of an experiment.

It is very exhausting to develop a product this way – track out the only two guys that can make particular items. At a point you ask yourself if it is worth at all and should you be not doing something else. And it is not down to technologies but experience. When I start developing a product here the cost of it gets higher than if I did it in Italy. A prototype here would cost for example 750 Euros compared to 500 in Italy for a perfect product. Question off course is – what do we do? We can only make things the best possible way. Everyone looks after the small stuff that surrounds us. And yes, no sense in making Swiss watches in Bulgaria.

 

Galya Zanatto:

We are talking about the connection between designers and makers but most important is that all of that must be useful to someone. A product makes no sense without connecting to clients and the market. In this light I would like to ask Elric why is it so difficult to define design?

 

Elric:

 

I think it is not so difficult. Perhaps everyone has their own perception – it could be luxury or attention seeking for some people. For me design is optimistic, life defining subject which makes everyday life better. What we are thought in school about design is that it is something created with good sense, meaningful, intelligent, economical and understanding what different people need. Design is context – one thing in Switzerland, another in Bulgaria but always an interesting subject. In context I understand the ecosystem, everything around us.

 

Lidia:

When we talk about context – yesterday you were telling the story of how the owner of the Alessi brand, Alberto Alessi approached your studio with the idea of you designing an anonymous Swiss product. And we see that the beautiful toolbox with comfortable wooden handle combines the Swiss pragmatic spirit with the Italian Alessi charm. Just thinking – if Alessi approached a Bulgarian designer with the same idea what would our answer would have been?

 

Penka:

Something ugly. Because our reaction to the market’s needs and bad taste is taking over. Actually I don’t think there is a Bulgarian identity in design..

 

Elia:

Identity comes with repetition. To show step by step what we do. This is BIG-GAME’s way of building their identity and the way I am building mine. There is no magic way for creating identity – it comes with hard work only. As for a Bulgarian product – I would make a “Tesla” – a multifunctional tool, pure Bulgarian, very primitive but useful.

 

Tsveti:

Do we need to look for a Bulgarian identity when design is a worldwide process? You are three designers with different nationality and your clients come from all over the world..

 

Elric:

Yes, identity is important. I would need to look at your magazine’s archives to understand what has been happening in this country thru the years. Surely it is very exciting. Designers should be curious about their country. Best thing for BIG-GAME was when journalists stopped asking us about the Belgian design or the French, the Swiss one. But it is important to know who we are because sometimes we create a product for a different culture and we must be able to understand it.

 

Ilian:

With the situation here we trying to simplify the product and to make it easier to make – this is part of our identity. We use special details. Being a designer here is good in a sense that you must fight and learn a lot. Bulgarian design is nice but not so beautiful.

 

Lora:

We have good examples – project “Sharka” with porcelain tiles using patterns based on Bulgarian traditional motifs. We designed tiles from the same series and we use them in our projects. I think that this is Bulgarian identity applied in a new way. (She shows the tiles on the screen).

 

Elric:

Thank you for showing them to me! Now I know more about the Bulgarian aesthetic. My flight is at seven tonight. Today is a beautiful sunny day and I will take a walk. I have a list with places I’d like to visit to get to know the Bulgarian context better. I would not like to go back to Switzerland with the only understanding of what a “tesla” is.

 

Adriana:

Thank you everyone! Lots of banica left…

 

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