Current projects: It’s
a mix of a lot of things. I’ve just come back from seeing a finished prototype for
a small architectural project in Rennes, France. We’re working with a big Korean company
on electronics—I can’t say which company, but in September we will launch some
new products that will be quite interesting, I think. We’re also working on a
carpet collection that is being done in Pakistan in a kilim technique. So we’ve
got a very broad interest around the question of the object.
Mission: Well, I
think this world is quite ugly and very often badly conceived. So I think the
mission of the designer is to fight against that. The problem is that now
design is becoming an adjective—so we speak of a “design chair” or a “design
kettle,” and often when this adjective is used it’s for an object that is
totally wrong. These “design” objects are a caricature of what they could or
should be. So the mission is to find new solutions, to find a way to invent a
new aesthetic, a new balance, a new elegance.
Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec on their 2011 Ploum sofa for Ligne Roset
When did you decide that
you wanted to be a designer? When I was 15 it was very clear for me. Since
then, I’ve felt that I entered a train and this train has never stopped. I
started very early, so I feel like a very old designer now.
Education: When I
was 15, I entered art school. I was very bad at school, but there I came to be
good. Then, when I was 20, I entered industrial design school, but a terrible
one, in Paris. And I was again a bad student, because I never understood what
they wanted or what they thought about industrial objects. It had terrible
professors, a terrible idiot approach to things. I did graduate, but at the
lowest level possible. But when I look back now, I think it was a very
important moment in my life. I didn’t exactly understand why I didn’t trust
them or why their idea about objects was wrong, so I had to build my own
approach. And I realized very quickly that I wanted to do my own thing, so in
parallel with school I started to participate in exhibitions and have small
editions of pieces.
The Bouroullecs' first collaboration with the Finnish brand Artek debuted at last February's Stockholm Furniture Fair.
Called Kaari, the Artek collection includes a round table, a rectangular table (pictured), a desk, a wall console and wall-mounted shelves.
First design job:
I’ve never worked for anyone. It was very clear to me that I wanted to work for
Who is your design
hero? I have many. If I spoke about the 1950s, it’s between Sori Yanagi, Jean
Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand and all the American ones, from Nelson to Eames.
They’re all very important to me. But then there’s the Italian avant-garde of
the 1970s, from Sottsass to Andrea Branzi. When I was a young designer, I felt
a lot of interest in Jasper Morrison’s work. And probably the most achieved
designer of this period, for me, is Jonathan Ive.
The Bouroullecs' studio in Paris
workspace: It’s a mess. It’s a sort of atelier, divided into three levels.
In the basement, there are a lot of machines and the possibility of doing very
quick mockups or prototypes. On the first level, it’s tables and computers and
a lot of paper—and all the prototypes, when they’re finished in the basement,
they arrive on the first floor, so it’s full of cardboard, metal, wood
prototypes everywhere. It’s full of dust and paper and tape; it’s a very dirty
place that I like a lot. I want it exactly like that; I don’t want to have it
clear. I want to be surrounded by ideas and to have them under my eyes.
The third floor is a bit quieter. It’s a sort of archive of
drawings, and then a photo studio. After we do a project, we do our own
pictures of the project, and we might do a book or something like that. The third
level is more linked to how to finish the design projects through pictures.
Other than the
computer, what is your most important tool? My brain? I don’t use the computer
so much, except for communication. I don’t use 3D printers. But I’ve got
assistants that do those things. More and more—and this is the situation of
being an old designer—I’m finding that I can build a lot of projects mentally.
I don’t especially need to draw them before. When I was a young designer, it
was very important to repeat the drawing, exactly like a dancer or a pianist
practices repeating something to be able to understand it. After 20 years of
work, I have repeated in my mind a lot of form, a lot of aspects. So I can,
more and more, instinctively build in my head a picture of something. It’s less
important to draw everything to understand it.
What is the best part
of your job? To do a good project is very complicated. I like that. I like
the difficulty of it. From the first picture to the very end, we have to be
extremely hard on ourselves to produce something interesting. The problem—and
probably a part of the pleasure—is I’m never satisfied. But I like to fight
with myself, to never be satisfied and to search and search.
What is the worst
part of your job? We work on all the different aspects of a project, from
the project itself to the way it’s shown to the way it’s photographed. But this
control is something that is impossible at a certain level—at the level of
distribution, for example. When I see some of our pieces in shops or when I see
the way the company is showing them, sometimes I’m totally desolate.
The Belleville collection for Vitra, launched in Milan last month
Also from the Salone Milan, the Officina chair for Magis, with a wrought-iron base and injected-plastic shell
What time do you get
up and go to bed? I have a lot of problems waking up, but I try to wake up
for my daughter at 8:00, to discuss with her in the morning. And then I’ll
often go to bed around midnight. I need to sleep.
How do you
procrastinate? I compulsively look on the Internet on some idiotic subject,
like real estate, for example. I like to see houses and to see how much they cost.
I don’t buy anything, but I spend hours and hours searching for something near
the coast or . . . Actually, I’ve probably found one, after years and years of
research. It’s in Brittany, which is the part of the country I come from; it’s
an old house from the 19th century, built on rocks in front of the ocean. Very,
very modest but very interesting.
To do a good project is very complicated. I like that. I like the difficulty of it. From the first picture to the very end, we have to be extremely hard on ourselves to produce something interesting.
What is your favorite
productivity tip or trick? I have noticed that the good ideas often appear
when I’m extremely tired. Part of the value of being a young designer is to be
naïve—you’ve got a certain freshness, in a way. Specialists know too much about
things, and in general they miss the important distance that is needed to find
something new or different. So now that I’m not naïve anymore, the fact of being
tired helps me to build the project in another way.
Also, we are working on a lot of projects at the same time,
and I’ve noticed that when I need to finish a project because it’s the
deadline, it’s very often at this exact moment that I find the answer to another
project. Because when you concentrate too much on something, it can be
impossible to have the power of finding something interesting. I’m not romantic
at all when I say this, but I think a good project is something a bit magical.
A good project is not just the addition of facts which are perfectly answered.
If you take the important icons of the 20th and 21st century, for
example—almost all of them have got a big problem inside the object itself, and
that’s why it’s so particular, that’s why it’s different, that’s why it has a
specific charm, because it’s exactly like a person. Perfection is not
interesting. Charm is something that is very complex to find and to build.
The Bouroullecs' new Ruutu vases for Iittala
What is the most
important quality in a designer? To be modest. Design is a very generic
discipline. You have to work one day with plastic, and the day after with wood,
and then ceramics, and then try to invent a new way of stitching or a new way
of welding. It means that you are a specialist of nothing—but you have to work
with specialists. So the most important thing is to be modest and to have
a lot of empathy.
Stampa chair for Kettal, also new this year
What is the most
widespread misunderstanding about design or designers? In France, designers
are considered as sort of artists. Industrial people do not understand what a designer really is. They think it’s someone who can do a good drawing or have a
good idea, and then from that drawing or idea they think, “OK, I’ll work
alone.” But a designer is someone who has to be totally integrated from the
beginning to the end in the entire process.
What is your most
prized design possession? I’m not a collector at all, and I’m not so much
surrounded by design objects. I’m not a fetishist. But I just bought two Aalto
tables from Artek that were used in the cafeteria for Helsinki University. So there
is chewing gum stuck under the table and all of that. I like them a lot.
What is exciting you
in design right now? The fact of how fast it is to do something and then
photograph it and then put it on a website so it is everywhere. I’m fascinated
by the quantity of things that you can see everyday—this relation between
things that are permanently invented and seeing all of that on a screen. I come
from another period, when it took a very long time to share a project with
everybody, and you could only share it if it was in collaboration with a good
company that was able to communicate. Now a student could do something in his
small room and photograph it and publish it. But I’m not so amazed at the
quality of what I see. I think the global quality is better—the medium level.
But I’m not so surprised by the new generation, for example.
If you could redesign
anything, what would you choose? First of all, for me, there is no
hierarchy of things. I’m extremely happy to do the chandelier at the entrance
of the castle at Versailles, which we designed two years ago—but at the same
time, to do a low-cost, basic chair for a café or terrace. For me, both of them
are extremely difficult.
All product photography by Studio Bouroullec. Portraits and studio photo by Morgane Le Gall
Mason Currey is a former Core77 editor and the author of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Previously, he was the executive editor of Print and the managing editor of Metropolis. His freelance writing has appeared in the New York Times and Slate, among other publications. He lives in Los Angeles.