We were lucky enough to catch up with the designers from Studio 7.5; Carola Zwick and Burkhard Schmitz. Get an insight into these designers’ lives, their beliefs and design techniques! Read on or click play on the video below.
Studio 7.5 are a Berlin-based design firm who have recently launched their latest design for Herman Miller; the Cosm Task Chair. They are also inventors of the award-winning Setu, Mirra, and Mirra 2 chairs.
What is your favourite colour?
This is not an easy question because the question then is colour for what? As a designer we have preferences, but everything is always linked to a purpose, so the purpose would affect our favourite colour.
Who is your favourite designer (in any industry)?
We have many, many heroes; the Castiglioni’s, the Eames’, Dieter Rams, Naoto Fukasawa, Sam Hecht
What is your favourite piece you’ve designed?
It’s always the latest, in this case the Cosm Task Chair
What is your favourite piece by another designer?
If you look at design a little bit more holistically, it would be the personal computer and its latest incarnation, which is the current laptop that I’m using from the company in California with a fruity name ?. For us, the idea that things are equipment and tools to express yourself is very important and so a laptop makes a lot of sense.
What is your design motto?
Everything should be as simple as possible but not simpler
And this is not ours, but it was Albert Einstein’s. You can apply it to design as well.
What do you think is the most important think to take into consideration when designing a new product?
Thinking about what we said before about the computer, I think most of the time what we do focuses on the joy of use. We think the beauty of handling an object and the beauty of operating it is just as important as the visual aspect and they should go together.
Problem solving is a common thread. Ask yourself how to address a need or a problem that you observe. The solution might not always be a product! Sometimes it might be a service or a software. Ask yourself what the right answer to the challenge is.
What is the interaction you have with Gary Smith (head of R&D for HM) and his team when you design chairs for Herman Miller?
We have known Gary and others at the Design Yard for a long time. Herman Miller has a policy called the “Double Green Light Policy” (which means you only need two approvals to continue with a decision). Actually, you don’t only need to convince two people, but you have to win over every single person. It’s not a top-down organisation so you have to convince everybody. Only if everybody is on board and thinks it’s a good idea, can something move forward. This is a push/pull process that takes much longer than a bottom-down process but it’s more careful.
What’s your favourite design feature of the Cosm chair?
That you can forget it.
When designing a task chair, do you pay any attention to the competitor?
Designing a chair for Herman Miller is like running for pope and that describes our whole ambition. When we know the client is Herman Miller and the objective is a task chair, it’s observing the context more than the competition. It’s trying to get to the heart of the problem and the problem is not always captured in the existing solutions.
What do you think the future workplace will look like?
The future workplace will look very much like today…it’s messy! There are many situations and sometimes your workplace is just your laptop or even your phone, so there’s not one answer.
The ease of use and the quick adaption of the environment to what the user wants is key. Red tape in the future office will be very rare.
What do you think is the most important material thing in a workplace?
The most important thing is the task chair. It holds you up 45cm above the ground, comes close to your body and you know instantaneously if it is not working for you.
Bill Stumpf, the great designer that co-designed the Aeron Chair together with Don Chadwick, coined that great phrase of absence of awareness. That is the definition of comfort. That is a guiding principle.
Materials – how do you experiment, and do you experiment with material outside of the standard Herman Miller range?
The first prototype for the Mirra chair was built from bicycle parts, roller blades and everything that we could find. Except for the base, there was no chair part.
It’s not so much the material we experiment with, but we consider ourselves experts for geometry and combinations of geometries to create a certain performance. We experiment more with techniques of how to build or produce something. That is one of the details on the Cosm chair back. We had to come up with a new method of how to encapsulate a membrane that can then attach to a hard part. We developed the moving process for this. So, it’s not so much materials but it’s how to get materials of different properties together.
How do you test the products – machine and user testing? Does that change globally/culturally?
Our tests are very subjective but severe. When we started, there was not a single female engineer at Herman Miller working on chairs. The guys always tested the chairs to see if they could recline which, of course, they could. One of our very simple changes was to test if females could recline and put their feet on the table. That sounds very subjective, but I think we went even further because we had a very diverse group of people working for us. People of different heights, different body types, different preferences; these people have a say over the comfort and we discuss that heavily. This helps us to understand the breadth of people’s choices and preferences. Of course, this then needs to be verified by anthropometric measurements but it’s a good starting point if we, as a design firm, already try to cope with the larger range of preferences. And of course, we work with very different age groups. Our interns get ever younger (I don’t know how they do that!) 😛
Where did the name Studio 7.5 come from?
We conceived the studio whilst we were working and living in Ohm, which is in the south of Germany. We moved to Berlin when the wall came down as we said, “there’s finally something exciting happening in Germany”. Most of us had lived in Berlin before but wanted to go back. But then we discovered everybody wanted to go back to Berlin, so the rents were unobtainable to us (at least that’s what we thought). So, our plan was to create a design ambulance and buy a truck. Our driver’s license still allowed us to drive a truck with 7.5 tonnes which would have described the size of the studio (and is quite a substantial truck). The idea was to go to our clients to really listen and understand their needs.
We weren’t the first to have the idea of the design ambulance. The great Joe Colombo had an RV and he went from one Italian company to the other and stayed on their campus until the project was done.
There’s still a plan to buy an airstream but that’s years in the making – maybe it materialises.
If you weren’t part of Studio 7.5, what do you think you would be doing as a career?
Carola Zwick: I would’ve become a gardener.
Burkhard Schmitz: I have no fall-back plan, no Plan B