Check out some great work from Maarten Baas.
AH: Your work blurs the line between art and design. Can you discuss your approach and share an example of challenges that you face in designing for a very niche market?
MB: I don’t design for a niche market. Some products end up in a niche market, and that’s quite a difference. Since I don’t design for a specific market, there are also no specific challenges. This “limited edition” design world is something quite funny. It seems there’s not enough trust or appreciation for things that are defined to be “design,” so the prices often don’t cover the high costs that it takes to create them. I think it’s ridiculous how people stick so much to only a definition. Personally, I like to be a sidekick in this circus, by making a limited-edition grandfather clock, as well as an iPhone app of the same thing available for 99 cents. It’s strategy. It’s the most stupid thing to do, but artistically, the only thing I want, because both clocks needed to be executed in that way.
Since design is published much more often than art, there’s a kind of glamour aspect to it, which takes away the exclusivity of it. I once designed a unique piece that had been published a lot. A potential client wanted to buy the piece, but then said: “No, it’s everywhere, so I’m not interested anymore.” It’s a strange mechanism of how things seem to work. It’s a two-faced market. People have unreal reasons to appreciate something. It’s not so much about the thing itself, or even the effort that has been put in it or the material, but it’s about the marketing. The economic crisis helps a lot in putting people back on the ground again.
The handicap of design is that a chair is always compared to a chair, which is not always fair. One wouldn’t ever complain that a certain Michelin starred restaurant is expensive compared to McDonald’s. Everybody understands the price difference, and everybody knows that the chef doesn’t get rich by his margins on food. Still, in design, unconsciously people compare IKEA with a handmade piece in experimental materials. That’s something that would be nice to change.
AH: What characteristics or qualities are necessary to be a successful industrial designer?
MB: There are so many different designers with different characteristics that I don’t see one characteristic that “makes” a good designer. One thing that is probably important is that I don’t know many designers who are purely good designers. Most of them have a few other good qualities that help them to realize their designs, either in commercial thinking or in communication or in technique. It also depends on how you would interpret the word “success.” I don’t think the best designers are the most successful ones.
AH: What motivated you to open your own design studio?
MB: I didn’t really think of it. It just happened since Smoke was such a success from the very beginning. Actually, right after my exams, Studio Job approached me to work for them. I considered it, but when Smoke did so well I chose to do that, and after I continued with other collections. I always went full on for what I believed. I didn’t just want to make “another product,” I wanted a total new concept that would open our eyes. As long as I keep on doing that, I go on. I know the moment will come when I will have the feeling that I don’t have anything to add anymore. When I met Bas den Herder—now owner of Den Herder Production House—things went much faster all of a sudden. I could focus more on design and development because he took care of all practical things. That collaboration has been very important.
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AH: What advice would you give to a young designer who wishes to start their own practice?
MB: Never believe in one-liners.
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