Enduring forms

It is widely believed that a designer’s job is to give a stylish final shape to furniture and other products. But it’s actually the other way round – his or her most important task is to think correctly from the beginning, not least in order to create objects that last.

A splendid former industrial building in Copenhagen is the meeting place for two designers on this winter day – the legendary Danish veteran Knud Holscher, whose career started in Arne Jacobsen’s architect’s office more than forty years ago, and the young Swede Fredrik Färg, who graduated from the School of Design and Crafts (HDK) in Gothenburg as late as last spring.

Both see the world as their place of work. Knud Holscher is in the unique position of seeing products that he began to work with many decades ago – such as the famous D-line series of industrial design wares – remaining so successful that he can continue to develop them year after year. Fredrik Färg, who is interested in a synthesis between furniture and fashion, already entered the international limelight with his graduation piece from HDK.

Despite their difference in age, they are in surprising agreement. “The designer’s work aims to drive evolution forward,” says Knud. “There are masses of tables, but some are quite simply better than others. Their designer has thought a step ahead. The best products also last longer, purely because of their design. My ambition is precisely to achieve items that are timeless, classical and lasting, which is also in line with our contemporary ecological concerns.

“Certainly,” says Fredrik. “The important thing is to have the right perspective from the beginning. Both in terms of how the production should take place and with a view to the user.”

He quotes Knud Holscher, about the brilliance of a button. How the designer must ensure that the user understands the function of the object. Just as simply and clearly as we see in the shape of a button.

“I agree completely,” says Fredrik. Knud explains that just this kind of thinking lies behind the extremely long-lasting D-line series. In turn, he quotes the Director of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Poul Erik Tøjner, who compares design to the two sides of a coin. One is concerned with function, the other with feelings.

“For me as a designer, this means being expressive on the one hand, and pragmatic on the other”, he explains. The balance between these two is very important. If we go back to the button, then a blue button may perhaps be needed in a certain context in order to match the other ones. A view of the whole and well-thought-out details, both are crucial.

Develop and administer
Knud Holscher endeavours to achieve solutions that are so good in terms of ideas and so well realised that the products never go out of fashion. Paradoxically enough, the young designer Fredrik Färg has a more retro view of timelessness.

“I like the idea of administering a heritage”, he says. “Take classically tailored menswear, from which my furniture often draws its inspiration – it never goes out of fashion. I love that, that there are values which endure, that you don’t have to buy new things all the time. The designer’s role is to pay attention to quality, to develop it further.”

Both agree that the attitude of the manufacturers and customers is vital for being able to realise quality products that last. Knud explains that he always tries to contact whoever will be responsible for the production in is no question of any rivalry, and the cooperation flows smoothly. A close dialogue is vitally important throughout the entire process,” he feels. The designer must have respect for everyone involved.

Expertise and a long-term view
For Fredrik, the reality out in the production arena came as a positive surprise. “In the college environment you do everything yourself,” he says. “You do all the graphics, you set up your website, your marketing. In fact, you have to arrange everything. When you come out and get to work together with companies, it’s fantastic with all the expertise that is already in place there. The way we can use this expertise together.”

Fredrik is also fascinated by meeting such an experienced colleague as Knud. He asks: “You’ve been around so long and are still so committed. What drives you?” Knud replies: “I think all the time about the next step, how I can solve the next problem, so that the product becomes even better.” Fredrik agrees: “Indeed, everything changes all the time, both needs and society. New things will always be needed. But to continue striving for the longterm, for quality that endures – that drives me.”