An interview with the French design stars Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec about the fair as a meeting place, right answers and the challenges of the contract sector.
Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec, the imm cologne is not just a trading place but a location to meet, to present the latest trends, to debate and exchange design philosophies. How important is this regular interaction with fellow designers and producers for you?
For us as designers, an important aspect of this context actually resides in meeting the 'real public' – sub-dealers, sales people, people acting in the second phase of the life of a product. These discussions are of real importance. They are a crucial step to understand how people perceive what we design and propose. During the fair, we receive more information that helps us to make final adjustments to a product.
You work on a big range of tasks. Is there a common design philosophy uniting these fields?
It's more a matter of method than of philosophy. One important facet is related to what one could call 'facing reality'. Most of our designs are based on the use of few materials, few details, and few words. We try to strongly value and express the decisions we take detail by detail. The biggest part of our approach is to find a way to build, to really work with technique. We always attempt to enhance technique and detail and we want our object to reflect the way it has been made. And we strongly search for a certain ergonomy. For us, ergonomy is less about dealing with the body; it has more to do with a certain culture, the culture of mankind, the 'flavour' that makes you feel more at ease or less at ease. This also means that there is a strong link between ergonomy and the issue of building. Most constructive details relate to a culture that nobody is taught anymore. Today, nobody is taught why linen is stitched in a certain way or why the legs of a chair have a certain angle. These are parts of reality that have evolved over centuries of logic and in the end led to a certain answer. It is important to discern the moment at which a technical answer became 'right'. Most of the time, if a technical answer is right the culture behind it is universal.
How important is the contract business for your work?
This is a major issue. However, the situation that we have in Europe, the fact that we have regulations for everything, makes the contract market difficult to deal with and sometimes even makes it head in the wrong direction. Besides, it is a field where you need to fight more. It is not a given fact that good design will be accepted there. The contract sector constitutes a huge part of our work, but reality is not always easy.
Do you differentiate between design for specific architectural contexts and design for mass production?
Regarding the design approach, we do not differentiate very much. The really big difference is that home is a space that is built upon a certain diversity because one does not furnish it at once. Contract means the opposite. There is an empty space supposed to be totally filled within one day, so to speak. One needs to find answers in a system, solutions that can be applied to different situations.
Where do you see the greatest challenges for your work in the near future?
We see a growing need for a better visibility of materials and techniques. A lot of people have lost the common understanding of what things are made of and how they are built. This common understanding is critical to find answers to some of the major questions of society, questions that concern ecology, economy and the way the two are linked. So this is a quality we strive for: respect for and enhancement of techniques and a certain truth in how things are made. Too many things pretend to be something that they are not, and in the end that doesn't help one to understand the world. A big issue in contemporary design is reflecting a certain clarity, a certain honesty.
Ronan Bouroullec (born 1971) and Erwan Bouroullec (born 1976) count among the most renowned designers worldwide. Based in Paris, they have collaborated with a large number of international manufacturers on a broad range of tasks, objects and interiors. Their work has received numerous international awards and has been presented in several exhibitions, including the Design Museum in London, the MOCA in Los Angeles, Centre Pompidou Metz, and the Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Designs of the Bouroullecs are part of select international museums’ collections such as the Musée National d’Art Moderne – Centre Pompidou, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Design Museum in London.