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MSDS: Lagom, strangeness and new design
Is it good to be strange? Should we embrace or reject tradition? Can we get on board with Swedish Lagom? We chatted to Jessica and Jonathan from MSDS STUDIO about all things design...
‘Lagom' seems to be the design word of the moment, and seems to promote environmental awareness. Do you think it has any substance as a philosophy? Can it teach us anything or is it just another buzzword?
Lagom is quite a beautiful concept. When you’re in Sweden you really see its cultural aspect in their sense of humility and community mindedness. They don’t have the same pathological North American need to use and acquire excess. When translated into aesthetics, though, it seems to be used more or less interchangeably with ‘less is more’, so I’m not sure how much it will inform our practice. Of course, we could be wrong about that! I guess it could be limiting when applied to design.
Tell us about your design process. Where do you start?
We do a lot of sketching and modeling. A lot of horizontal ideation before we choose concepts to drill deeper into.
We’ve found that design philosophy defines the approach to a new piece. Do you have one?
We try to employ the principles of good design and craftsmanship in the pursuit of forms that are familiar yet provocative. We believe that a clearly expressed concept and element of surprise can compel someone to acquire an object, and that nuance and craft can compel them to keep it. We value imagination, the practical, the beautiful, the useful, and the strange.
Through your work with Muuto and other Scandinavian based brands, you must have been exposed to the impact of ‘New Nordic’. Has it influenced the way you work?
To us, New Nordic is a realignment of the production of domestic goods with the founding values of Scandinavian design. It brings the concerns of humanism, beauty, and simplicity into a contemporary manufacturing and cultural context. It's interesting because New Nordic has been around just long enough that it's actually influenced the way we approach design. It's provided us, and many other young designers, with both an idiom and a venue for forward-looking, accessible designs.
You mentioned that Scandinavian Design can aid humanist concerns. Does that mean it can address environmental issues? Can good design help us be more sustainable?
Sure it can, within a limited scope. There tends to be a lot of magical thinking surrounding design – a leftover of modernist utopianism. That stuff has always seemed false to us, so we avoid huge pronouncements on design’s environmental or political dimensions. That said, the vast majority of the people we meet and work with in this industry are devoted to making high quality things via ethical means. A chair becomes sustainable when its design is appropriate for material and application and therefore durable; its design has the integrity to transcend its moment; and, importantly, that its appeal is such that it will be chosen over a lower quality option. So, the onus is on the designer and manufacturer to make the case for better design, and by proxy the relative sustainability in consumer goods.
You usually know when a design is done: nothing can be added or removed without obscuring the intent, while the form is sculptural but still evocative of its typology. While we like all sorts of design, some characteristics that we personally value are originality, beauty, strangeness, cleverness, respect for the maker, respect for the user, respect for tradition, and a willingness to reject tradition. Not always in in equal parts, obviously.
We get really over-excited by new design – we’re in love with your new design for Muuto. Tell us more about it.
This table is an interpretation of a very archetypal table form. We like that with a small intervention – the addition of a semi-circle shelf – the archetype is completely transformed.
We designed this piece for both domestic and public spaces. Its iconic form gives it sufficient sculptural presence to not be lost in any room while not being overpowering in the home, where it can be a cool addition to any room. Its unusual durability for a side table allows it to be used in the most heavily used contract contexts.
What about the materials?
We began by exploring a side table in marble slab, but we became much more interested in the possibilities presented by a synthetic solid surface material. It has unique properties; a durable yet silky soft surface, how the material can be made thinner than stone, and can be assembled with extremely strong, seamless joints. This led to the specific formal explorations with an emphasis on planes/intersections, highlights/shadows.
MSDS STUDIO is a Toronto based furniture, lighting, and interior design practice run by Jessica Nakanishi and Jonathan Sabine. Their work is a synthesis of Jessica's experience in interior design and Jonathan's background in furniture and cabinet making. They were named Canadian product designers of the year in 2015.