Brit Leissler is an old friend of Lago. In December 2006, she attended Lagostudio for the first time, while she was still a student at the Royal College of Art in London. She came back in summer 2007 (after graduating from the Royal College of Art in London with a Master Degree in Product Design) and gave birth to the Huggy armchair. Formerly she studied design at the International School of Design in Cologne, as well as the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. For several years she also worked as a designer for various companies in Germany and Switzerland.
But who is Brit Leissler? German, she has been living in London since 2005. In her website, she says about herself: “Brit travels a lot, loves all forms of eccentricity, joins up the dots and enjoys to get into interesting conversations with all kinds of weird and wonderful people. She doesn’t eat animals, is hot for cheese, loves the Kensington Squirrels, robotic dance moves and life enhancing ideas”.
Valentina: Hi Brit. Happy to see you again. Let’s start with Huggy, the armchair you designed for Lago. Tell me, how did you come up with this idea?
Brit Leissler: I was in Lagostudio. It was in 2007. I was just playing around with materials, trying to create shapes. Basically I had this piece of foam (representing a mattress) and tried to figure out how I could bring it into a shape. I noticed that when I rolled it together, then fixed and held the bottom side, the top would open, in a way like a flower blossom…and that this shape would work very well as a seat. When Daniele Lago saw it in my presentation, even at that early stage, he realised the potential of the idea and asked me to develop it further. So I went out to buy a huge piece of foam. It was a fun little adventure, transporting that mattress on top of the roof of the Lagostudio car…an old rusty Fiat, which always kept breaking down…I remember it as a very fun afternoon!
V: I can imagine! Did you find difficult to turn the concept into production?
B: Well… I had to go through sooooo many different prototypes, because it happened that whenever I changed one parameter, I had to change the other ones as well. At such an early stage of development it is all a bit “trial & error”…you kind of guess, what might work. I had to try so many different densities of materials, various diameters for the cylinder, thicknesses of the mattress…because all these things are connected in the Huggy design. The mattress has to work as a bed in terms of its length and density and thickness. But rolled up it also has to work as a comfortable seat. And in the end I wanted the product to look very simple…like a mattress stuffed in a ring. Anyway, I made a simple structure out of wood in which I squeezed that mattress – and it worked! It was still far from a finished product but it worked. One could sit in it and it showed to all of us that this could be turned into a real, working product. That was, in a way, the starting point…That’s what most people don’t realise about design – the main part of it is invisible. You don’t see it in the end product.
V: Yeah, I think that the “work in progress” is quite interesting though…and sometimes obstacles can bring us to new solutions which are better than those we thought at the beginning…
B: Yes, you are absolutely right! It is important to keep a clear vision along the way. You have to be open-minded and accept, that what you have in mind might not exactly work out, so you have to be open for new solutions. But sometimes people become too obsessed with an idea and try to push it through by any means, regardless of glaringly obvious reality that clearly show it doesn’t and won’t work. Sometimes this creates overcomplicated designs; certainly over styled ones…I am not in any sense a stylist (hence my name: Shoot the Stylist!). I believe in beauty, but I find beauty in simplicity, not in over-decoration.
V: Actually Huggy is very simple, even in the possibility to transform it into a bed. This double function solves so many problems, when you have guests at home and you do not know where to place them! It’s like design helping everyday life, not complicating it.
B: Yes, I am very proud of the product. Very simple…I am a big fan of simplicity and a “what you see is what you get” approach. Some people might find the outcome of that approach a “non-design” approach. Because it doesn’t really involve styling. It is more about letting a concept realise itself…I don’t like complicated mechanisms…I believe design is about finding the essence of an idea and then this idea will realise itself… This is also very much a Lago approach. So I feel that is a wonderful ground for a working relationship between company and a designer!
V: This kind of non-design approach…I think it suits well with our society, so liquid…always changing, where nothing is on the same way…we can say that your Huggy is the daughter of this hyper changing world! It also won the Good Design Award 2009…
B: Yeah, the Good Design Award was a nice official recognition of my design! I feel design always has to have an emotional component. And somehow Huggy touches people emotionally. Also because it creates such an intimate, cosy seating situation.
V: Brit, I’m curious…tell me why you called your studio “Shoot the Stylist”.
B: You know, a lot of people mistake design as the styling of surfaces. But it goes way beyond that! Ideally it should involve a concept, or a whole philosophy. My philosophy is, if you like, “emotional environmentalism”… if that makes sense.
V: What do you mean with it?
B: I believe design should create ways, more than just more and more stuff! In fact, design can also create intangible things, material-less…it can just provide a structure, or a service or even a situation. That’s what I want to create…design for living, providing a benefit. And in all of this way of thinking there are many ethics involved. You were talking about the times we live in…I think the times we live in are certainly not very ethically sound…It seems that the rule is: “As long as you get away with it, everything is allowed”. So these days the most tasteless, greedy, vulgar and artless people seem to make and have the most money… nevertheless this is the driving principle of now… and has been for some time. So, to oppose this, I try to be about “ethical design”.
V: I’m interviewing other young designers…ethic seems to be a recurrent word…I think this crisis is pushing enterprises, designers, everyone to re-think their attitude towards the environment!
B: You know, when you design you should consider not only the production costs… of course they are important, otherwise you will not be able to produce something and make it feasible, however you also have to consider the environmental and even the socio-cultural costs of your product. If you just create ugly stuff, you contribute to make the world ugly. And I am not only talking about how things look… I am talking about what they represent as a value system. I am not for gimmicks! But I am not against light-heartedness in design! It can be fun, even silly… the main thing for me is that it touches people in one way or another… and provides a certain benefit. And I feel there are many, many needs that people have out there that are not being addressed by designers. With Lago I feel there is great environment to create products on a big scale, reaching many people,and therefore create a “silent impact” in people’s everyday lives.
V: A silent impact in our lives…
B: Yes. That’s what I feel that design can do ideally – create a change in the way we live. I don’t mean I want to be a “design dictator”… I mean more that, as a designer, you have to be able to read sensitively the way people live, the everyday interactions they have, etc. I do think as a designer you can also create, in a way, the context for your product… you can even create your own world for it… if it is a world that people can identify with, you will always find a “market” for it. I don’t believe in marketing… I believe in really touching people’s emotions, not artificially trying to convince them to buy something that they don’t really need. So, if people feel they identify with your “world” and the things you design for it, they will participate in it… hopefully this makes sense? Quite abstract, I know… but you were asking about my philosophy… I think it is very important to have a certain feeling of responsibility, as a designer. Because you have a great responsibility, when you create stuff for other people.