You don't know Carsten Jorgensen, but you've seen, and used, his designs, mostly through his work with Bodum. Now for the first time he's designing objects for the world of "personal air care", which at first he was hesitant to do. We asked him why.
You have worked for a long list of high profile consumer product companies, including a pivotal period as head designer for Bodum, yet your name is not immediately associated with any of them. What was your design role with these companies, and what were some of your most noted product designs?
I worked for Bodum from 1974 to 2001 and designed approximately 80% of all Bodums design in this period. This body of work has of course taken up a majority of what I, as a designer, have been able to do. So my work has mostly been recognized under the name of Bodum. I had the opportunity, through Bodum, to develop products for brands around the world like Muji, Crate & Barrel, Target, Starbucks and a longer row of lesser-known brands. But the focus was of course to create core products of coffee and tea maker products for Bodum. I was fortunate enough to help Bodum become known worldwide through these designs.
I have never personally put too much focus on my own person as a designer because it was much more a matter of making Bodum a global brand. And my activities through this time covered a wide range from architecture, graphic design, brand identity and running an in-house design department.
I have always seen the designer as an integrated part of a "true brand" because there must be a connection between a company's products and its values, philosophy and its commercial ethic. Bodum became such a brand in this period.
The French Press Bistro coffee maker was probably my first recognized design object and was done in a number of different designs for different brands. Another product from the 90's was the Tea maker Assam that I developed for the British Tea Council as "the way of making tea in the right way". The Electric Santos coffee maker developed for Starbucks in the end 90's was also a break-through in innovative coffee brewing and was honored by IDSA . It never became a big sales success due to unstable production quality.
My work since Bodum has mostly been as an advisor and a coach for young start-up's. I am interested in brand creation seen from the product and design management side, and, I of course, make use of my experience from Bodum and other companies in building brands from scratch to make them consistent with the products and the services the companies offer to consumers. This work is a passion and design is one of the gifts that come with it. If I personally do the design, or not, no longer interests me. But rather that we together have been able to make a sensible change that make sense.
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Angel Diffuser for Serene House
You are now the designer for Serene House, a "personal air care" company, and in connection with, you mention the challenges of "visualizing" scent. How did you become involved in this somewhat esoteric area of design, and what is your design role, how does your work fit in with the world of scent?
As so many times in my design career things happens by coincidence and with Serene House it was too. Actually it was in this case so that I had designed an entire teahouse concept for a Taiwanese company called smith&hsu and the owner of Serene House was impressed with the "newness" of this brand.
I have to admit that initially I found this esoteric fragrance world a bit too much for me. I couldn't really identify myself, and the way I think and do design, with this world! So in the first run I said no thank you to the offer from Serene House.
But thinking it over, I thought my reaction was a bit too arrogant and I started to research a bit deeper about what fragrance is and how it actually, in history, has had an important influence on peoples indoor life. In the Persian, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures scent was an essential part of everyday life and as important as the architecture of an interior or its furniture's. It seems to add a 4th dimension to human's sense and experience of an interior space. It is known that public buildings in Rome were scented with different fragrances and that awakened my curiosity for what influence our scents might have to our everyday life.
Donut Diffuser for Serene House
Going a bit deeper into the physiological, and may be even the psychological, effect of scents made the theme even more interesting and triggered my curiosity for how our olfactory system actually functions and how dependent we are on it.
Studying the esoteric aspect of the fragrance world made it clear to me that it was surely not my cup of tea. Therefore I started to think about getting the perception of this product category out of the mystical and naïve fog and into a simplicity that could enhance the subtleness of scents in order to give natural scents a revival in a contemporary environment.
It might not be a deep philosophical statement that "scent is not visible" but it does activate a designers consideration on how and what triggers our consciousness and to which kind of materiality and shape we connect special fragrances. Yes, even the scents ability to trigger memories. My curiosity for this world went into something more concrete which needed to be defined not only as design, but also as a brand, as a philosophy. Simply, as a human point of view with an option for a new company to create something meaningful, sensitive and worthy, which could change people's sensory perception, behavior, yes, might even in the long term creating a healthier indoor environment with new technologies and designs to come.
So, I finally ended up saying yes; under the condition that I could create not only the product development, but also the foundation of a brand philosophy that over time would cover true innovative high tech products...
I wanted an air care brand that stimulates a spectrum of the human senses and a brand that "truly cares"! I got the allowance to do so and what you see now is the first step in which I have chosen to create very simple shapes and use natural materials, such as porcelain and glass as much as possible.
Today I have the function at Serene House to advise the management and owner of Serene House and build product strategies for the coming 5 years. I am overlooking the design and product development on a monthly basis. And right at this moment we are active with highly innovative air cleaning products in which the health aspect of polluted indoor air plays an increasing role.
Scent Flute for Serene House
For the fragrances it was to me a totally new world to enter. Getting to know the entire business and production methods of essential oils and other fragrances, it is now slowly becoming possible for me to tell when an oil fragrance is in a high class.
The entire Serene House team is working hard to simplify the classification system for the consumer. That is to say, mapping Serene House scents so that our users can get to know much more about what quality they are actually buying and for what use, and for where.
And with what machines? It is highly interesting that scents finally seems to go hand in hand with what I many years ago started to do with coffee and coffee makers and what I later learned about tea and tea makers....it basically comes down to seeing, smelling, tasting and touching.
What has your extensive and varied career in industrial design taught you so far about human nature, cultural trends and successful design?
I will start from the last question because that might be important to understand my answers on your previous questions. To me successful design is design, which changes people's behavior in a positive and self-developing and exploring way.
As a designer I am in many ways following my generations understanding of what design "should be" opposite to "could be" and of course the widely known theory of "reducing to a maximum". My personal approach has been that this kind of reductionist design philosophy shall be considered with humans at its center. Otherwise minimalism tends to become yet another "sub-style or conceptualist expression". I strongly believe that design is "sense and sensibility" at a sublime level although it has very little to do with art. It is a bit like: "You do not go to a concert to see the instruments but to listen to the music". That's a bit how I see design.
I am not really sure if I have something of importance to say about trends. Trends are very important for the constant social collective testing of what finally is going to form an entire national culture or might it just be an urban sub-culture. To me it has always been a kind of Darwinist automatic or self-generating selection. A selection of which no predictions can be made, if it will survive or die!
Transformation of cultures is today bigger than ever due to our communication excess. We know from one second to another what trend is seen in Japan and Somalia.... a grotesque comparison ...although those trends might not have anything to do with each other in content but tells by far the locals ability to adapt to its circumstances. Such scenarios of circumstances will have a none disputable influence on the cultures in which such manmade catastrophes' occur. Therefore I very much doubt that minor trends like design and fashion trends can be predictable in a global sense. It has become a kind of modern "business Oracle" and that is a bit too esoteric to me.
Ironical: It could eventually be discussed if "consumer adaption" would be a better word than "consumer trends"? The entire Eco - Bio - Sustainability - Fair trade... marketing hype is to me surely a trend, which has not yet been transformed into a cultural phenomenon, a way of living and deciding. And the consumer is hopeless in demand of knowledge in order to judge the truth... meaning that it will take a long time before we at all can think about making progress in saving the world. As consumers we adopt to the circumstances rather than changing them.
Human nature? In the past 7 years I have worked parallel in Asia and Europe and I have to state that in the lands of the rising sun humans are not so different in terms of being human. This often comes as a surprise for westerners! That we historically and seen with Asian eyes are the barbarians come for us as an even bigger surprise.
I have met greedy company owners, ignorant capitalists, powerful imperialists, passionate workers, depressive communists, children in poverty, happiness, slavery, liars and honest people with smiles. This on both sides of the world, but how to share it is yet to be solved... there is not much time!