Interview Jonas Wagell on the Pure Talents Contest 2024
Jonas, can the work of a young generation of designers be used to identify trends for home and living?
The submissions show a good mix of quite different approaches to design. One positive aspect is that the contest obviously appeals to a variety of designers. I could recognise two main directions in particular: On one hand, a return to traditional elements and craftsmanship techniques, and on the other, a consistently experimental approach to design – but also a mix of both. There is a correlation with the design schools; The former tendency is more present in the Nordic or Scandinavian countries; where there is more emphasis on aesthetics, crafts and classic product features than conceptual design. In Central Europe, on the other hand, I believe designers tend to focus more on ideas, conceptual approaches and new technologies and materials - a tradition that was also very influential at the time when I took part in the contest twenty years ago, but in a slightly different manner.
And where do you think the journey is heading?
As a native representative of Scandinavian design, I am perhaps not entirely objective. However, in the Scandinavian market, as well as in the US, I see a strong emphasis and a growing demand for products that not only last longer in terms of quality, but also have a more timeless or classic aesthetic. I believe this is a response to a fast-moving consumer market with many new “affordable” Scandinavian companies and brands of the last two decades.
Is there also a theme that can be recognised in all competition entries?
Clearly sustainability - this is highly relevant and present in all contributions. Today, everyone has a conscious approach and understanding towards sustainable design. Also here, two different ways of relating to sustainability can be noticed. The Nordic applications are to a higher degree concerned with creating long-lasting products and furniture using sustainable materials and crafts, while other design schools seem to focus a bit more on innovative materials and technologies.
So sustainable design is catching on everywhere?
Durability and longevity are becoming more important, not least in Scandinavian design. Sustainability, however, is no longer a trend, but something fundamental and evident for all designs - it is a basic requirement today, a must-have.
How important are design competitions today?
Competitions like the Pure Talents Contest are particularly important for young designers, for many reasons. First, a competition gives you the opportunity to reach out and gain attention for your work. It also serves as a natural starting point for a project, as it provides a framework to create something within - it gives you a design brief and a context, so to speak. In addition, if there is an exhibition you have to build and fabricate a model, a crucial part of the design process, and perhaps need to seek out contacts with producers and sponsors. Lastly, with a competition like the Pure Talents Contest you gain a lot of attention from the trade fair and the visitors and have the chance to be recognised by a producer, which may be the start of a design career.
What was the most important experience you took home with you from your participation in the imm cologne young talent competition in 2004?
I remember it as a great week; The team from Koelnmesse really looked after us for a whole week and organised everything from travel and accommodation to transportation of the prototypes - in my case a student project from my 3rd year, a very minimal sofa made from folding blocks of foam. We were about 20 designers from all over the world, shared a good time together and became rather close friends. Apart from the publicity, the friendly community was the most memorable experience to me.
Exactly what many design students have been missing during the pandemic!
Yes, you can see from the high level of participation in the Pure Talents Contest that there is a need for exchange, experiences and community. Design schools are fundamentally about community, sharing experiences and learning from each other. The generation of designers whose work we have reviewed may have lost some of this important interaction.
Do you have any advice for young designers?
I believe an essential part of design work is building things, experimenting and working with your hands. Try to find a natural context for a project, such as a competition or an exhibition, for which you can create and build something. It doesn't always have to be a full-scale prototype, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, in my studio I prefer to make quick mock-ups and build two or three simple ones, rather than one perfect, in order to have time to compare and evaluate. 3D renderings are valuable for presentation, but to really learn about form and proportions and how things are constructed, you need to get your hands into it.