STOKKEAUSTAD — Interview
StokkeAustad, Oslo-based design studio founded by Jonas Ravlo Stokke and Øystein Austad.
Hello Jonas and Øystein, how are you?
We are well thank you. Sun is coming out in Oslo, and we can start to feel the promise of spring.
Can you introduce yourselves?
My name is Jonas Ravlo Stokke, and I am Øystein Austad; and together we run the Oslo-based design studio StokkeAustad.
Where does your interest in design come from?
Both our fathers were architects so design and architecture have been part of our background for a long time. We came to industrial design through slightly different routes though. Jonas planned to study architecture or graphic design, and Øystein originally wanted to pursue a career in fine arts, but we both ended up with industrial design. Unlike furniture design or interior design it has in a higher degree a technical aspect as well as a functional, aesthetic, environmental etc. Industrial design also relates to people and behaviour differently than for example architecture which can be more focused on a specific site.
As an industrial designer you are also in possession of a skill set that can be applied to a lot of different processes and situation, where the goal always is to create value, or to enhance the qualities already present.
How did you come to start up the studio?
We met at the MA program at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design in 2004 and quickly found that we had a similar approach to design. Throughout our masters program we only focused on starting our studio after graduation, in fact the last year of school we participated in six different exhibitions in New York, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Oslo, London and Copenhagen. So already then we just wanted to finish school so we could get going with our own studio. Much to our professors’ dismay. It did allow us to start directly after school, and neither of us ever had to work for somebody else.
What are the key features of your design?
It all depends on which project we are working on, but common to all of them is that we spend a lot of time on the projects we decide to do. Once we start investing in a project we immerse ourselves in it, to ensure that it is as good as it can possibly be. So we do not launch a lot of products or projects every year, but we hope that the things that do come out are of a consistent quality. We also make a lot of physical models to truly get to know and understand the objects we are working on. Preferably in 1:1, but scaled down if that is not possible.
Other than that, we spend a lot of time talking about what the actual task at hand is. When that is clearly established every decision can be weighted up against this definition. From then on out it is about finding the best solutions for what the project should be. We are also very attentive to seemingly irrelevant suggestions one of us or someone in the team might propose even late in the process. Sometimes your intuition can tell you that even though a solution is checking all the boxes on a project, it is fundamentally wrong and it is not too late to start over.
Can you tell us more about the Noor chair (RedDot design Award 2013)?
The Noor chair is the result of a collaboration between Form Us With Love, Susanne Grønlund, ourselves, and the in-house design team at SB Seating. It was designed for RBM a brand under the SB Seating umbrella.
From the get-go SB Seating wanted to use three Scandinavian design studios, and for us this was interesting as it was like nothing we had done before. I think all of us were a bit apprehensive about how a collaboration like this would turn out, but after an initial week long workshop together, all doubt was cast aside. As Petrus former FUWLian put it, we arrived as competitors and parted as friends.
The chair itself was a fairly complex design challenge, because it had to answer to a lot of different demands and wishes from SB Seating.
It is a platform chair so it has to be stackable, come with different legs and upholstery configurations, as well as writing tablet, links etc. In addition we also designed it with a wooden veneer shell, and tweaking the properties of the woods so the geometry appeared identical to the plastic was not easy. Most of all though, the Noor chair sets a new standard for environmental sensitivity. Therefore we could not use any adhesives to hold the textile in place. This is a method which is very common in the industry but which does not allow for disassembly. An alternative to chrome was also developed specifically for this project, and SB Seating employed an in-house chemist.
Most of all it was the first time RBM developed a chair from the ground up, and we spent a lot of time discussing how this chair should be perceived. Because it should feel contemporary, yet not be alienating to traditional or conservative environments. And it should look friendly and inviting without being perceived as banal.
What’s the idea behind the Amnesty International project?
This was a very special project for us, because it was the first time we worked with a non-profit. The budget was a major concern here from the beginning, and we knew it was very much about getting as much as possible for as little as possible. We pulled in some favours from our connections in the industry, and also Amnesty contributed with manpower to complete the project.
A lot of the work that Amnesty International does is on the streets, and we wanted to mirror that in their Oslo headquarters. The headquarters today is based on a central atrium with offices around, and we translated that into the idea of central multifunctional town square. Here they would do all their core functions which are not office- or street bound such as workshops, exhibitions, lectures, producing banners and so on. On this plaza we put a storage unit that doubles up as a presentation screen and we also designed a set of movable units that could be used for seating, as tables, or stages depending on the activity. The whole area could be cleared, or it could seat 100 people. The palette was easily enough based around their yellows and grey. The most important part of the project was to create a tidy and efficient frame for them to do their important work.
What would you recommend to a young designer?
To never ever try to please others beside yourself. By that we mean that you should not develop something you think will make the client happy, or that will be appraised in the press, or that will sell a lot, if you do not believe in it yourself. It is your role as a designer to convince others that your proposal is the correct one. Of course in a humble and attentive way, but it is important to listen to your instincts and trust them. They are after all the sum of all your impressions, experiences and knowledge delivered in an instant.
A designer that you admire?
Øystein — Bouroullec, they have a very intelligent approach and a continuous ability to reinvent categories and use cases.
Jonas — These days I am looking to the playfulness of Shiro Kuramata.
Which books are on your bedside table?
Jonas — Innsirkling 3 by Carl Frode Tiller and The Human Stain by Philip Roth.
Øystein — Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The modern fundamentals of golf.
The last word…
Thanks for the interview!
Interview : Tiffany Bähler & Dennis Moya — 03.15