AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH FOUNDERS VÁCLAV MLYNÁŘ AND JAKUB POLLÁG:
They are young. They are extremely ambitious and ridiculously talented. But most importantly, they have a wonderful vision of the future in design and technology in our lives. Václav Mlynář and Jakub Pollág founded Studio deFORM in 2011, while they were still students at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. The Studio later moved to London, where the designer duo continued their studies at the Royal College of Art. They’ve worked with some exquisite labels as individual creatives (Buster+Punch), and they’ve built an impressive client portfolio through their design practice (Lasvit, Okolo, Nike, Heineken, Bomma and Fiat, to name but a few). Most importantly, they’ve broken boundaries and have delivered intelligent and stylish solutions for the high end design market. What’s even more awe-inspiring is the fact that they are only getting started.
We had coffee with Jakub the other week, in a comfy little café in the heart of Shoreditch, and we got a glimpse of their brand ethos, their favourite things and their plans for the future. Let’s just say we’re happy to see them at the very beginning of what will be a fantastic voyage. And if you glanced at their upcoming KOSKI game, you know exactly why we’re so excited for them.
Coshamie: What is the design philosophy behind Studio deFORM?
‘Well, in this day and age it is almost impossible to distinguish yourself, especially in the world of design. So we decided to be original nonetheless, and focus on adding value to everyday objects. From a visual point of view, you could say we are more brutal. We focus on function, after all, but at the same time we want to give something extra to the object, a story, a retelling of its conception and production.’
‘A good example comes in the form of our marble collection, for which we travelled all the way to Carrara in Italy, in order to understand the process, the fascinating heritage. This very action forms the base of the story behind our marble line. Every material we used tells a tale and is tied to the grandiose past of Italy’s Renaissance – for example, one of the bowls in the collection is extremely thin at only 5mm, made from the same type of statuario marble that Michelangelo’s David was carved from. Another little known fact about marble is that when it’s as thin as that, it’s a beautiful diffuser for light. And stories like these add the uniqueness to our designs…’
Coshamie: Of all the work you’ve done so far, which one is the project that you’re most proud of, that you feel most connected to?
‘That’s a tough one. It would probably have to be TRANSMISSION, this massive lighting sculpture that simply opened so many doors for us; it brought us so many wonderful opportunities. It was featured at Rossana Orlandi’s Gallery in Milano, and it had such great success. In fact, LASVIT became our clients after they purchased the rights for TRANSMISSION.’
‘It wasn’t just the originality of its composition that drew people to it, but also the surprising lighting effects that it gave off from different angles. TRANSMISSION would definitely be a good example for our brand ethos as well – you know, giving more to objects.’
Coshamie: What made you both get into design in the first place? Who inspired you along the way?
‘Well, Václav built things from scrap as a kid, he was basically hardwired for this. I wanted to be a musician at first,’ Jakub laughs. ‘I played in a band for eight years and then I felt like I wanted to do something different with my life, as the college years came in. So I looked at different options, and the Slovak Technical University in Bratislava had just opened its Architecture and Design branch; it seemed cool and it resonated with what I had initially wanted to do as a kid, when I was determined to become an inventor. Then came Prague. And London. Yes, I studied at three universities for this,’ Jakub laughs. ‘I found design to be very comfortable and in tune with my aspirations.’
‘We’re both inspired by tech and product design innovations in general. Some good examples would be Teenage Engineering – they really delivered at the time of our academic formation, as far as the field of electronics is concerned.
From the interiors sector Hans Wegner, Alvar Aalto and Gaetano Pesce played pivotal parts in our development. You could say we both had a thing for Danish furniture designers from the 1950s and 1960s as well – Poul Kjærholm, Finn Juhl and Tappio Wirkkala in particular. All you have to do is look at their creations and immediately understand our connection to their design philosophies.’
‘We’re also big fans of Random International – installations are something we’ve always been keen to do, and we enjoy the process very much, from conception all the way to the practical side. Random have always exhibited visionary works, and we follow them closely because they’re always different, yet connected to the mechanics of the world, to technology and the future.’
Coshamie: Clearly you’ve acquired an impressive amount of knowledge and particular tastes in the field! How about the future? Is there a particular brand that you’d like to work with in the future? What’s in the pipeline for Studio deFORM?
‘That would be VITRA. It’s a more traditional brand, and they’ve recently bought HEM, one of our existing clients. So it would be great to delve deeper into that sector, and explore the possibilities. Their designs and products definitely have that Swiss precision we all admire, but most importantly they seem to look at the future with openness, and we’re always looking for that kind of mindset in the people we work with.’
‘At the same time, I can tell you that LASVIT have been amazing clients, so we’d obviously like to continue working with them for as long as possible. They’re bold and they appreciate innovation along with function, which is why we’ve had such good synergy so far. We’re honestly looking forward to doing more with them, it’s a fantastic brand.’
Coshamie: Are you looking to attend any design events in the near future? Are you preparing something new for them?
‘We’ve been focused on design work lately, so industry events haven’t exactly been a priority, as much as we enjoy them. We’ll be attending Design Blok in Prague and the Kikk Festival in Belgium – for both we’ll be showcasing Koski, our new game project.
We’re still doing interiors and exhibitions, but on a slightly more reduced scale as we’re optimising our services. Oh, and we’re due to release a glass tableware collection with RIEDEL, we’re quite excited about that one! But frankly, development for Koski has kept us in the studio for some time – we’re obviously enjoying every minute of it, as we’re really creating something great, but it has kept us indoors a bit more.’
Coshamie: Speaking of Koski, what was the concept behind the game? Why did you design it? What are your plans for it?
‘Koski Game started out as Václav’s graduation project, but it quickly grew to have a life of its own! It’s the first augmented reality game of its kind, and it’s a wicked combination between digital and board games. It mixes toy blocks with a virtual app that makes for interactive game play. You see, both Václav and I loved board games while growing up, and we noticed that kids today don’t really get them, so we decided to bring them back in a different, even more enticing format.
We’re staying true to our philosophy of adding value to function with Koski, too. You get to touch real objects that affect the digital game. We’re currently focused on the testing the technology rather than the gameplay, and there is also potential for future collaborations with the gaming industry for this one.’
‘We’re really excited about Koski – not just because of its innovative format and what you’d call its ‘retro charm’, but also because it appeals to a very broad audience. Anyone can play it and love it, because it’s educational, it requires thinking and creativity and it’s just so much fun, for both kids and adults. We figured it would be a good way to mix games with design through Koski, and give added value to playtime.’
‘We plan on releasing a smaller version first, which will be playable on iPhone, after which we’ll release the complete version at the end of 2017. The Koski Game project is going up on Kickstarter in March, and we’re confident to see it take off so fast from there…’
Coshamie: Where do you draw inspiration from, when designing new products?
‘Everything we do is function-driven design. By that premise, we see beauty coming from functionality, problems being solved. We react to solving the problems of objects – from form to function. In other words, our inspiration is FUNCTION itself. Even from my days at Buster+Punch I’ve been very responsive towards engineered things, heavy duty equipment… mechanical objects in general. You might find this peculiar, but when we look for inspiration, chances are we’ll find it while observing ferryboats and diggers rather than an art book or a panoramic view.’
Coshamie: What design trends do you see emerging in the UK in 2017, from what you’ve seen so far?
‘From what we’ve noticed, there seems to be more focus on quality. I reckon before the financial recession people were much looser with their money, but now they all seem to appreciate quality in more subtle designs rather than the mainstream glitz and apparent glam. Simplicity with a hint of minimalism seems to be developing quite well.’
‘There’s also this nostalgia going around, a recurrence of old and used looks with metals such as brass and vintage objects. However, there are so many ways to recreate this atmosphere, it would take a while to identify all of them! I can easily see filament bulbs and layers of paint in the mix, the mish-mash of haberdashery of found objects – you know, the “it looks like we don’t really care but we do” kind of vibe.’
‘But it’s not this ensemble of old things that pops up so much as an emerging trend, in my opinion, but rather its innovative combination with brand new designs. You fill a room with antiques or retro pieces, and then insert something contemporary at the heart of it – we’ve been seeing that frequently and we’ve done it as well. We used Corian®, a patented crushed mineral stone with multiple applications, for a project we did for its maker, duPont; it’s perfect for replacing most exposed parts on old furniture, as you can keep the skeleton and give it a modern feel at the same time.’
Coshamie: Last one for now, as our coffees are nearly done… What value do you, as a design practice, place on social media for your business?
‘We’re currently exploring ways to grow through social media, as we’re quite active on some of the platforms. We use it mostly to update our clients and our audience. We see great potential in increasing our brand awareness and getting our ethos and products out there for people to see. We would definitely use it more for business-to-client communication, and it’s something we’ll look into soon enough; however, right now we’re very focused on showing Koski off as much as we can. I think our venture on Kickstarter will play a big role in our social media as well, but we’ll have to gauge that when we get there!’
With such great projects ahead, and a marvellous game about to hit the market, it’s no wonder that Studio deFORM’s founders seem so energised and excited about the future. The Koski game is looking like one of next year’s best highlights – and that says something, since 2017 hasn’t even started yet. We’ll feature more about the game and its creators as it approaches its launch date, but in the meantime, we cordially invite you to explore their stunning portfolio of products, installations and projects.