A new energetic vanguard that encourages forward-thinking tendencies and an interactive interdisciplinary approach to design drives positive change in the creative sector. One of the most forward-thinking and challenging designers to emerge from Berlin, the avant-garde city of design, is Judith Seng. With a background very much driven by Berlin’s self-made culture and professors that were interested in new fields for the future of design, Seng’s work is defined by an exploration of what is conceived as functional or not. It forms part of a new processes movement that pushes design into different fields and highlights the importance of experience over superficial aesthetics.
In an exclusive interview with the designer, MPDclick discovers Judith Seng’s thoughts on the future of design, the importance of avant-garde movements in her work and how her work can inspire designers and retailers in all fields. We also note how her thought provoking work can be linked to the interactive and interdisciplinary principles of the Fluxus movement, an important design influence in MPDclick’s spring/summer 13 Avant Garde trend.
MPDclick: What is the inspiration behind your work?
Judith Seng: I am inspired by observations of daily life, situations and books. I am interested in general processes – how we live and how this reflects in our surroundings, as well as interchanging situations and the relationship of processes (and how we shape things according to these processes).
MPDclick: You studied Product & Process Design at the University of the Arts in Berlin at a time when there were a lot of forward-thinking lecturers – how did this inspire your work?
Judith Seng: I have had different influences throughout my studies. At the University of the Arts in Berlin, I was taught by a professor who was researching into new ways of teaching and alternative visions for the future of design. At this time, there was a big debate surrounding material i.e. is it just about making a chair? I also studied under Enzo Mari (an Italian designer famous in the 1970s and 1980s who had had a very political attitude to design) who, at the time, was trying to influence the social impact of working conditions by his designs. My study background therefore, was very much driven by open perspectives (structural and inner aesthetics, not just superficial aesthetics).
I have always worked in a large field of study, looking at areas such as trend forecasting, interiors, objects and teaching. What fascinates me about trend studies is the way that you can look at the early beginnings of design – the underlying values, motivations and social changes that reflect in objects, forms, materials or solutions. My intention is not to make things comfortable, but to question attitudes towards objects and new uses, and make people experience something new.
MPDclick: Please tell us a bit about the THRIFT Project?
Judith Seng: I started a project called RISE for the Post Design gallery where I made tables and stools with the same surface as TRIFTS (which are still produced by the gallery). Later, I continued to work and the THRIFT series developed. I created a series of tables, stools and benches with conflicting aesthetics and connected values. The project explores the desire for perfection and smoothness, and the contradiction of being surrounded by images of destruction such as war and nature catastrophes etc in the media that we are not in control of. I like to work on the border of non-functional objects.
MPDclick: As an avant-garde designer, how do people react to your work?
Judith Seng: People are very clear in how they buy my work, they make the definition e.g. they will say “I want to buy that sculpture “or “i want to buy that stool” – for me, it’s very much open to interpretation. People find it very easy to connect with my work as they are daily life objects.
MPDclick: How much does being in Berlin inspire you?
Judith Seng: It’s hard to say, I have lived here so long. I came to Berlin in the mid 1990s were there were some big changes – immediate shift of systems; a new platform where everything can be new – a bit like the Wild West where anyone can define – open for everyone.
I can’t deny that I am influenced by that time, the attitude, openness and self-made culture of Berlin.
Berlin doesn’t have a big economic culture or big client scene – there are no big companies vying for your work– a bit like a void, but in a positive sense, you have to create something yourself.
What I do like is the potential of the city –Its research and universities (scientific, social science), lack of structure and the idea of working between disciplines. These new ways of working have come about as typical client structures are not as strong here.
MPDclick: How do you see the future of design and how does this fit in with your work?
Judith Seng: I think that there needs to be a much wider approach to design that the traditionally industrial way of designing. There is a movement of thinking, currently being pushed by the company IDEO, that takes an anthropological approach to research, where instead of just designing a train, the designer will think about the experience of travel as whole.
I am involved in the teaching of ‘design thinking,’ where students from all disciplines are made to challenge the design process but still use methods typical to design, such as creating prototypes. I am interested in multi-disciplinary practices and creating social structures. The project ‘Design Reacktor‘ for example, is all about changing the outcome, connections and the development and marketing of objects. Here, issues that are important are not just materials, aesthetics and function, so I look for solutions in fields that are not just about making things.
I am currently working on a research project that began four months ago and will go on for two years. The project is about bringing together this ‘making of objects’ and looking at the processes around it. I have recently done an experiment that brings in elements from performance art. I believe that the performing arts are the one field that best knows how to design processes with artistic competences vs. managment. The concept started with one picture – traditional dances in Bavaria where they celebrate dance, and simultaneously weave around a may pole full of colourful strings. What was interesting was how a cultural event like a dance could produce new objects.
Acting Things I is the opening event in a series of experiments into the possibilities of production processes around objects. It rethinks them by turning a theater stage into a temporary factory in which guests produce tables themselves in order to dine on them together. Entrance is free -the only payment is the physical labor the audience contributes to the project. The long-term research project Acting Things consists of a series of experiments with integrating elements from the performative arts, such as dance, music and theater, into the manufacture and use of products. The aim is to challenge existing perspectives on production processes, and to look at those methods holistically, with all of their potential socio-political, physical, or aesthetic dimensions unified into one larger system.
What this means for your brand
Retailers and decision-makers need to be aware of the changing role of design and a new avant-gardist movement that challenges preconceived notions of design. It is no longer viable to just create a product for products sake, but to consider its role in the bigger picture. Forward thinking designers like Judith Seng have for a long time followed a multi-disciplinary approach to design, looking at the underlying values, motivations and social changes that reflect in objects, forms, materials or solutions, and should therefore be used as inspirational figureheads for future design collections.
MPDclick would like to thank Judith Seng for taking time to speak to us. For more information on the designer, please visit her website here. Her RISE objects are still avaliable here.