Industrial FacilityProduct Designers
The European Design Show
Design Museum Touring Exhibition
Since founding INDUSTRIAL FACILITY in London in 2002, Sam Hecht and Kim Colin have applied their elegant, yet rigorous take on design to projects for companies such as Epson, Magis, Lexon and Whirlpool as well as Muji, for which they are the European creative directors.
Ever since its invention in 1929, the Chantry, manufactured by Harrison Fisher, a bastion of the Sheffield cutlery industry, has been one of the world’s most popular knife sharpeners. When Harrison Fisher asked Sam Hecht of the London-based product design studio Industrial Facility to modernise the casing, he did so by creating a characteristically quietly elegant object which, nonetheless, represents a radical revision of the original design.
Industrial Facility approaches each design project by analysing how the end-result will be used. For the Chantry, Hecht decided to abandon the machine aesthetic that it had adopted since 1929 by devising a new case resembling a cooking object to ensure that it blended in with its surroundings. “Small alterations in size and weight were made to make the product stable enough not to require fixing to a table top,” he explains. “The advantages of the new design are numerous, but the most enduring feature is that the cook’s hand is now well away from the cutting area, resulting in a safer product.”
Sam Hecht co-founded Industrial Facility in 2002 with his partner Kim Colin. Born in London in 1969, he studied industrial design at the Royal College of Art and, after working briefly for the architect David Chipperfield, travelled in the US and Japan before returning to London as head of design at IDEO there. Colin, who was born in Los Angeles where she studied art history and architecture, moved to London in 1997 as an editor for Phaidon Press and to teach architecture at the Royal College of Art. Convinced of “the importance of design as a means of simplifying our lives in an inspirational way” Industrial Facility has developed products and environments for companies such as Epson, Magis, Lexon and Whirlpool, as well as Muji where Hecht and Colin are the creative directors for Europe.
Several new products have been launched, and many awards received. Sam Hecht appointed Senior Tutor of Design and Products at the RCA in 2008.
Visit Industrial Facility's website at industrialfacility.co.uk
© Design Museum, 2005
Q. How did you each discover – and become interested in – design?
SH. I spent a lot of my childhood taking things apart, figuring out how things worked – in fact I still do. For a long time I didn’t know that something like industrial design existed, and when I did, it seemed dreadfully dull. Graphic design was much cooler, and architecture felt like a real job. So I spent a lot of time collecting books, and visiting buildings, until the Royal College of Art, when Daniel Weil stripped away the dullness and showed me in his words “immense possibility”. Of course now, there’s little segmentation, a designer can pretty much tackle anything.
KC. My parents grew up in Los Angeles, and my father is a modernism nut. As a child I grew up around Raymond Loewy’s cars, Eames’ furniture and Josef Albers’ paintings; I was born into an Eichler house. On weekends my family looked at houses that were for sale for fun, imagining our life in hundreds of them. When I look back, it had a big influence on me. When I was 11, I discovered the word architect when taking part in a special LA school program with Doreen Nelson (Frank Gehry’s sister) – and found the name for what I wanted to be.
Q. What did each of you do before founding Industrial Facility?
SH. After I graduated from the RCA, I looked for work abroad, as jobs were few in London. So I went travelling, and joined different design studios; the most established was IDEO. But I had always felt that this was a form of training for when I could do something myself.
KC. After SCI-Arc, I had a small design studio in Los Angeles, consulting with artists like Mike Kelley about the role of architecture in their work. I started writing about and teaching architecture, and was brought to London, as commissioning editor for Phaidon.
Q. How did you meet? And how did you come to form Industrial Facility?
SH. It’s a funny story – we met at an Eames exhibition at the Design Museum soon after I returned to London from working in Tokyo. Kim seemed to know a lot about Charles and Ray Eames, and we started talking. Our backgrounds were so different, yet our desires were so aligned. Kim was an architect and writer and I was head of design at IDEO. We met very often, talking about how industrial design had such little connection with spatial issues, wondering why, and then two lucky things made it possible to start a studio together. Kim left Phaidon, and I left IDEO. So we went for it – forming a studio, with the most banal of names possible – Industrial Facility.
Q. How do you organise your working practice?
A. These days, you don’t need a big studio – technology can fill in so many of the gaps. We work more like an office, than a typical design studio. Most of our work is produced by thoughts and writings, models and materials – so there is little drawing. Kim often starts the project by revealing the essential characteristics that are worth investigating. Then either Sam or Ippei Matsumoto, our chief designer, will work up the design, and pass it on to another designer, and so on, until it arrives back again. For us, it’s the most productive and non-hierarchical way of working. Each person takes responsibility for his or her actions and contributes to the discourse.
Q. What are your objectives as designers?
A. One thing we are committed to and try always to do is to keep things simple and connected to current conditions. This isn’t a style; it’s common sense. The other is to challenge why things are the way they are. Our work is shaped by the kinds of questions we ask.
Q. How have those objectives evolved as your careers have progressed?
A. For a lot of designers, the objectives of simple-ness, a connection to contemporary conditions and a desire to challenge industry must seem so obvious, but for large companies – the ones that provide us with 95% of what we consume – these can be quite threatening dialogues. One way is to ignore these companies. Another is to try to find the ones that are prepared to play host. We are currently Creative Directors for Muji Europe, with the goal of unfolding Muji principles here.
Q. Which of your early projects – before Industrial Facility – do you consider to have been most successful?
SH. In the 1990s, I collaborated with the Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa, and one project we did was for Matsushita – a collection of cooking tools, like a toaster, coffee maker. It was a rigorous and well thought-out piece of work, at a time when most manufacturers were putting out jokey products. Its influence was quite significant, even though most of the pieces never went into production.
KC. I worked very closely with the LA-based artist Mike Kelley on Educational Complex, which is now in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. This piece is a large table full of foam-board models of all the schools Mike ever attended, deformed by his memory of each place. It was liberating to use the language and tools of architectural space to provoke a critical dialogue beyond its walls.
Q. And which of your Industrial Facility projects do you consider to be most successful?
A. Some of the projects for Muji are starting to hold a lot of our objectives – there’s no hiding the fact that we share enormous similarities in our approach, and so naturally they allow us to do our best work. There’s a new glassware collection, and a low-sofa programme that have been successful. Also, we’ve been working with Epson Japan for a few years now, and some of the projects are starting to look very interesting.
Q. Do you consider your work to be part of a tradition?
A. Industrial design is such a young profession, that I’m not sure you can really speak of tradition. I think part of our work is to have a thorough grasp of history, and if you do this, you soon realise that it’s not possible to talk of design and tradition in the same breath.
Q. Which designers – past or present – inspire you most?
SH. Otl Aicher, Hans Geugolot, Enzo Mari, all the greats.
KC. Rudolph Schindler, Pierre Koenig, Achille Castiglioni and too many others to mention.
Q. How did the ‘Equipment’ project for Whirlpool come about?
A. Richard Eisermann, then head of Design at Whirlpool Italia, asked us to explore the idea of Whirlpool producing kitchens, and to see how far the concept could go. Up until then Whirlpool was primarily an appliance manufacturer, supplying products to kitchen manufacturers. It had not taken responsibility for a bigger spatial and programmatic proposition.
Q. What were your objectives for the project?
A. From the outset, we identified a current domestic condition that is very extreme. In this case, we discovered a relatively new urban phenomenon of luxury which was not tied to the size of rooms or objects because, in big cities, a small apartment is now very expensive.
Q. How did your original concept for the kitchen evolve as the design process progressed?
A. Richard left to join the Design Council in the UK, and although it caused a bumpy few months for the project, his successor, a wonderful man called Alessandro Finetto, wanted to continue with it. In some ways, it allowed us to take an even more extreme view, by involving functions of music, connections with supermarkets, and some recent technological developments from Whirlpool labs, into the project. All of this resulted in a very small, but luxurious kitchen, not as an environment, but as a product, or a piece of equipment – a project where architecture and product disciplines collide.
Q. How do you envisage Industrial Facility developing in future?
A. Furniture has now so successfully transcended into product. Yet, when you look at product which borders on furniture, like televisions or computer plotters, something bad starts to happen. It wasn’t always like this, so it’s something we want to spend some time looking at. It’s part of our ongoing research under the title Product as Landscape that attempts to make products more dependent on their environment.
© Design Museum, 2005
Visit Industrial Facility’s website at industrialfacility.co.uk
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