As part of Icon magazine’s first one-day symposium, editor Justin McGuirck sat down with furniture designer Ronan Bouroullec to discuss his work, career, and views on the position of a designer.
Ronan Bouroullec and his brother Erwan, have been working together outside Paris for over ten years, and with an impressive list of awards and major exhibitions already under their belts they are widely regarded as two of the most prolific and intriguing designers of their generation. Their projects have spanned a range of fields including kitchen, office and furniture design, as well as more experimental works in gallery installations and textile wall systems. What links all of these different projects together, however, and in fact what makes the Bouroullecs such an interesting case study within the world of design, is how they treat their work as research, and how they have established relationships with manufacturers that allow them to do so.
In his discussion with the designer, McGuirck brought up the topic of patronage. In many ways, this old-fashioned notion of commissioning is the best way to describe how the Bouroullecs work with their manufacturers. According to Ronan, at the core of their creative process is continual questioning (often sparked by brotherly bickering). They are in a constant dialogue with each other and their clients, seeking new and different solutions to their projects. As part of this process, they devote a level of in-depth research to each project rarely seen in the design world today. They can take years to investigate all the elements of a single project before coming up with their final design. To use Ronan's words, they treat space 'as a sketchbook'. For them it is an arena of experimentation.
Of course, one main reason this type of long-term research is rarely seen today is money. Fortunately for the Bouroullec brothers, they have met several individuals throughout their career willing to support their investigative approach to design. These have included the heads of Vitra, Magis and Kvadrat among others. These manufacturers have sought out the Bouroullecs and trusted in their process enough to let them go at their own pace. And while the relationship between a designer and patron/manufacturer invariably has is ups and downs, it is a process based in confidence and the pursuit of quality, rather than merely turning out a profit.
For the Bouroullecs, and indeed for the manufacturers that fund them the position of the designer is of primary importance. They want clients who are interested in quality above anything else. According to Ronan, he and his brother are trying to create something 'transversal' through their work, and 'good products are like good cooking'; it takes time and careful attention to ensure that every ingredient is right or else it doesn't work.
For more information on Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec's work and careers, please visit their website www.bouroullec.com. Further information on the 'Icon Minds' symposium can be found by visiting www.iconeye.com.