“At some point in the design process, the model strikes back: you make another change and it all gets worse. You can feel it. That’s the moment you know the design is perfect.”
How are classics made? Can you force inspiration? How do the designers at EOOS manage to design timeless furniture for Walter Knoll time and time again? An interview with Gernot Bohmann and Martin Bergmann.
Mr. Bergmann, Mr. Bohmann, how do you create timeless design?
gb No idea.
mb That’s not how we think about it. We don’t sit down at a table and say: “All right, now we’re going to make a classic.”
So what is your approach?
mb We listen. We go to Herrenberg and talk with Markus Benz once a month. When he tells us about how he sees the market, about ideas and visions, I start to see shapes in my mind.
gb You see shapes? Remarkable. For me, something starts to light up. A feeling of mutual understanding that inspires me.
mb Something lights up for you? That’s also pretty remarkable.
Most recently you designed the Tama Desk for Walter Knoll. How did it come into being?
mb We turned the usual design process on its head.
gb Instead of drawing a sketch, we took some cardboard and cut out organic shapes with a pair of scissors. Very quickly. Because the process was meant to channel our intuition.
The result is more of a sculpture than a piece of furniture.
mb We were thinking: If only we could sit at a table that was more of a sculpture. One that gently wrapped around the curve of my belly which, after all, is a vulnerable part of my body.
Where do you picture this sculpture?
mb In a place where a person sits and thinks and writes and works on a vision. In a stately mansion or in the office of a person who moves effortlessly through the world of art and culture.
How do you know when a design is finished?
mb At some point, the model strikes back: you make another change and it all gets worse. You can feel it. That’s the moment you know the design is perfect.
gb We try to take all design-related factors into account during the design process – from the aesthetic, functionality and material consumption of a product to its serial production options and manufacturing costs.
mb Design is a 380-degree process.
Why 380 degrees? Aren’t 360 enough?
mb Those 20 extra degrees are necessary poetry.
Are you able to say in the end which of you had the pivotal idea?
mb No. I might see Gernot’s three-hundredth sketch of a chair – maybe the wrong way round – comment on it, and the next day he’ll have built a new model and found a new path. We’ll work on a model for months – arguing about and changing things – and get into a flow where it doesn’t matter who has what idea.
What sort of input do you get when you go to Walter Knoll?
mb An enormous input. We are a three-headed team, but we do need an outsider’s perspective. When Markus Benz sat down at the first Tama Desk prototype, he said: I’m sitting too far to the left, by about 15 centimeters. We wouldn’t have realized that on our own. Now the person sits in the center of the desk.
gb That’s what makes Walter Knoll special. Jürgen Röhm and the others in the development department are a group of pros, specialists and artists who we can talk to about each individual seam and who help us come up with ideas when we get stuck.
mb Another key factor: the people there always make sure we’re well fed; they’re very reflective and have a sense of humor. Otherwise it wouldn’t be tolerable.
What makes your work stressful?
gb When the material resources, construction or price don’t match up; when a project turns out to be garbage in the end. That’s frustrating.
And what helps you get back up again?
gb When Markus Benz gives us the green light and the entire company stands behind one vision.
mb When I hear his almost archaic “Yes” in response to one of our designs – it still moves me.
Gernot Bohmann (left) and Martin Bergmann studied in the master class of design at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. With their classmate Harald Gründl, they co-founded the EOOS design agency. Their designs have been significantly shaping Walter Knoll’s catalogue for over twenty years.