Colback is a material with a strong dimensional stability. For Erik Stehmann, the best way to turn this into a 3D product was by experimenting with folding techniques. By creasing the Colback, its fibres can be weakened locally, controlling where the material folds. By developing a computerized creasing technique, it became possible to make rounded creases.
Erik eventually designed a pattern that effectively creates a tube. Due to the applied folding methods, the tube itself bears the strength of a thick wall. The final result is a strong, lightweight and visually attractive cylinder, which forms the base of Erik’s Rilly Nice lamp series.
A small interview with this inspiring designer.
Hi Erik, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions! First things first: what inspired you to be a designer?
"Well, as a teenager I didn’t think much about the future; I was only concerned with building my mopeds. My parents advised me to study engineering, and since I was very good in construction, science, and math, I thought this was the best option for me. I didn’t give it a lot of thought actually, I just went. After a few years I became quite bored with car mechanics, and around the same time I moved into my own apartment in a student flat. When my flatmates caught sight of the things I made for my room (literally everything in it, from the table, lights, and couch to the bed) they encouraged me to apply to ArtEZ University of the Arts to study product design. Within a week I decided to quit my studies and took up a course at the design academy. I graduated in 2009."
You designed the ‘Rilly Nice Lamp’ with Colback, could you tell us something about the designing process?
"First I researched what Colback is used for, and what it is made of. I quickly discovered its strength and durability when formed into a three-dimensional shape, and I wanted to work with this quality in the design. I began folding the material in order to experiment with its characteristics. It soon turned out however, that Colback isn’t suitable for folding. Not in a nice way, anyway. It works the same as with paper: if you damage paper by folding a line, you alter the structure of the paper, making it weak at that point. That was the opposite of what I wanted to achieve. So we began to apply creasing techniques, and that worked out pretty well. We then made a grid and started to bend the material in rounded creasing patterns. In doing so, we created a tubular form of the Colback."
"The way In4nite approached this first project was a best case scenario for me; they gave me a material to work with and a carte blanche to do with it whatever I wanted."
Interesting, so you discovered the tube structure by using a grid. Did you use the tubular form to create the final design for the lamp?
"Actually no, because when we first discovered this tube structure there were flaws in the design, creating weak points in the material. We eliminated this problem by applying creasing techniques that rounded the lines. This generated an entirely new structure, which is very lightweight and sturdy. In researching this new tube and its lightness, I played with the balance by placing weight on one end. I thought: how nice would it be to design an off balanced lamp?!"
You make it sound as though you are on a playground when designing. Is this how you work?
"In the most optimal case, I can explain every single detail of a design: why it has a certain shape, and why it carries the features it does. Hence, the design becomes the result of a logical process. I can justify every step of the way and give reasons for the choices that we’ve made. This goes particularly for the qualities of the materials that are used, but can also be assigned to, for example, banter or boredom. Small frustrations and relatively small problems that I make bigger, and then try to solve. There is always a sense of humour or an element of surprise in the things I create. In this particular design for example, you can find a sense of humour in the title: ‘Rilly nice lamp.’ And there is that element of surprise because it is off balanced and relies only on one wire.""
In your opinion, what is the difference between the process of a designer and that of an artist?
"I believe an artist doesn’t think in a commercial way. I tried not to think about the commercial aspect too much, but I still enjoy it most to construct a design that becomes sellable and producible. I love to solve technical puzzles. And I love to consolidate all these elements of ideas, design, and technical solutions in my work. Having an idea is one thing, but the process of creating something is another story, and usually the final product turns out completely different from your initial plan. However, I want to make clear that I never begin a project with the thought: ‘I need to make money with this.’ "
"I think the most important thing is to want to challenge yourself, and to not simply do the same trick over and over again. You need to push the material and yourself. Think in different techniques. You need a wide range of skills, the curiosity to try new things, and ultimately, dedication. When I want to build a boat, I make one, just because I want to. I have that urge to create you know. There is an intrinsic, personal motivation to design. It always begins with something small, then rapidly grows more complex by the day. And before I know it, I want to get it into production."
In4nite has a very different approach compared to starting a design from scratch on your own: there was a deadline and a fixed material to work with. Why did you join In4nite?
"The way In4nite approached this first project was a best case scenario for me; they gave me a material to work with and a carte blanche to do with it whatever I wanted. The chance to get to work with new materials is always a nice thing, especially when the material is not readily available. It gives you the opportunity to challenge yourself, and to discover new techniques and methods. Besides that, I really do enjoy to have a material as the starting point for my design. I want to let my hands do the thinking, allowing my eyes and brain to follow."
"I love to solve technical puzzles."
As you are aware, we didn’t know what to expect when we started with In4nite. Now that we are focussing on the future and making new plans, what would your advice be?
"Clearly, this first edition concentrated on the designing process. The time that was available for this design comprised three months altogether. However, the invention of the tubular structure was made within a week. I believe that, if we were to take another three months to further develop this technique, it could become interesting for the global market. I’m thinking for example about applying this technique to irrigation systems. In short: focusing on the technical developments would be a great idea, it has more potential to it."
"Also, I have found a company that is interested to further develop my design and take it into production. I have two meetings in the next month, and what I would like to see is an extension of the perfect support that was offered by Low and Bonar during the designing process, applied to the production process. It would be great if an active connection is established with companies, for example. But I don’t know if that is possible. "
Are you a designer and would like to know about the possibilities of collaboration? Get in touch!