We first met local Sydney designer Christel of Christel H. back in 2014, when Marz® Designs was asked to be a part of her ‘Tandem Project’ exhibition. With a shared passion for both supporting and promoting local design and manufacturing, she had always been high up on the lists of potential project collaborations for Marz.
Christel’s work has a seamless blend of modern day manufacturing techniques and the care and precision of hand-worked craftsmanship. It was this design process that first caught our attention, and it wasn’t long after that first encounter that ideas began to be workshopped for what is now known as the Furl wall light range. We caught up with Christel to explore her work and design studio process and hone in on the design and collaborative process behind the Furl lighting range.
Let’s start at the beginning; What initially inspired you to become a product designer and what was it that led you to start your own business?
I’ve always been intrigued by how things come together and the process of tinkering and working with my hands. First week in high school I discovered my love for woodworking, which led me to enrol in a Visual Arts degree majoring in Woodworking at The Australian National University in Canberra. After graduating, unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in finding work as my profession was not exactly industrial design, but neither was it a timber trade. So I decided to start my own business instead (quite naively).
Tells us a bit about Christel H. – What is it that you do? What is your design ethos, how long have you had your business for etc.?
The studio has been practicing for 5 years, and throughout that time I’m noticing my work is constantly evolving. However, Christel H is essentially a studio that offers a mixture of furniture, homewares and concept design projects. I often blend the precision of modern manufacturing with the soft touch of the handmade process. I often draw inspiration from eastern and western influences (most likely because of my upbringing and exposure to both cultures).
What does a typical day for you look like?
I wake up around 5am, and usually the morning is my me time where I read, do a quick work out, then get to work from 7.30am until about 5/6pm. I work part-time for a design studio and part-time on Christel H / Made From Good Deeds (our display homewares brand), and other design projects.
How would you describe your design aesthetic? Is this something you try to keep consistent across each of the pieces you design or does it change as you are inspired by different sources for different ranges?
As mentioned above, my design aesthetic is constantly evolving – but more and more I am a believer in the ‘less is more’ principle. Life itself is already complex, so design, in my opinion, should be simple, practical, and complement the people, places and spaces they were designed for.
When creating a new product – what does the design process look like for you? Are there any key design fundamentals or philosophies you try to underpin within each of your designs?
I tend to use the brief as the foundation to assist me with generating ideas. I first start dissecting the brief by brainstorming ideas, words, themes, or definitions that are associated with the brief. For example, if the brief is to design an outdoor light, before I even look into lighting, I first look at “outdoor” – I explore this word and its relevance on a personal, geographical, cultural and social level, and in particular how the senses are engaged (some more than others) when one is outside. Generally speaking, people may feel more open and free when they’re outside… and therefore that would influence the final design of the light itself perhaps being made from lighter materials to express this sense of emotion.
Anything connected to travel also inspires me, whether it’s the aviation industry, modes of transportation, right to the experiences you encounter through travelling itself. Observing how people interact across different cultures and exploring new places outside of ‘normal routine’ changes your perspective – and this ability to look at things differently stimulates creative solutions and ideas. I’m also really inspired by the outdoors and anything with a sense of adventure. And this is injected into my work.
Through the collaborative process was this altered, challenged or bettered and in what ways?
It was definitely altered in the sense that you are working with another person who has their own design ethos, skill sets and ideas they are bringing to the table. Aside from keeping the vision clear as to why two parties would collaborate, I think two of the fundamental requirements in a successful collaboration is mutual respect and clear communication. Challenges are going to occur – from manufacturing constraints, time management, to possible differences of opinions of how something should be processed – these all create in my opinion a healthy tension that allows us to work together at solving the obstacles and achieve the desired goal. I often refer to one of my favourite quotes by Charles Eames, “Any time one or more things are consciously put together in a way that they can accomplish something better than they could have accomplished individually, this is an act of design.” I see this really applicable to collaborations.
These days (fortunately) local design and manufacturing are becoming more valued by Australian society. As a local designer, what is your commitment towards this within your own brand and was this something that was paramount for the design of the Furl’s? Has this ever been challenging to maintain?
Both Coco and I share the same values towards supporting local manufacturers and suppliers where possible. I think that helped with the collaboration – the fact we wanted to produce the Furl lights within Australia, and support local businesses. The Furl wall light is made in Sydney, and this advantage meant we could monitor quality control as well as having direct access and communication with our manufacturers, especially in the prototyping phase. The challenge with local manufacturing tends to be the cost of production and materials increasing each year, along with the limitation of accessing quality manufacturers.
MARZ X CHRISTEL H COLLABORATION
How did you and Coco first meet and why did you decide to collaborate?
Coco and I first met at the Tandem Project in 2014 – an exhibition that I curated with a colleague that was focused on promoting Australian designers and local collaborations. Post the event I took the chance to meet up with the designers involved in that project to interview them and get some feedback about their experience. One particular question I asked all the designers was “would you ever collaborate again? And if so, with who?” Coco said yes, and mentioned me. It was a few months after that we decided to catch up again and cement that initial idea of working together on a particular product. We thought a lighting product would be ideal – and more specifically a wall light which from our own separate research, wall lights at the time were somewhat of a “gap” in the market place in comparison to pendants and floor lighting, let alone wall lights that could be configured in different ways.
What was the main goal of collaborating on a product?
We wanted to explore the outcome of what two independent design practices could create when collaborating together on a commercial product, which we could bring to market. We decided to design a wall light that could be configured in multiple ways to appeal to both residential and contract interior lighting specifiers.
Women are beginning to gain so much more recognition within the design industry, was this ever something that you wanted to capture through your collaboration?
Not really – though the awareness of women in design is gaining more recognition (and this, of course, is a great thing), gender has never been a focus for me. I think if you’re a woman and you’re a great designer, then to me I just see you as a great designer, regardless of your gender.
The Furl range features such beautiful soft geometric shapes; can you tell us a little bit about their background and the design concepts/process of the Furl range?
Our initial meet up was basically an origami session that went for about 2 hours where we decided to just allow whatever shapes came to mind express itself in paper form. We wanted to use a material that was often seen as “hard” and present it in a “soft” form. So we started playing with simple folds of unusual shapes, curves, points, angles, cut out sections etc. There ended up being about 20-30 different paper models, where we then narrowed it down to our top 10, then our top 5, then eventually our top 3 shapes which now makes up the Furl Series – the standard square, triangle and semi-circle fold.
How did you each work across the entire process to bring these from sketch to finished product? For example; did you delegate roles based on each other’s strengths? Is this a process that is still ongoing?
After coming up with the shapes and concepts, the next steps involved us delegating the tasks we needed to work on – with both of us having had experience with our own product design development, the process of allocating who did what fell into place quite easily as our strengths and weaknesses seemed to compliment each other, from drawing skills, sourcing materials, project management etc. Basically, we were able to bring valuable skill sets to the table and that I feel has really helped with the whole process, especially during the challenges and hiccups that we encountered.
Have there ever been challenges that you have had to overcome within the collaborative and/or design process of the Furls?
I think our major challenge was manufacturing – we wanted the light to be made locally and when we did find a potential candidate we had to go through multiple prototypes (more than we anticipated) over a longer time period which held us back a lot. Sourcing the right materials and lighting components along with lead time and availability were also challenges, as we wanted our product to arrive at a certain price point that we felt was viable for the market. We also originally had another name for the product and had to change it as we saw the same name used for a new product that launched during Milan.
Usually time tends to be a challenge when it comes to collaborations – ie. taking the time to meet up and work on the project whilst juggling our separate businesses and other priorities, but it helped that we lived in close proximity and we communicated well.
DESIGN + INSPIRATION
What are your go-to resources when seeking inspiration for new designs?
Travel, personal experiences, documentaries, often things that are outside of the industry are what inspire me the most.
Within Sydney, what are your favourite design stores?
Top 3 By Design, Muji, Hay Shop
As a small business owner, are there any key sources (such as podcasts, books, blogs etc.) that have helped you with both starting and growing your business?
I’m a podcast junkie! So
– Clever for design talks
– Akimbo for marketing and thinking
– School of Greatness for professional development and mindset
– Lady Start Up for business.
Just to name a few….
What is the biggest challenge that you face as a product designer within the current design industry?
Product development, which requires a considerable investment of time and resources. As well as marketing and adapting the way you do things in a constantly changing and evolving industry whilst staying true to your brand.
Who are you most inspired by locally and internationally and why?
Patricia Urquiola – she takes elements of her culture and everyday experiences and translates that in her work
Olsen and Tom Kundig – for the connection with nature and paired back design approach and beautiful balance of materials.
Nendo – minimalist and simple design, making the complicated simple
What is your favourite material to work with and why?
Timber – this is the material I fell in love with when I was 11, so it holds much sentimentality. You grow to appreciate that varied species timber comes in, its warmth in nature, its practicality and adaptability to be used for so many applications, not just in furniture and product. It’s a universal material that many can connect with.
What has been a career highlight for you to date? And what’s the next goal that you’re hoping to achieve?
It’s more the accumulation of completed products, collaborations and projects that have been the highlight, not one set thing. I’m still growing, still evolving.
What are you hoping to achieve with business in 2019? Have you got any exciting projects on the horizon that you’re able to give us some insight into?
Next year my practice will be focusing more on projects and designs that incorporate technology, art and the importance of connection.
- Australian National University
- brass wall light
- Christel H
- concept design
- design aesthetic
- design collaboration
- design fundamentals
- designer lighting
- Furl wall light
- industrial design
- local design
- made from good deeds
- modern manufacturing
- Sydney designer
- tweedie side table
- wall light
- women in design