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Objects & Atmosphere


An interview with Jasper Morrison for Iittala Journal conducted by Marco Velardi


In light of an upcoming collaboration with littala, we sat down to chat with British designer Jasper Morrison to discuss why creating the right atmosphere is essential to his work.

Morrison's thinking and designs have influenced the development of products used by millions of people. He believes that the role of the designer is not to invent form, but rather to be open to the surrounding world, adapting objects for new purposes "through hard analysis, or, more satisfyingly, intuition and chance". He is especially interested in those everyday objects that continue to serve their purpose well in a form that has often been created by an anonymous designer. He admires "the mysterious quality and naturalness which anonymous objects, free of their author's ego, so often have". He sees such anonymous objects as a reminder for designers that "In the real world an object depends on its long-term usefulness for survival.”

I feel that the word atmosphere pops up lot when reading about your work, and the last time we spoke about your upcoming collection for littala you said that "what counts more these days is the atmosphere of the table" rather than a set of perfectly matching tableware. What does atmosphere actually mean to you?

To give you an extreme example of how easily the atmosphere can be destroyed, all you need is a square dining plate and a very Iarge wine glass, which many restaurants use to try and tell you that their food is art and the wine is so good that it needs to be tasted rather than drunk. At the other end of the scale are the more modest and less pretentious restaurants that believe their food and wine should convince you simply with their own qualities, without an overly formal presentation. At home, it would be ridiculous to follow the former strategy of exaggeration, guests would feel uneasy with the formality and pretentiousness of the table setting. What's needed is the complete opposite, tableware that helps to create a more natural and easy-going atmosphere. The designs should be discreet but not characterless, practical without being boring and there shouldn't be any obvious visual link between the plate, the glass and the cutlery, because the table will appear over-themed. It would be strange to design a wine glass to match a plate, for example, rather than designing a wine glass to do the best it can to serve the wine well and allow you to enjoy it without the distraction of unnecessary detailing. All the pieces on a table should be performing similarly, to serve the meal in the best way possible with minimum distraction from their consumable partners!

As you bring up the concept of minimal distraction, what about the interrelation between an object and its surrounding space how does that interaction influence your design process?

Ninety-nine per cent of all design objects are intended to be noticed quickly, that's part of the marketing strategy of a great many companies. But objects that you notice immediately are not usually the best everyday performers, they disturb the atmosphere by providing too much presence. Objects that contribute the best atmosphere tend to be less immediately noticeable; it may take some time before you appreciate them for their practicality and more subtle, discreet presence. That’s because the balance of how they look and how they perform is correct; they have been designed to perform well and contribute the right atmosphere, not just to catch the eye. Design is all about balancing these variables so that an object performs well both practically and atmospherically–each of these is more important than looks.

Functionality doesn’t necessarily shy away from looks or being trendy, especially these days.
Would you say your design work is not about looks?

lt is about looks, but the looks are serving the atmospheric potential of the thlng. They are held back from being the most important factor to allow other qualities to emerge. If you have something in your home that works particularly well on a daily basis, which you always reach for in preference to others of the same type, or which you would be sad to lose or break, the chances are that it's not because of the way it looks but rather the way it performs.
l am interested in that performance when designing and I have observed that the most successful objects are almost always a balance of looks, atmospheric potential and function. When these three factors are balanced well the object performs better.

Leonard Koren wrote in his book, Arranging Things, "Most arrangements are little noticed, yet some stop you in your tracks. A 'successful' arrangement. that is, an effective arrangement, is one that powerfully engages your attention and sustains your interest."

It's a good subject. If you put two images together they can have a completely different meaning than they do separately. If you
replace a chair in a room with a different one it will give you a different atmosphere. Arrangements of things are at the core of
everything in design. There's a Buckminster Fuller quote that goes something like 'design is an arrangement of parts to achieve an improved result".

Extracted from Iittala Journal - No2 - September 2018