Whitewall: Are there any objects from your childhood that stood out to you and perhaps influenced your choice to become a designer?
Jasper Morrison: It was the Dieter Rams & Hans Gugelot record player for Braun, known as “Snow White’s coffin,” the one with the Perspex lid and wooden side panels. It was in the one room of my grandfather’s house that he had decorated himself in the Scandinavian style of the time (early sixties), with bare wood floors and long-haired white rugs. Later my parents had it at our home, and then I took it over. The room and the record player both had a very important influence on my choice in becoming a designer.
WW: Your design mission has been described as “to produce everyday objects for everyone’s use, make things lighter not heavier, softer not harder, inclusive rather than exclusive, generate energy, light and space.” Why are these things important for you in design?
JM: From quite early on, I developed an extreme sensitivity to atmosphere. I feel good in some spaces and very bad in others. Eventually, I recognized that design was the tool to improve atmosphere, and that seems to be my role — to take care of the man-made environment, to the extent that I am able to.
WW: Why do you think design should be democratic?
JM: The best atmosphere and the most beauty can be found in everyday situations. I’m not at all interested in the idea of luxury. The idea of enjoying something that excludes others is terrible, isn’t it? I think luxury was invented for people with no better way of enjoying life than feeling superior to others. As a teenager I was traveling on a train one day, somewhere in France or Italy, and an old man got out his lunch and offered me a glass of wine and a piece of bread and cheese. That’s the kind of spirit design should offer, not conversation pieces for the dining table.
WW: You’re relatively committed to designing for mass production — how come? Is that inherent in making design democratic? Why does limited production or one-of-a-kind design not appeal to you?
JM: Mass production is a way to achieve quality at affordable prices. You can probably make a better knife and fork by hand than by machine, but it doesn’t interest me because it will probably be bought for the wrong reasons and the effort made in designing it will be wasted. To contradict everything I have said so far, I do sometimes design limited edition pieces because it’s good to occasionally relax the constrictions of design for mass production and to confront these contradictions as a way to stay sharp. Otherwise you become a prisoner of your own opinions. So far, everything I have designed as a limited edition has been about displaying other things, as a way of balancing their rarity, I think, or setting them in an atmosphere that brings out their true value.
WW: As a designer you seem always to be looking at the big picture — how will this object fit in a room? How will we use it? How will it affect the atmosphere? Why do you think these questions or concerns sometimes lose out to designing with only aesthetics in mind?
JM: For me they have become bigger and bigger questions, as I realized that designs that are only concerned with aesthetics usually fail in the everyday, long-term sense. They are food for the endless exchange of creative ego and selling magazines, but nothing more. The exchange demands that the design should be eye-catching, while the atmosphere of the room demands that it should not be, so there’s a fault in the process right from the start.
WW: What influence do you want your objects to have on design as a whole? On a room?
JM: They should be better than what existed before (not always easy or even possible, but worth a try). I like to design in an evolutionary way, to look at what came before, not to throw away the collective effort in developing the fork, for example, or to imagine that I, Jasper Morrison, will reinvent what has taken us hundreds of years to get right, but rather to try to improve on it, to summarize that effort and aim for the imaginary end game. The moment you bring something new into a room, it has an effect on the atmosphere — that effect has to be a positive one, not just for a few weeks but over the years.
WW: You recently designed a line of watches for Rado: r5.5. Why do you think Rado is a good fit for your design approach, and whom do you envision wearing r5.5?
JM: It’s all the about the material, which Rado is famous for. They were the first to use ceramic in the watch industry, and the fact that it’s cast rather than machined allows a lot of freedom in the shape. I wanted to express the quality of the material, and my first proposal was to develop a matte finish for the ceramic that I think adds depth and shows its beauty more than the polished finish. I designed the watch for myself — always important to get that right if you want others to appreciate a design, and the rounded square shape of the case is something of an obsession for me. Something about the tension between something square and something round I find very pleasing to the eye and an ideal frame for something as precise as a watch. This being the first serious watch I have designed made the learning curve rather steep, but the more I wear it, the happier I am with the result. As I have discovered that the design of the dial itself is a good 50 percent of the character of a watch and we are working on some new ones, there’s more to come and I am very much into it.
WW: You’ve said you live with a lot of the products you design, and we’ve talked about how atmosphere has a great influence on your design process. Can you describe the atmosphere you’ve created in your home?
JM: It’s a laboratory of atmospheric testing. Every new design passes through the lab, and the good ones get to stay. It’s the most important system I employ to evaluate what we do, how well it works, how close the character of the design and the influence it has on the atmosphere is to the intended one. Sometimes it takes a year or two to fully understand if a design works or not. I am working on a selection for Enzo Mari’s imaginary Design Museum, and the criteria he demands is that a product be at least 45 years old to be able to truly judge its quality!