MEET SEBASTIAN BERGNE
Sebastian Bergne aims to make us reimagine what we might otherwise consider commonplace. For the past two decades, he’s managed to accomplish this feat with aplomb from a vibrant studio in Battersea, London.
British industrial designer.
Included in The Museum of Modern Art, NY.
Included in the Design Museum of London.
"It’s about very simple function. It’s about using as little material as possible, while making sure what you’re doing is done in a clever way. It’s kind of like micro-engineering."
"I have this strong idea that every project is very different and is essentially a new beginning."
Though Sebastian—once a student of the Royal College of Art—got his start producing objects for himself, one of his first projects out of school earned him early success (and landed a place at New York’s Museum of Modern Art). Buoyed by that achievement, he founded his studio shortly thereafter; since then, his work has soared. The designer’s portfolio is filled with everything from playful housewares to functional cookware, encompassing frying pans, corkscrews, kettles, tabletop items, lighting and more. International clients, spanning a range of fields, include Tefal, MUJI, Habitat, De Beers, Moulinex, Vitra and Swarovski.
Through it all, he’s remained grounded, reflecting on his philosophies and personal history with humble consideration. “People often ask which of my projects has been most successful,” he says. “That’s a terrible question. How do you judge success? Some people say it’s the piece that sold the most, or perhaps it’s the one that’s gotten the most awards. Maybe,” he continues, “it’s just the one that you’re happiest with.”
Were you always interested in design? Tell us a bit about your background.
I had a natural attraction to art and design as an adolescent, because I wasn’t great at school. I was dyslexic and had some other issues, so creative subjects were the ones I loved. It only made sense that I ended up pursuing design. After school, I went to the Royal College of Art in London. I nearly went into photography, actually, but instead, I went on to discover industrial design.
What do you think first attracted you to that field? Did you like the concept of balancing form and function?
I do think my initial attraction was related to that. I did a lot of my own making very early on, and I enjoyed combining rationality and function with freedom and creativity. I liked exploring how one influences the other. Really, it’s a bit of a conflict. What comes first? You have to explore that question. Then again, I don’t like it if someone gives me a completely open brief and doesn’t offer any place to start. I need boundaries. Total freedom tends to be a bit of a mental block.
Do you remember the first object you ever designed?
Not really, to be honest. But there were a couple of significant projects early on. I designed a lamp shade, which was cut from a sheet of stainless steel and opened out when you clipped it onto a traditional light bulb. That was something I produced for myself when I finished studying. I had no clients, so I found ways of producing my own ideas. That went on to be a successful project. It’s actually in the Museum of Modern Art in New York now. It was a good kickstart.
You’ve been known to explore relationships between people and objects through your design work. How does that materialize in the products you create?
I have this strong idea that every project is very different and is essentially a new beginning, so I don’t really have a process that I apply to each one. People talk a lot about process in design today, and I like to avoid being transparent about my own. Every time, it’s different. You can’t prescribe process. That implies you could automate the process of creativity.
I do think everyone builds relationships with their objects, and as a designer, you have the power to influence that. You’re creating something that people are going to like or not like. In a certain context, that fact becomes more obvious and necessary.
When does your work make you happiest?
I’m happy with a piece of work when people really get it. Maybe there’s a smile in the corner of their mouth and they really understand something that I’ve intended for them to understand. Maybe they really love and appreciate it. That sounds obvious, but it actually can be quite hard. It’s not simple. Communicating with people and giving them something they like and understand is key.
I must admit that I sort of stalk people in shops to watch them buy stuff. If I see someone buying something I’ve designed, it’s the best feeling. Or if I go to someone’s house that I don’t know well and they’ve bought something I designed for their own reasons, that’s amazing.
How do you spend your time when you’re not in the studio?
Food and cooking are quite important in my life. That’s something I share with my wife—she’s a much better cook than I am.
I’m also a dad, and my kids are so important, as well. Just spending time with them is a joy. They’re 18 and 15 now, so they’re getting older. Soon they’ll be heading off, so I’ll be seeing less of them. Having young adults at home is very different from having young kids. There’s a constant conversation about this and that. It’s great fun.
Let’s talk about your collaboration with OTHR. What drew you to the project?
The idea of manufacturing products digitally is something that people have been talking about a lot recently, so it was very exciting to be asked to be involved. Designing for industry is important, and this is the reality of future industry.
At first glance, you may think additive manufacturing or 3D printing gives total freedom. In some ways it does, but it also has some serious limitations. In the end, it’s about learning. You’re freed up from some things that have maybe been a pain in the ass before, but then, you discover there are limitations this way, as well. You learn to appreciate the process.
Tell us about what you made.
My approach was to create a family of tabletop items. Mostly candle holders of different sizes and so on. It’s about very simple function. It’s about using as little material as possible, while making sure what you’re doing is done in a clever way. It’s kind of like micro-engineering. The items appear to be very thought through and very engineered, which they are. But in the end, they come across as very simple.
What do you envision for the future of industrial design?
Industrial design is essentially about designing the stuff that surrounds us, and I think people are becoming more selective about what they buy these days. Maybe it’s about not wanting to waste so much. It’s also about wanting to have things a bit longer. From a designer’s standpoint, people are more selective, so we need to make sure they select what we’re doing. It’s an exciting time. There’s more possibility for the ways in which things can be made and manufactured. I’m hopeful about the future of design—I think it will be a better place.