Revealing the Clients' Potential to Build up "Design-Driven" Companies
Interview with Morten Lauritzen – Designer and Co-Founder of VE2 from Denmark (Source: Package & Design, 2020, May Issue, p. 50-63)
Minimalist, elegant, and pure – in this year's 75 iF gold award-winning works, a set of thermoses epitomizes the very best of the Scandinavian design tradition. What is amazing is that they not only serve as thermoses but can also be turned into slow coffee or tea brewers by affixing the matching filter. The design, both functional and aesthetic, won the favor of the iF jury and earned a gold award. This iF gold award-winning work does indeed have an inherently Scandinavian DNA – it was created by VE2 from Denmark.
Founded by Hugo Dines Schmidt and Morten Lauritzen in 2007, VE2 has been focusing on product, interior, and communication design. The two founders were all well-schooled designers with master’s degrees in industrial design from Aarhus School of Architecture. A variant of "veto," the company name "VE2" is clear and concise, which they see as having a strong opinion – honoring strong opinions from both designers and clients.
Revealing a client's potential is one of the key competencies of VE2. Focusing on the creation of durable design, VE2's design work always involves a thorough understanding of the companies, including their manufacturing, distribution, management, marketing, clients, etc. By deeply digging into the factors that make up a company and by collaborating closely with the client, VE2 has been developing powerful designs that embrace both function and aesthetics and that are highly consistent with every aspect of the client’s brand. While helping the clients achieve market success, their work also allows the clients to realize the value of design and to transform into "design-driven" companies.
So how does VE2 reveal their clients' potential and develop durable and coherent designs in order to successfully build up "design-driven" companies? What distinctive design philosophy do they, as industrial designers who are graduates of an architecture school, possess? With these questions in mind, Package & Design conducted an exclusive interview with Morten Lauritzen, Co-Founder of VE2, and selected some exceptional design works of VE2 to share with our readers.
Q: Package & Design | A: Morten Lauritzen, Designer and Partner of VE2
Q: First of all, congratulations on VE2’s 4 works' winning iF DESIGN AWARDS this year. One of them, the Singles Slow Brewer Thermo Jug, won an iF gold award 2020. It’s not only a thermo jug but also a slow coffee/tea brewer – very elegant and functional! Could you talk about the creative concept, development process, and technical difficulties having to do with this gold award-winning product?
A: Thank you very much. Yes, four iF DESIGN AWARDS this year and one Gold is amazing, and we are both proud and honoured. It is very much a team effort between us and Zone Denmark.
The process behind our gold award-winning product – the Singles Slow Brew Thermo Jug, has been quite long and challenging. But in close collaboration and hard work between us as designers, Zone Denmark and the manufacturer, we managed to find a way to produce the design without compromising the main idea. For this product, it was important to us to stick to the main idea of the concept. The functional concept is "to design a thermo jug that you can brew both coffee and tea directly into," and the aesthetic idea is "the brewing parts being a natural part of the thermo jug." For this product, handling boiling water, it was very important that the product radiates stability to make the use safe. The open grip has also been an important element for the design. We think that the grip adds both character to the product, but also brings some lightness to the more massive body of the product. With this design, we feel that things add up both functionally and aesthetically, and we hope it turns out to be a success for the users too, as this is where the product comes to the real test.
Q: You graduated from the Industrial Design of Aarhus School of Architecture. What's special about the industrial design program in an architecture school compared with integrated design schools? Why does VE2 focus on "product + interior + communication"?
A: We see our background as designers from a school of architecture as the very foundation in our way of thinking design. We believe that working with architecture begins with an understanding of how people interact with each other and their surroundings. From there you can start to design the space we live and interact within. We feel that we as designers must understand people and the living and working spaces they interact in before we can even begin to design products.
VE2 has always worked with both product and interior design, and we are certain that we benefit from the coherence between the two different fields of design work. So often we learn important lessons from our interior design that we can use in our design of products – and vice versa. We feel our background in architecture gives us the ability to zoom out when we are working on the design of a product. We are always very focused on the context of the design. We very much credit this to our architectural background.
Why do we work with communication you ask? We find that even though we are product designers, we are often able to help our clients when they need to communicate the products they do. We believe that our background in product design gives us another mindset when communicating, than what you would get from a regular ad agency. We often find that working with companies and the design of their products we get to deeply understand both the company, their marketing, and the end-users. This knowledge is a very strong platform to do meaningful communication on! Again this supports our idea, that design is always strongly influenced by its surroundings – no product out there, as good as it might be, doesn't stand much of a chance if it isn't communicated right to the end-user.
Q: VE2 focuses on durable design – in order to achieve durable results, what considerations would VE2 focus on when designing?
A: This is something we strongly believe in – so much that we actually write it in big letters on our website. In these times where we have to focus on sustainability and the care of our environment, we feel that, as designers, our most powerful leverage is to do long lasting designs. We believe that if a product, through its design, creates an aesthetic and functional value to the user, then the product will most likely have a longer lifespan than products that is bought and used without any affection or emotional feedback.
And how do we achieve that longer lifespan?
One remedy is good quality! But what is good quality? For us it is not necessarily expensive materials and complicated manufacturing. We pride ourselves in always making an effort to get the most out of both materials and manufacturing that goes into any product. In that way, quality comes from optimising instead of excessive use of resources.
Another powerful potion we always base our design on, is honesty. We believe that if the idea behind a product is very easy for the user to comprehend, we can build a stronger relation between user and product. It’s like the old saying: "What you see is what you get." The honesty we hope to add to our design is certainly founded in our Scandinavian background. For the last century, honesty has been a keystone in Danish architecture and design – both in aesthetics and function.
Q: VE2's main goal is to create coherence – how do you explain the "coherence" in design? What exactly does VE2 do to achieve coherence in creation?
A: This again has to do with context. As we never see a design as a solitary issue, but always relatable to its surroundings – the two must be in coherence. So this is implemented in our design process from the very first sketches all through the very last stages of manufacturing – well actually all the way into distribution and marketing. Of course it is absolutely crucial for us to make sure that our design is minded on the end-user, both aesthetically and functionally. But it also has to be taking in consideration that it should be part of a brand, fit into a certain manufacturing, be sold through distribution and marketed in such. Only by embracing as many of these factors in the design process and the design development, will we succeed in making successful products both in terms of durability, functionality and aesthetics. Within finding the coherence of all these elements, lies the path to very strong designs and not least commercial products that will strengthen our clients business and in the end enrich many end users' life with good design.
When we address the importance of coherence in our design, it also relates specifically to the products. We have, through the years, experienced many times that singular products are much weaker both in the impact on the enduser as well as the distribution and market. So for us it is way more interesting to design product-lines and productfamilies. It is such an interesting design process to implement a design DNA through various products and keeping a clear connection and relation between the different items. Furthermore, the design DNA is much clearer when it is seen adapted to a full line of different products.
Over the past 5 years, our work for the Danish design brand Zone Denmark has been a test of our skills in creating coherence through design. When we started working for Zone Denmark, they had just started a new strategy to be a 100% design driven brand. Their line of products had been neglected for many years and most were not their own designs. So to be able to create a powerful and visible brand, we have had a close collaboration with the management, designing a whole new line of products as well as eliminating old designs – even the ones that were commercially sound. Throughout the process it has been a multifaceted journey, involving product design – and everything around it – all done with joined forces to create the best coherence throughout the brand. For all of us, both designers and brand, the pinnacle of this journey was when Zone Denmark won the prestigious German Brand Award 2019 cementing that a strong, visible and broad focus on design pays off.
Q: How did VE2 improve the product design of Zone Denmark so as to upgrade the brand? Could you please talk about it with an example?
A: I can give you a good example of how we, in the process, made a successful fusion between the old and the new Zone Denmark. When we first met Zone Denmark, one of their best selling products were some very simple graphical trivets made of silicone. They were pretty outdated in color and shape, but they sold well with a low price. So we decided this was an area of their line of products where we could move forward standing on the shoulders of their existing products. So we designed a line of new hexagon trivets based on the existing manufacturing method and materials. Because of the hexagon shape, supported by repetitive patterns in the hexagon, the end-users are now able to make nice patterns on their dinner table by combining several different trivets. This feature we supported by setting a brand new color scheme for the Hexagon trivets. The new trivets from the beginning were easy to sell. Furthermore, the shops realized they were more likely to sell 2 or 3 trivets. So within the same price point we moved the trivets from being a campaign, price focused product to being a design product.
Q: Revealing clients' potential is one of the key values of VE2. Please talk about how you revealed clients’ potential with an actual an example.
A: Any company has potentials waiting to be revealed – who would argue against that? But when we talk about "revealing potential" regarding our design work, it’s to clearly pinpoint that design, to us, is not just about making "pretty things"! It is so important for us that our clients understand that our design work involves a thorough understanding of the company, their manufacturing, distribution, management, marketing, clients, etc. It is from digging into this mass of factors, that makes up a company, that we feel we are able to supply design as a lever to utilise the potentials within the company.
If we should pick out a significant case, it would be one of our oldest clients: Hitsa.
Hitsa is a Denmark based manufacturer making high-quality outdoor furniture and functional products for urban outdoor spaces with both steel and wood manufacturing still mainly in Denmark. When we had our first meeting with Hitsa, they were a small family owned company. Sales and management was taken care of by the owner, a blacksmith himself, and behind him was a small and very skilled staff of about 10 employees. The economy in the company was sound and sales were stable. We quickly came to find that their range of product was set in two categories:
Firstly, there was at large range of non-design products – most of them similar to the competitors in the market. Hitsa was known for good quality, fast and flexible delivery and in materials and craftsmanship which made these products perform well. Secondly, Hitsa produced a range of products that were all designed by designers or architects. There were a lot of different designs and they all had their own aesthetic value and often they were designed to specific outdoor spaces or architecture. One by one they were good designs, but as a whole they left Hitsa with a bit of a messy range of designs. Furthermore they often sold very few as soon as the project they were designed to was finished.
So when VE2 came in contact with Hitsa, we realised that the potential in the company was to try to join the forces of the two ranges they were working with. We set out to do a broad range of well-designed commercial products based on the manufacturing and highly skilled craftsmanship that existed within the company. It was important that we designed a range of products that would fit comfortably into any setting, as it this way would support the financial need for mass-market products in the Hitsa product range. On the other hand, we had to add design to the range both aesthetically and functionally.
The most interesting aspect of this process was that within the development. We had the chance to work closely with the manufacturing. In this process, we discovered so much potential within the production. As soon as the guys on the floor understood the common journey we were on, they went into great length to support the process towards better design and a total lift of the brand Hitsa. Still today, we do at least as much cooperation and product development with the blacksmiths as with the management.
This whole process started around 2007 when VE2 just set off. Today we are proud to see Hitsa as a market leader in Denmark and a very strong player in the Scandinavian- and European market. Hitsa is no longer a family owned company but a large corporation with several affiliated companies. Our work closely related to the core of the company still carries on – and we keep finding new potentials within the company. And still good design is a powerful leverage for keeping Hitsa strong.
Q: The product design of VE2 has a classical Scandinavian style. Did this style come about naturally or intentionally? How does VE2 combine Scandinavian style with a global outlook?
A: Well we can't run from the fact that we are a Scandinavian team here at VE2… But what is Scandinavian style? Maybe it is most difficult for ourselves as Scandinavians to define.
I think we owe a lot of our Scandinavian design-approach to our background in Danish architecture – especially the Danish contemporary architects through the 20th century. Through this period, architecture in Denmark evolved towards an understanding of people, context and functionality – instead of either pure aesthetics or basic craftsmanship. Through the 20th century, we saw many Danish architects getting involved in architecture as well as product- and furniture design. So architecture and design has been intertwined in many ways and was the foundation in our education. I also think we in Denmark have had a great opportunity to development into an industrial society on very strong relations to the great craftsmen our culture is build on. A relation that strengthened rational thinking, understanding of materials, resources and manufacturing and always based on an understanding of the end-user.
So "Scandinavian" is definitely not something we pursue – it's in our DNA. So to say that our design has a Scandinavian style…? We see it more as our designs are deriving from a Scandinavian design process.
For years when we have been asked to explain our design process, we have often referred to the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery: "Perfection is Achieved Not When There Is Nothing More to Add, But When There Is Nothing Left to Take Away." This is what we daily strive for in our design work! So how can Scandinavian design have a global outlook? We have found that if a product is designed to interact with the user in a clear and obvious way and the product in any possible way strives to be simple and obvious in its approach – this will make the product approachable by anybody regardless of culture and nationality.
ELEMENTS is a line of products that activate walls in a functional and decorative way. Useful around the house or public spaces such as a waiting room. The elements comes in a variety of different wooden surfaces or in individual colors that compliments your interior decoration. The ELEMENTS collection also includes a bookshelf/hooks for the kids room - in colours for a boy or a girl.
Furnipart is an international marked leader in furniture handles for interior, bathroom and kitchen. Based in Denmark and with a 100% design driven collection. VE2s approach to designing handles is always based on two main factors: Function and repetition. Handles are a repeated aesthetical ornament to furniture so this must be considered in the design. Function all the way down to the feel at the fingertips will matter.
Trepol's recognized patented filter system has been a focal point of the Conus design. The round inner dish integrates the filter and creates a beautiful transition from the outer shape. VE2’s ambition was to create coherence with a design that has a clear functional justification and is a natural part of the aesthetic universe of the contemporary kitchen. Trepol delivers exclusive products to the high-end market and has deep roots in the Scandinavian design tradition. Conus won Red Dot Design Award 2012 Best of The Best
The BJÖRK line of amenities for public bathrooms designed for Danish man ufacturer Dan Dryer. It includes hand dryer, soap dispenser, waist bins and paper dispensers. The BJÖRK family also includes a baby changing station which is a challenging function in this environment. This design was in 2017 awarded Red Dot Design Award – Best of The Best. All products are designed to stand a hard use and still be beautiful and functional. All products can be painted in any desired RAL colour.
Q: VE2's design products mostly feature calm and elegant colours. Is this what you prefer? What visual impression do you want to create for the users?
A: Colour is an extra parameter within design, and a really important one, especially when you work with design objects that are simple and "cut to the bone." Furthermore, colours have the ability to tie together products across an assortment. Each colour must work individually, have a broad appeal and be a part of the whole palette within the clients universe. This is how we work with colours for Zone Denmark.
We are very much inspired by nature when we choose colors for our products and to encourage a certain atmosphere or feeling. We also believe that it is important to choose colors that can be long lasting, without it being only black and white. With products in different shades and calm colours, we believe that the user can create their own personal universe across the collection and make it a part of their own personal atmosphere at home. If a product appeal to your senses, it is more likely that you keep it longer.
Q: VE2 has won many design awards. As for you, what’s the significance in participating in design awards?
A: Of course for us, as designers, winning esteemed design awards is a badge of recognition from our peers and a window for us to contribute to the global focus on design. We know that the industry, as well as the design community, has a focus on the awards, and that the collective of awarded designs has an impact on how design is perceived, as well as how designthinking is evolving in the future.
That being said, we encourage our clients to enter the awards as we know they can benefit from this token of recognition by a greater visibility and commercial impact in their markets. We have through the years also experienced a more fascinating effect of winning design awards. As we through the years have had the opportunity to move several companies into being design driven, we have experienced that design awards can be a real "game changer" in moving the internal self-understanding and strengthen the belief in design as carrying element in the company identity.