Interview with Jasper Morrison
Without input there’s no output!
20. March 2017 | Words: Jasmin Jouhar
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 55 seconds
These days, Jasper Morrison is one of the really big names in design. The roots of his career lie in Berlin – and Brakel, though. The blueprint for the FSB 1144 door lever handle collection was one of his first works to go into series production. That the handle also figures in the “Thingness” Morrison retrospective being held at the Berlin Museum’s Bauhaus Archive from 22 March 2017 stands to reason. A conversation with the British designer about time spent in a divided city, hard lessons learned from working with FSB, and why he likes flitting between continents.
Berlin as a city plays a special role for your career. In the eighties, you spent a year there to study at HdK. And in 1988, you showed the exhibition Some New Items for the Home, Part I at the gallery of DAAD. What does that mean for you to see your work exhibited in Berlin again?
It’s a good feeling to be returning to Berlin with a rather complete review of what I have done in the last thirty years and I’m happy to be showing it at the Bauhaus Archiv, which I used to visit as a hopeful design student.
How did the time in Berlin and the experiences influence your work, maybe until today?
I think of Berlin as the city that really formed me as a designer. Of course London and Milan played a part too, but Berlin had such a powerful atmosphere in those days, and being in such a special environment, surrounded by a wall, made it an all the more intense experience for a young designer soaking up inspiration and attitude.
Very early in your career, you started to collaborate with FSB on a new handle design. How did this collaboration come about?
I designed a handle for an apartment in London, and had them made there for an interior project the owner had commissioned me to do. That handle appeared in a first, career boosting article in the Italian magazine domus in about 1988 I think. Jürgen W. Braun, then the CEO of FSB saw the article and asked if he could produce the handle. I had no idea what FSB was but it didn’t take long for me to appreciate that it was a first industrial opportunity.
Being a young designer, how did you experience the work with FSB on an industrial product like a family of handles?
It was quite tough for me actually, even though Jürgen Braun was the most kind and encouraging client I could have hoped for. The original handle had be made by handle welding an shallow ’S’ shaped curved onto a cylinder. There was a concave dished recess in the end of the cylinder where the thumb naturally finds its place. The problem was that the standard FSB rose had a smaller diameter hole than the cylinder and so it needed to be reduced. The cyclinder then would have been too small. I worked hard to overcome the problem, but the result never had the elegance of the original. It was a hard, early lesson in the parameters that industry can oblige a designer to deal with, and there was no way around the problem.
Do you still like the design and concept of FSB 1144?
I started on the 1144 forewarned of the rose issue and the design came together nicely without too much trouble. I still think it’s a good handle and I live with it at home, appreciating with each door opening and closing that I did a good enough job all those years ago!
Later in your career, together with Naoto Fukasawa you coined the term Super Normal. Do you see any connections between this concept and FSB 1144?
Handles are ubiquitous and ordinary, we use them ever so often, and very likely they are an anonymous product. Absolutely, I think the 1144 was probably my first Super Normal design. The shape came from a hand drawn illustration of a horse drawn coach handle I found in an old catalogue, which seemed to express itself completely as fundamentally handle-shaped.
Is my obervation correct that the concept of new is not so relevant for your work?
Yes and no, it’s certainly not a priority but I still think even if the inspiration comes from something old, that a new design needs to have something fresh and even slightly surpising about it, while also needing to be discrete and simple. I didn’t realise the concept of Super Normal until about 16 years later, but the 1144 was instinctivly Super Normal.
So why are you going on contributing new products and furniture to a market that seems to be very saturated?
Oh, that’s easy to explain, things don’t need to be new so much as they need to be better. Dieter Rams taught us that and it’s a very important point that designers ignore with disasterous consequences!
There are a couple of companies you are closely collaborating with over a longer time – companies like Vitra, Punkt or Flos. How important are relationships like this for you?
There are quite a few long term relationships and these are very special. It’s exciting to work for a new company every now and then but the familiarity and the common understanding with those I worked with almost from the beginning is hard to beat.
You divide your time between London and your two other studios in Paris and Tokyo. Why do you sustain three different places on two continents to work?
Well, I get a lot from being in different places and I get a lot from leaving behind each office and all the responsibilities that a physical office represents, as often as possible! I travel light between them. And there’s the added advantage that no one knows where I am!
Japan obviously is an important reference for your work. Why is that so?
Yes, their culture of visual simplicity goes back so far that I feel like an archaeologist digging through the layers and discovering how natural and essential this simplicity is.
Lately, you published a beautiful and touching book called “The Hard Life“ on everyday objects from rural, pre-industrial Portugal. How important are “side projects“ like this for you?
I used to teach, until one day I realised how bad at teaching I was. Making books like this one is my way of giving something back to the educational system. I learnt so much from books as a student and it gives me a lot of pleasure and inspiration making new ones.
You also take a lot of pictures of everyday objects and situations. In how far is this related to your work?
It’s an essential part of the process, an extension to my visual memory which helps me formulate new things. Without input there’s no output!
And, finally, is there an object, a commodity or a piece of furniture you did not design yet but would very much like to?
What I get asked to design is always more surpising and interesting than what I imagine would make a good project, I prefer to wait and see what lands on my drawing board!
The “Jasper Morrison. Thingness” exhibition runs from 22 March to 23 October 2017 in the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin. The retrospective then moves to the Grassi Museum in Leipzig, where it can be viewed from 23 November 2017 to 6 May 2018.