● How was ITO Design established, how did the team come together? What is the secret behind the harmony and continuity of the team?
This year, we are excited to be celebrating our 30th anniversary. When ITO Design was founded by Armin Sander in 1987, he wanted to create a holistic product design service. For him, this meant working across marketing, design and engineering to provide a complete understanding of the product development process for his clients. ITO Design retains this purpose today, with a tight-knit, multinational team of currently 10 designers from 5 countries and with offices in Nurnberg, Germany and Cham, Switzerland.
Having such a diverse team with people from different cultural backgrounds who have learned their craft in different places all over the world has been incredibly valuable for us. There is always more than one way of approaching a design problem and more than one way of solving it.
● How do you get started a design project? How does the decision process on project design and division of labour in the team occur? How does project management work?
I believe that one of our strengths is that we operate very much without hierarchies within the team. There is no Art Director position and we don’t really use terms like junior or senior designer. I think that it is much more important to realize that everybody on the team has a different set of individual strengths and skills to offer.
Usually, at the beginning of any project we try to involve as many designers as we can. The early ideation phase is where the foundation of a design is laid, so it is important to start with a broad view and diverse discussions. Later, when we have carved out a direction and know where we want to go with a design, the project usually gets assigned to one designer, who not only leads the actual design work, but also manages the project and client relationships. That way any designer gets to responsibly work on all the different phases that a typical design project comprises – from the first ideas to series production of the final result.
● What is your design philosophy? How do you define your style?
The term ‘Design’ is often seen as something purely visual, something only pertaining to our visual perception. Of course, it is much more than that. How do we interact with a product? How easy is it to understand? How does it feel when we touch it?
At ITO, we usually don’t start a project based on the premise of a certain visual aesthetic. We try to follow a more comprehensive approach where functional and aesthetic criteria are treated as equally important. Form without function is useless. Function without form is unsatisfying. Only the perfect symbiosis of both creates design that is of true value.
● In your opinion, which elements make or should make your designs being different from previous designs or renew them?
Design is often very marketing-driven and sometimes new products are developed simply because the market is asking for something new. Because trends and fashion change. I believe that as designers we must always challenge ourselves to go beyond that. Every new product is an opportunity improve on what has been before. The way people live and work is constantly changing. We are seeing new ways of communication and collaboration. And there are always new technologies and new materials to work with.
● TeamUP office chair is a remarkable design. Can you tell us about this design? How was the brief and design process?
TeamUP was certainly one of our most interesting projects. It all started when BASF, one of the world’s leading chemical companies asked us to participate in a design competition with the goal to develop a highly innovative chair for today’s changing office environments. As a leading innovator in materials technology, BASF was looking for designers who can not only create a visionary design, but also implement it using some of their high-tech plastic materials. ITO emerged as the winner from that design competition and this was the beginning of a close collaboration between ITO and BASF which eventually resulted in the TeamUP chair.
TeamUP was designed specifically for modern collaborative work environments. This means that it needs to adapt to different situations quickly and effortlessly. TeamUP can be either open or closed, depending on what the current task calls for. Folding up its side elements creates instant privacy and an ideal atmosphere for learning and concentrated work. When team work and collaboration is required, TeamUP’s magnetic elements join up to four chairs into a circle, bringing a group of people together while shielding it from distractions.
● Can you tell us what you have been working on recently & what are their prominent features? What are your future targets?
While ITO has historically worked for diverse industries, ranging from sports shoes to communication electronics, our main focus in recent years has been on office furniture and seating in particular. In this field, we’ve worked internationally with a wide range of companies including ITOKI (Japan), Profim (Poland) and König + Neurath (Germany). Since the late 90s, ITO Design has maintained an ongoing collaboration with Haworth (USA) on projects such as the ‘Zody’ Task Chair, the first chair to be endorsed by the American Physical Therapy Association. More recently, we worked with Haworth to develop the ‘Fern’ chair with its unique Wave Suspension™ system.
The FF chair by Itoki is another great example of a design where a unique aesthetic was born out of an innovative functional idea. Its origami-inspired, polyhedron shaped back support was developed with an innovative moulding technology that utilizes hard and soft plastics. The chair’s backrest can flex freely and adapts to the user‘s movements.
● Finally, what advice would you give to designers at the beginning of their career?
I would say: Get your hands dirty! If you have an idea, try it out. Build models, mock-ups, prototypes. They may be rough and often don’t need to be pretty, but they allow you to try and experience your idea with all your senses, not only with your eyes.