Rafał Piłat, founder of Mindsailors, talks about industrial design, the origins of design adventure, the search for inspiration and challenges.
HOW DO YOU ANSWER TO THE QUESTION WHAT DO YOU DO?
I answer that I am an industrial designer, which usually raises further questions, and I don't think I have ever understood what I do right away. The usual question is "What are you designing?" Some people ask what products I design, and there are also those who can ask if I design, for example, some patterns, because design is patterns! When answering, I usually supplement my statement with the information that I design products. Here another question appears, "What products?". It is difficult to specify because there is no one group of products, so counting on the brilliance of the questioner, I usually ask him/her to look around the room and think about what products, according to him/her, require design. Usually, most people get caught that everything around actually had to be designed by someone before.
WHEN DID YOUR ADVENTURE WITH DESIGN BEGIN?
My adventure with typical design began with my first experience in the creative industry. Before I started designing products, I had worked as a 2D graphic artist. I also had a hobby experience with 3D graphics, while the things I did were primarily performed for advertising agencies. Due to a coincidence, I began to take an active part in building the brand of the company of a friend I met during my studies. He emigrated from Poland and founded a company in Hong Kong intermediating in the sale of consumer electronics to Poland. At some point, the company stood at a crossroads and was unable to sell any more electronics that were offered by everyone around. We wondered what to do with it. Then there was an attempt to launch an internal design office in Hong Kong, with poor results - we managed to implement a few products, but they looked very average and even duplicated the image pattern of cheap electronics imported from China. It was clear that this is not the way. After a few talks on this topic, a proposal was made to open an internal design office in Poland, which was to implement projects for the mother company. Due to the fact that I was all the time associated with the creative industry, it was suggested that I should stand at the head of such an office and built a design team. My adventure with design began with setting up a company that served an external company and assembling a team that would be able to offer something that looked like a European product, and was produced in China and could compete with what was currently available on the small electronics market.
WHAT IS INDUSTRIAL DESIGN FOR YOU?
The first word that comes to mind is that it is a form of crafts. As a company composing of two people, we did not like very much to be perceived as artists and I think that we are with that all the time. Today we distance ourselves from this image that a design designer is an artist, which is the core and the point that distinguishes us from other design companies in Poland. We want to approach the topic of design as a whole, i.e. by deciding to cooperate with someone. We are able to offer our services not only in the context of visual design and product concept, but also preparation for production, implementation supervision and assistance with topics that arise at the implementation stage. Speaking of a craftsman, I mean an expert in his/her industry, someone who focuses on precision of workmanship, on creating and designing something thoughtful, has a visual aspect in his/her head, but in fact he/she thinks of creating a refined product, not only in the visual aspect, but also in every other.
WHEN MOST PEOPLE HEAR THE SLOGAN “DESIGN STUDIO”, THEY IMAGINE A GROUP OF PEOPLE BENDING OVER A SKETCH, AND THAT'S THE END MOST OFTEN, AND YOU ACT COMPREHENSIVELY, WILL YOU DISENCHANT THIS PICTURE?
Yes and no! At some point you have to take a piece of paper and somehow visualize your idea. You can also transfer it immediately to a computer program, while the most complex projects require common reflection and discussion, so the image of someone focusing over a design or a piece of paper, even “stock” photo - there is definitely something in it! Most surprisingly, this part of the work accounts for a small percentage of our total activity. This is clearly seen in the example of the apprentices who come to our office and when they hit reality. They are surprised and disappointed, because what they see does not match their ideas about what the work of a designer looks like. Then it turns out that there is no six months to develop an artistic vision for a design. Every day counts, solving problems on an ongoing basis and often taking the risk associated with choosing a specific path that should be checked in order to solve a given problem in the project. 90% of the everyday life of a designer means solving problems related to the implementation of an idea, and 10% means creative, coolest part in which one create and design.
YOU HAVE BEEN IN THE CREATIVE INDUSTRY FOR OVER A DOZEN YEARS, CAN YOU STILL HAVE FRESH IDEAS AFTER THAT TIME?
Of course! Once I heard a thought that keeps me awake that the creator - no matter what industry - is as good as his/her latest work. I think this is a maxim that is always present in the back of my head when I sit down to a design, and I want each next one to be more developed than the previous one. Looking from the perspective of the last few years and those designs that I have been creating, I try very hard to ensure that each next one really brings something new to my development and translates into more refined concepts. I am looking for inspiration all the time, also in places that I have not visited before or where it never occurred to me to look for there.
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR INSPIRATION?
I have learned that inspiration can come at any time – thought, smell or subtly-heard words. Here, as an example, I can cite a story from a recent design, when, while I was being driven an UBER, in a completely casual conversation with the driver, a key word was mentioned that inspired me to create a certain concept for our client. This shows that someone can be a designer even if he/she is not sitting at his/her desk and does not think about the design. Once you have read the brief, the creative process starts. Even if you don't want it, the thoughts go around the topic. In the creative process, the greatest difficulty sometimes concerns seemingly trivial designs. The most difficult moments are when the designer has a spectrum of deadlines, in which you have to approach a topic creatively and throw out a good idea. When looking for inspiration by force, this one does not want to come. This teaches that sometimes you have to face the task in a different way than by hoping that some interesting idea will just come to your mind. Sometimes you need to work through the topic, analyse all available data and allow the concept to be developed a little more methodically.
WHICH DESIGNS DO YOU LIKE THE MOST?
The ones that are a puzzle and pose a real problem for the designer to solve. I don't like prosaic designs. The greatest fun means dealing with complicated cases. This is the moment when the designer faces the limitations of the design, tries to move within them and find a way out or circumvent some difficulty in the most creative and optimal way. Seeing that some solution works after testing and prototyping and it was developed through deduction, analysis and methodical approach, I have the most satisfaction. It can be said that the work of a designer resembles the work of a detective who solves a puzzle, in this case by solving the problems that the design poses to us.
THIS YEAR MARKS THE 8TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MINDSAILORS IF PRODUCT GOLD AWARD, AN AWARD CALLED THE OSCAR OF DESIGN. YOU WERE THE FIRST STUDIO IN POLAND TO RECEIVE THIS AWARD. WHAT DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU FOUND OUT THAT IT WAS IN YOUR HANDS?
Great happiness! We did not believe that this happened because we were quietly hoping for the same distinction in the form of iF, and we managed to get gold, which was awarded not only to the Polish studio for the first time, but also to a Polish company, because DICE+ was created together with Game Technologies, responsible for this product. It gave us an amazing kick and built our faith that we were the right people in the right place. It was possible to do something that no Polish company had done in over 50 years since this competition existed. It was like climbing a mountain that is said to be difficult to reach, and it turns out that it is within everyone's reach and can be overcome even in a two-man team.
CAN GOOD DESIGN HELP WITH SALES?
Of course! If this were not the case, designers would not be needed. In addition, on the market, we would have products poorly designed, ill-thought-out or simply ugly. We try to explain to clients who come to us or to those to whom we come with an offer that in every industry and in every product there is a place for good design. I am not just talking about the appearance, but also the entire thoughtful design, the optimal strategy for implementation, planning the product cycle and its further development. Design should be viewed through the prism of investment in the design and development of the company. I think that if you ask our clients, the vast majority of them would be ready to confirm that a well-designed product translates into better sales and more favourable perception of the brand than, in the case of a product that is ordinary, generic and ill-considered.
WHAT WOULD YOU ADVISE BEGINNING DESIGNERS WHO ARE STARTING AN ADVENTURE WITH DESIGN?
I think that young designers need a little more humility, a little more modesty and determination to constantly explore topics related to design. Having experience in cooperation with young people, even during internships, it often turns out that they try to explain the lack of experience or knowledge in a given area by the fact that they are artists, and the artist can afford such behaviour. I don’t think so! You have to take responsibility for what you do, because it is not art to design something, it is art to implement it and take the project on your shoulders. Many young designers try to escape this responsibility and think that they can be good, focusing only on a part of the task, such as taking care of the visual aspect, while additional knowledge about how a given thing is produced or what are the limitations of available technologies, what can be done and what cannot be done, contrary to appearances, does not limit but causes that a solution to a given problem is sought in a logical way, eliminating impossible or non-technological ideas at the beginning of the design process. When I am talking to young people, I sometimes quote an example from life, showing how short-sighted it can be to think that a designer's work ends with a conceptual project. Let's say you're a real master designer, and your design goes to a mechanical designer who doesn't necessarily know what he's/she’s doing. What happens when a person says that this product cannot be made in the way you designed it, although it is actually possible to do so? These are real-life situations that we have faced in many designs. Client's engineers were unable or unwilling to take care of what the final product would look like. We have often heard "it is impossible" or "it is too difficult in production". It is worth having this "ace in the hole", which will allow you to defend your own project, indicate the solution to a given problem and say – yes, it can be done in one way or another. For this reason, I would advise young designers to be a little humbler, to approach designs holistically, from the perspective of solving problems, as well as taking responsibility for what they create. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because this is a natural part of the learning process. Be able to admit them, draw conclusions and, being richer in these experiences, design even better.
VP & Senior Designer
"Design is a craft form." Interview with Rafał Piłat, co-founder and senior designer at Mindsailors
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