“There are so many objects in the world already. Why make another one?” The question is valid and lies as an adamant foundation in the production of Polish designer Maja Ganszyniec.
Starting with the IKEA PS collection in 2014 she has made a number of items for IKEA over the years. Although a freelancer working out of her design studio in Warsaw, she spent a majority of her working hours last year in Älmhult. When starting at IKEA, Maja Ganszyniec was surprised by the sometimes overwhelmingly open briefs. “IKEA is one of the very few, maybe only, companies in the world that gives you endless freedom, and restrictions, both at the same time.”
There are two types of projects, she explains. The first one has closed briefs where the team initially knows what product to make, aimed at what target group and in what material. Everything is clear and boxed. “This process is exciting because you know it will be sold in large numbers, so it needs to be long-lasting in both quality and style. Here you really think twice.”
The second type are projects that are very open, often temporary collections. “With SPÄNST we started out with something like: make products for a young urban active lifestyle. The enormous freedom that gives you as a designer is both a blessing and a nightmare. Also, a normal company would have boundaries when it comes to materials etcetera, but since IKEA has suppliers all around the world, you have endless possibilities.”
IKEA is one of the very few, maybe only, companies in the world that gives you endless freedom, and restrictions, both at the same time.
At the same time, there are constant restrictions that have to do with sustainability, price, quality and safety for example. Basically, everything that is included in the Democratic Design model. “Working with IKEA you develop a skill for imagining catastrophes. We put a lot of effort into the shoe rack of SPÄNST so that kids wouldn’t be able to stick their heads in it. And you might argue: it’s only a temporary collection with 5000 items? What are the odds? The answer at IKEA would immediately be: well, that’s 5000 chances it might go wrong!”
The precaution also means some projects never make it all the way. “I remember a great wardrobe solution that we were in the final stages of when laws in the US suddenly changed. To market it in America you had to be able to hang an extensive amount of weight on an open door without it falling over, or something like that. An almost hopeless requirement. So, it was scrapped even though it would have worked in the rest of the world.”
When taking on a new design assignment the question “why” is central to Maja. “I have an almost mathematical or systematic approach to design. And it always starts by isolating the why. Why a new mug? The world doesn’t need it. I am not inspired by art or nature; design doesn’t come to me spontaneously. But my brain is constructed to work in this field. Becoming a designer was not a choice for me – I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
To clarify: the visual style of Maja Ganszyniec is far from mathematical. It is clean, sublime and intriguing. But to reach a final product she needs the process. “Occasionally I dream of an item that I would like to make. But that is an object, not a product. Although with the right treatment an object can become a product.”
She compares her creative process with peeling an onion. “I spend the majority of my time thinking about the purpose of the product and why it is needed. Maybe it’s the way you sell your coffee that is the problem, and not that your mug’s design is outdated? Then, at a very late stage, I start sketching. For me, quality comes from quantity, so initially, I make a lot of ideas. It is almost like a disease that I have to try new ways.”
Maja Ganszyniec talking about her design for IKEA.
Thirty ideas are narrowed down to twelve, and finally, she might bring two ideas to IKEA. A deadly sin any designer, according to Maja Ganszyniec, is: never fall in love with your design and don’t go for the first idea that came to you.
She is fascinated by the power of words and how bouncing ideas with another designer can spark such different solutions originating from the same formulation. “I love everything about the process and working together with others. This is also the best technique for me to move projects forward.”
Maja also loves the thrill of getting into a new area because it allows her to ask the ignorant questions. Even when she is comfortable in a field, she manipulates herself into the mindset of the rookie. “Ignorance is a blessing sometimes. It allows us to give fresh perspectives on things, that’s why my mantra introduced to new projects is – I know nothing.”
There are so many great things IKEA doeas around the world that they never talk about.
The “why” is also posed in a much wider, personal, context. Why is she doing this? “This can be a big pain. Sometimes you just need something beautiful. And that can be good enough for me. But I believe we as designers have a responsibility to have good reasons to put new products to the world.”
One good reason is a function. As her plate and bowl made for IKEA PS 2017 shows. The team working on the collection set out to make homes more comfortable. “So how do young people eat today? In front of the TV or laptop, right? Often huddled up in a sofa with the plate in the lap. To avoid spilling, I made the rim higher and shaped it to give a good grip. I also experimented with the form so that cutlery wouldn’t fall out moving to the kitchen. Since you will have one hand on the bottom of the plate while eating, I made sure it felt nice.”
Although it looks like porcelain, the whole set is made out of durable glass, meaning you can drop it without making a mess. “I love products with functions that you discover whilst using them. Working for IKEA, I have gotten so much wonderful feedback from people writing to me from all around the world, enjoying my products.”
Another good reason is more sustainable materials and changing life patterns. In the collection HJÄRTELIG, she worked with the team to explore natural materials and new techniques to renew the bedroom. “I made a modular sofa with a small pillow to use when meditating.”
Before Maja started at IKEA she had ethical doubts about designing for a mass market, but the more questions that were answered, the quieter her inner voice became. “There are so many great things IKEA does around the world that they never talk about. For example, I thought organic cotton was environmentally friendly until I learned that it’s a lot more water consuming and that the initiative of ‘better cotton’ that IKEA supports, using less water consumption and pesticides, combined with better production methods, are doing a better job at saving the planet.”
“Also, it is really hard to stop creativity. As long as man has existed, we have made objects and tried to make things beautiful around us. I wish items would be more long-lasting and that people consumed more consciously.” But it seems her wish is not far from coming true. “This is already starting to happen. Look at the revolution in the food industry. Today, we want to know what we eat and how it was produced. The same thing will happen in furnishing.”
She points at a recent example at IKEA, her bathroom shelf VILTO made from solid pine. “When you introduce quality materials to people, they respect it. You can refurbish VILTO and I’m sure it will end up in your garage in 20 years, but still – it will be there. Big change is on the way…”
Fast facts about Maja Ganszyniec:
Reading right now: “Dream Cities. Seven Urban Ideas That Shape the World” by Wade Graham
Design I wish I made: Objects that are the essence of the category they represent. The simplest ones, peeled of unnecessary. When you cannot take anything out, because they will stop working. These ones I wish I made.
Favourite material: The right one for the function I am working around.
In my spare time: I try not to think.
Guilty pleasure: Shoes. Many shoes.