Function and aesthetics. Those two qualities are the absolute trademarks for Danish industrial designer Cecilie Manz. The latter is extremely visible in her studio. We are sitting at Cecilie Manz tables, lit by Cecilie Manz lamps and looking at the Cecilie Manz-designed Beolit 12, a really good-looking speaker that can turn even women into hi-fi geeks. However, the part about function needs a little more explanation: if it works, you won’t really notice it.
“I design things to last 15 or 20 years. I don’t want to complicate people’s lives, I want to make people’s lives easier. My designs are tools that make everyday life easier,” Cecilie Manz explains about the details of her designs; things that you don’t really notice at first glance. Like the water bottle she has designed that is big enough to fit a dish brush or the materials that only get more beautiful when used.
“But aesthetics is just as important. I think great design should be 90% functionality and 90% aesthetics. If it doesn’t contain both you wouldn’t want to look at it in 20 years. And I would like kids to want to inherit my designs from their parents.”
In a world where there are already more chairs than any of us will ever need, that is how she makes sense of her work.
“I do think about how there are so many things in the world already. Nobody needs me to make another lamp. But the problem is that i love objects, which is why my designs need to be made to last. They have to make sense to me and to the people living with them.”
To make sure that every product doesn’t only look good, but also works, Cecilie Manz is always carrying her models and prototypes home with her from her studio. Her philosophy is that the best way to try out how it is to live with and use a new design is to use it yourself. And there are a lot of different things that are being tried out. Working with well-established Danish firms like Muuto, Holmegaard, Georg Jensen Damask and Fritz Hansen she has designed linen, furniture, glassware and lamps. And Cecilie Manz loves working this way.
“With every new object I start from scratch. I look at how we can make it function perfectly, but also how we can give it its own character.” A perfect example of this is the Beolit 12. It’s the first piece of electronics Cecilie Manz has ever worked on, so once again she started out with nothing but a blank piece of paper.
“The first thing I did was to make sure that they called the right person,” Cecilie Manz says and laughs. Because it is kind of a big deal when Bang & Olufsen calls you up and asks you to design a new version of a classic that has been around for decades. But after panicking a little at the thought of having to understand how all the technical parts worked and then realising that all the stuff on the inside really wasn’t her problem, she started working in the same way she always does.
“With every new object I start from scratch. I look at how we can make it function perfectly, but also how we can give it its own character!”
First she studied the long history of Bang & Olufsen to find out what made them cool and how she would be able to reinvent a classic. All she was told, roughly, was that it had to be a portable speaker for iPhones, iPads and computers. The rest was up to her.
“Bang & Olufsen are really good at what they do. I particularly like the way they work with aluminium, which we also used in our design. but it’s an expensive material, so for the main body we used plastic. I actually like plastic a lot; when it’s used properly like I would say we managed here,” Cecilie Manz says and points at the Beolit 12 and the flat top that sets it apart from other speakers.
“When I first started working on the Beolit 12 all speakers made for iPods etc. had docking stations on top. We wanted to challenge this and came up with the ‘tray’ solution instead. Another thing that is special about the design is the handle, the leather strap. When you look at it you may think that the reason it’s oblique is aesthetics, but it isn’t. This way the speaker doesn’t wobble, when you carry it. For the same reasons we made the corners rounded, that way they don’t hurt you, when they bump into your legs when you move it.”
And just like that it’s all about the functionality again.
Ever since Cecilie Manz finished the Danish School of Design at 25 she has been working for herself. Or actually she tried working for six months in Finland, where most of all she learned that she needed to be her own boss:
“I knew right from the start that I wanted to call the shots and be in charge.”
“You kind of think it’s the easy solution. It really isn’t. It takes years to get established, years of waiting for the phone to ring and a lot of rejections. The first years I lived off scholarships, held exhibitions and made lots of designs that never went into production. But then it tipped. People started calling me and I found some good people to work with.”
Today – 15 years later – Cecilie Manz Studio has two employees and an intern. And the phone in her studio rings constantly. Her Micado table is a part of the permanent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and several of her other works can be found at Designmuseum Denmark in Copenhagen.
On every shelf and table at the Studio there are objects on display. From finished designs to objects most of us would have thrown out – like a piece of cardboard that has been used as computer packaging. But it has an interesting form, therefore Cecilie Manz has kept it.
“I find inspiration everywhere. I love materials. Leather, wood, stone. They all have their own marks and lines, which make them interesting to work with.”
At the lab Cecilie Manz has people to help her, but she still needs to be involved in every step of every product.
“I need to know every little screw and wire, because I need to feel that every design we make is a part of me. That’s part of how I keep feeling passionate about my designs and about my job. And without that passion I’m nothing. I have to keep going and keep finding new inspiration.”
The 15 years have taught Cecilie Manz that things take time. A lot of time. It isn’t unusual that it takes three years from sketch to finished product. It has also taught her that even though you are an established designer you don’t necessarily get rich. At least not if the most important thing is to keep reinventing and trying out new ideas: most of all to keep feeding her curiosity.
“I couldn’t do my job if I lost my curiosity.”
“I need to try out new materials, make designs that may not end up as finished products, but they are all steps in the right direction. The direction doesn’t have to be up, it just has to keep moving!”
Words by Marie Kaufholz.