Design Matters: the designer duo Barber & Osgerby tell us how function connects pragmatic use to emotional attachment with their objects.

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Design Matters: The Elements

Function: Barber & Osgerby


“There’s a whole spectrum of what ‘function’ is. From something which is incredibly useful, pragmatic on one end, and on the other, an emotional requirement from an object.” We met with designers Barber & Osgerby and talked about how function informs their designs.


Meeting in the physical realm

Everyday items have long been designed by committees, teams and consultants thrown together not be a shared sense of love for an object, but by the needs of commerce, space and time. In the digital age, creative teams might never meet in the physical realm. London-based designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, however, have never worked apart since they met while studying masters degrees in architecture at the Royal College of Art. 

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“We’re striving to find new archetypes, where possible”

Building Blocks

Their architectural background and understanding of how space might best suit human needs has led to commissions for new furniture to suit spaces as diverse as the grade one listed modernist De La Warr Pavilion and Portsmouth's 13th century cathedral or, in the case of their much-imitated breakthrough object, the Loop Table, the home. 

New Archetypes

Objects that have been designed thousands of times despite having one function, like a chair or table, have not necessarily yet reached their aesthetic end-points, according to the duo. “We're also striving to find new archetypes, where possible”, says Barber. Thus they've reinvented the stacking chair to be a two-position rocker, and developed their own take on everyday objects from dishes to Japanese lanterns, clothes hangers, or an umbrella stand.

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Seeing Anew

This ability to see things anew links these products with their installation work, such as Double Space, created for the 2014 edition of the London Design Festival. Here, two huge reflected shapes revolved in the ceiling of the gallery hung with Raphael's 16th century depictions of biblical stories, like polished, chrome post-war aircraft wings. It was, as Osgerby explains, intended to make “people feel really physically different in the space... to have a physical, visceral response”. 

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Pushing ideas

The tactile elegance of their work, even in large-scale moments like this, arguably stems from the the very instinctual way in which the two have always worked together. Barber & Osgerby travel the world to gain an understanding of how different cultures have interpreted the same object, and sit down with pen and paper, pushing ideas back and forth between them.


Where form ends & function begins

Computers are supplementary to their practice, rather than at its core. Theirs is an intimate creative relationship that gets to the heart of re-examining old conversations of where form ends and function begins – as Osgerby says, there's a function to their objects “that's less about use, and more about the way you feel”.


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Nathaniel Budzinski
People, In the details

Contact: Martino Gamper

Nathaniel Budzinski
In the details, People