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Interview with Nille Juul-Sorensen

Nille Juul-Sorensen wears many hats, being the consulting arm of product design, working from Arup’s Copenhagen office, a chairman of INDEX a holistic Danish design award body, and also led the architectural and product fit out design for Phase 2 of Copehagen Metro.

On top of all this, he is also involved in way finding and fit out projects, including Aeroporti di Roma, Crossrail and Hong Kong airport. He also gets involved in design consulting on electronic products as an expert in Danish design.

Also renowned for his critical eye for details, Nille is adept at applying an architects eye for geometry on a smaller scale to create beautifully formed and resolved products. Can the man do no wrong? TAXI tries its hand at finding out.

TAXI >>Hello Nille. Copenhagen has been selected as one of the best cities in the world to live in in Monocle’s “Global Livability Index”. What lessons can developing countries take away from the Danish way of living and approach to design?

Nille Juul-Sorensen>>Over the last 60 years we have developed the Welfare state. High tax on income but spread the goods for everybody. We have built up a social security network and at the same time we have a very flexible system for hiring and letting people off. This “Flexisurity” as it is called means that Danes are not afraid to change jobs to take chances in their work life. If they do not succeed in their new job they will move on quickly.

The same with business. They can explore new ideas, new people and new ways of doing business with a very flexible work force. At the same time, the outstanding thing here in Denmark is trust. We still trust each other no matter whether it is in private life and in business. T only way we can survive in a global world is doing stuff some body else is doing but do it smarter and to design it so it looks nice, works perfectly and then sell it at a higher price.

Coming out of an agricultural background, we have always produced products that will last a lifetime, used the material in its right place for the right purpose and at the same time added the beauty to the product. This has been passed on from generation to generation. Now we are trying to develop our tradition to go from artifacts/products to services. We are not there yet but let's look back in 5 to 10 years and I think the word "design" has gotten a total new value here in Denmark.

TAXI >>As an expert in Danish design, what do you feel are some of the biggest shortcomings facing the designers of today, and how can governments and institutions of the world help to overcome them?

Nille Juul-Sorensen>>Most education systems are just focused on training the students to do nice products – styling. I believe that the future for design is somewhere else. It will be the design of platforms, systems or services that can be used globally but will be translated into a local setting. To do this we need to teach our student and fellow designers to have an education where form is not enough. A good-looking design is not qualifying the product but we also have to look at the impact and contents of the product.

To do this we need to have a more seamless understanding of engineering/production/materials and on business. This will both benefit the designer and the business part of life. You can have a very good product or service but if you do not understand the business it will never unfold and the same thing around. You can be a very good businessman but do not see what is needed to change your services or product for it to unfold.

TAXI >>What do you think has been the most elemental yet astounding breakthrough in the way people view design, in this century so far?

Nille Juul-Sorensen>>I think Singapore is acting very clever in the global positioning. You have linked up with design organizations and design companies to be the hub – the melting pot of design for global design. With the new initiative on the 4th University you can be the nation that will be leading in education of design thinking but you need to do this right.

Do not look just to cherry pick from other top educations and then think it will be interesting. No, set up your own education based on the methodology of design thinking and then slowly build an institution that the top school will come and learn from. You will then have educated your own youth and at the same time attracted the bright youth of the global society.

TAXI >>Being both a designer and an architect, what do you feel are some of the lessons that each discipline can learn from each other, and what are some of the guiding principles that prevail in both?

Nille Juul-Sorensen>>I think it is all about getting the methodology and the thinking right. I’m educated as an architect but was transferred into product design after working with the famous Danish Designer Knud Holscher. He was taught by the architect Arne Jacobsen, mostly known outside of Denmark for his product design and not his architecture, and his view was that you did the same thing but the scale was different and that whatever you are doing, it is a part of a bigger system than just the product you were designing.

As the 3rd generation in this design thinking, it is very clear to me that you can not just design a funny lemon squeezer but it has to work perfectly, be part of what else you have in you kitchen and it must be beautiful to look at. No complicated forms but try to boil it down to the essence of the product. Architecture and design have to work in collaboration and as noted before design that has the system/platform design will win in the end. Jacobsen's chairs are fantastic in its own architectural environment, and they work outside in architecture done by others.

Both Jacobsen and Holscher have designed imongery, series of toilets, etc. Simple things that have beauty as an item but also fit in to each other and the space done by others. It is like setting a nice table with a tablecloth, cutlery, plates and bowls. This could be different forms and design that complement each other and are different one on one but together there is a sense on unity and calmness so we can enjoy our company and the food.

TAXI >>Apart from pure aesthetic value and potential economic revenue, what do you feel are a few of the reasons why cities feel compelled to build their own version of the London Eye?

Nille Juul-Sorensen>>In Denmark we have a very small, old but very nice wheel in Tivoli Garden. At that time you could have the view of the city from it. Now the trees are covering for the view but it is still nice to sit up there with you girlfriend/partner and look at the romantic setting of Tivoli and Copenhagen. I think it is the same for the other wheels in the world. Come up in the sky and have a view.

Why do they have to look like the London Eye? I do not know. Maybe this is the design of today as the old ones also looked a bit like each other. I think there must be other ways of getting up and having the view and I do not understand why everybody wants a wheel.

TAXI >>If you had the opportunity to redesign any particular product, what would it be, and why?

Nille Juul-Sorensen>>Oh, there are quite a lot of things I would like to redesign. Firemen’s jackets equipment that are interactive, windmills that have another construction and technique so the blades could be shorter but give more energy.

Right now my brain is around designing a whole new series of tableware that will change the way we use them and the way they can be used. Making them high-tech but user friendly at all levels, and I’m also spinning around to redesign the mobile phones, digital cameras so they are understandable for normal users. Gadget are designed for geeks but they are used by my mother, aged 70, and she just can’t find out to take a picture and save it or make a phone call.

I’m still looking for a company that wants this redesign and change especially for the tableware so maybe one day I find the right match. Maybe to design a new word processing software that is just performing that particular function and does not have all the possibilities and funny features that is never used by normal users.

TAXI >>As the architect and designer for new metro stations in major cities such as Copenhagen and Oslo, what do you think are some of the most important factors that determine whether an average city dweller would select public transport over private, and how can governments encourage this?

Nille Juul-Sorensen>>I believe that people will take the bus or metro if it is a nice experience and if the whole journey has been thought through. I have to work from door to door and the metro is just a part of that journey. The design should be the total journey.

At the same time if the public transport is good and well designed it will attract people. I love my car but I can almost get the same comfort on public transport so now I take the metro to work. I also think that society has an obligation on educating people and public transport is a good way of teaching people about design and good environment. In Copenhagen we have sunspots on the platform 18 meters underground. Passengers like this even they just spend 1 minute waiting for their train. This is something they do not expect and when they see the sunspots they are happy because they had an experience they did not expect.

TAXI >>What is the WORD, which you think would reside and reverberate in the design world for the next 10 years?

Nille Juul-Sorensen>>I think that system design or platform design is going to be the new buzzer word. Design that can change depending on the local conditions. Global design will be system/platform design with a local attitude.

Designers will design systems that are basically the same but will have local input. Mobile phones in the US and in Asia will be different and the different age groups will have the same design but with local attributions.

This interview was made possible with the assistance of the DesignSingapore Council and INDEX.


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