EOOS17 November 2009 by Jamie Mitchell
From a chance encounter at university, the three members of Austrian product design team EOOS recognised they shared a common wavelength, leading to successful projects for, among others, Walter Knoll, Bene and Adidas. Jamie Mitchell talks to the trio about their collective inspirations
Somehow, referring to EOOS as a company, a firm or a practice doesn’t feel quite right: perhaps because its three stylishly dishevelled founders look more like a rock band than product designers; or perhaps it’s the way they talk about their work so emphatically, their imperfect English somehow making their ideas all the more captivating.
Whatever it is, you only have to talk to these designers for a few minutes to realise that EOOS is a labour of love.
Austrians Martin Bergmann, Gernot Bohmann and Harald Gründl met in 1988 as they queued to take the entrance exam for University of Applied Arts in Vienna. ‘The three of us passed and ended up in the same class,’ says Bergmann, ‘and we kind of were on the same wavelength from the start.’
This meeting of minds has produced some very successful projects for Adidas, Zumtobel and Walter Knoll, among many others, and has won awards including the Italian design prize Compasso d’Oro.
Listening to the designers talk at the London showroom of furniture company Bene, for which they designed the Filo range of chairs and tables for meeting rooms, they are gregarious, witty, even a little bit kooky, but it’s their inspirational approach to design that really impresses. Objects that people often take for granted are given a new significance that you suddenly realise they deserved all along.
Take the deceptively simple design of the Filo range: you’d never guess that the chair’s simple looking metal arm was inspired by a photograph of a man drawing back a bow, his face tensed with concentration as he prepares to release the arrow. And this isn’t just for show either: according to the designers, ‘it stretches at its thinnest point, thereby allowing relaxing micro-movements’.
For the Filo Conference Table, an ‘antler’ made of die-cast aluminum, which branches out to rails on the underside of the continuous table surface, gives maximum stability, despite minimum structure and large distances between the central feet. Inspired by another image, this time a convivial scene of wedding guests sitting around a large table, the idea was to create a table that perfectly facilitates human interaction without imposing itself on its users.
When I ask the designers how they approach each project, we return to the analogy of a band. ‘It’s like a jam session,’ says Gründl. ‘We make some kind of sound together, and everyone puts parts into the song; you cannot say that either of us is the singer or drummer. The final result is something outside of us, something that only one of us wouldn’t have been able to create.’
It you think the analogy of product design and music is stretching it a bit, then you’ll probably be left scratching your head over one of the designers’ favourite terms, ‘poetic analysis’. But as that famously analytical poet TS Eliot said: ‘Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go’.
‘It’s about tracing rituals, intuitive images and myths which can be used as a starting point for creating new design’, says Gründl. ‘Every object or space has these aspects included. We try to enhance them in order to create meaningful design.’
The Inipi Stone, a device shaped like a smooth stone which is used for controlling the lights, temperature and humidity in a shower, which EOOS designed for Duravit, was inspired by the Native American Lakota people who heat stones in a fire and then carry them to tent using deer antlers.
What these inspirations have in common is that they focus on the user – those who will judge the product as a success or a failure. In the end, whether you see EOOS as a band of musicians, a group of poets or a firm of designers isn’t really important; it’s the brilliance of their products that matters.