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Interview with Design Studio Relvãokellermann: "Function is the Starting Point of Our Design"

Munich based design studio Relvãokellermann is on a kind of track of success: In last year's iF DESIGN AWARD they have won not one, but three iF DESIGN AWARDS Gold. In the exclusive interview, Ana Relvão and Gerhard Kellermann they talk about their unique design philosophy.

What are Relvãokellermann’s unique design principles and approaches? In their own words, they said, “For us, the starting point of our work is the function of the object to be designed. We make it our task to question the previous construction, the material used so far and the current design of each product. Our goal is to find solutions that make an object more efficient, more sustainable, more versatile and more durable.” When it comes to design, they “consistently avoid decoration,” emphasizing functionality and minimalistic aesthetics, and believing that “the ideal form results from functional optimization... The shape of a particular object has to result from its construction and its handling.”

Read in the exclusive interview, kindly provided by Rhonda Jiang, deputy editor-in-chief of “Package & Design” Magazine in China, how!

Relvãokellermann, Munich, Germany

Relvãokellermann Design Studio was co-founded by Ana Relvão and Gerhardt Kellermann in 2014. Ana Relvão, hailing from Portugal, graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Lisbon with a degree in Industrial Design. Gerhardt Kellermann was born in Romania and graduated from the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design (Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart) in Germany with a specialization in Industrial Design. The two met in Munich in 2012 and quickly began collaborating on various projects, discovering a shared passion and belief in design. In 2014, they decided to merge their creative ideas and surnames, forming the studio’s name.

First of all, congratulations on winning three iF Gold Awards 2023, including Gumpo Pony, LIGRE Portafilter Espresso Machine and Dual Cook Oven of Samsung Bespoke Infinite Line Package series. – What common design principles do these award-winning products share?

RK: Thanks a lot! It was a nice year for us because you know that the iF golds are quite rare, so it was a crazy achievement for our office this year. But let’s say 2 and a half, because Samsung designers have a very big credit for this award, as the oven was only one of the appliances included in the awarded package of appliances. These three products are very different between each other, even by their typology, but the three of them were specifically designed to fit our contemporary lifestyles, questioning previous archetypes resulting in three form factors which haven’t been there before.

LIGRE Portafilter, espresso machine

By constantly questioning the ordinary we’ve developed down to the last detail an entirely new product concept based on five design pillars:
1. iconic form to match contemporary architecture,
2. ease of use to delight the user,
3. craftsmanship and materiality to ensure longevity,
4. energy consciousness to ensure sustainability and, last not least,
5. high performance to deliver constant excellence in espresso quality.

"These three products are very different between each other, even by their typology, but the three of them were specifically designed to fit our contemporary lifestyles."

Ana, you served as a juror in the iF DESIGN AWARD a couple of times already. Could you please talk about the selection criteria of iF Design Award from the respective perspectives of a juror and an award recipient?

Relvão: I had the honor to be invited as a juror for the iF Design Award multiple times, the first time being in 2019, and since then I’ve been part of the jury every year until the last edition, in 2023.

The most relevant question in the head of every juror is if the product is well designed or not. Having in consideration there are so many different categories under Product Design, the jury in each category will know exactly what to look for under the category he/she will be judging, and what points are the most relevant to consider. Something special in this award is the judging tool, which supports every juror to better evaluate each product under different points: Idea, Form, Function, Differentiation, Impact.

For the iF, impartiality is incredibly important. For each entry, the judges discuss carefully in order to come up with the fairest result. Sometimes there are cases where the judge’s work is also being selected in the competition – the jury selected by the iF Design Award is made of very high profile design experts from all over the world, so it is normal that some of them also have their works being judged in the competition. When something like that happens, the iF Design Award is quite strict. As a juror you judge in a specific category. In the case your category includes a product you have been involved with, and then you are excluded from the vote. In such cases, you must step away from the discussion and a chairperson will step in to take your place. This is how iF judging works as I’ve seen it from the inside, therefore I value it very much. I’m not only delighted when I’m invited as a jury member but also very proud if we get any award.

Bespoke Infinite Line Dual Cook Oven

The Bespoke Infinite Line Dual Cook Oven is part of the awarded Bespoke Infinite Line Package (Kitchen) for Samsung Electronics. The Jury said about hte line: The Bespoke Infinite Line Package integrates architectural style with sophisticated details and sublime proportions, elevating a simple and functional design through honest and appealing materials. Demonstrating that great design can turn home appliances into lifestyle objects.

“We believe this interdisciplinary exposure can foster a more integrated approach to design, where insights from one field can be applied to another. This is in fact, one of the core points of our work at Relvãokellermann.”

Both of you graduated in industrial design from art academies. What influences have your educational backgrounds brought to the studio operation?

RK: Our backgrounds in Arts have been fundamental in shaping the character and direction of Relvãokellermann Design Studio. While our academic journeys began in different parts of Europe – Portugal and Germany, both of us were trained to use our perception and observation skills to see the world differently, often looking beyond the obvious and into the deeper meanings or narratives. Also, both our universities share a similar approach, where they expose the students to an interplay between different disciplines, be it painting, sculpture, photography, graphic design, or architecture. We believe this interdisciplinary exposure can foster a more integrated approach to design, where insights from one field can be applied to another. This is in fact, one of the core points of our work at Relvãokellermann. Not only we believe excellent work is done in teams with different areas of expertise, we also do a very big effort to keep our work scope as open as possible, not specifying into any area of product. Instead, we try to work in a broad range of fields, allowing a cross-pollination of ideas which normally leads to innovation.

Could you introduce your design philosophy and how you define your design style?

RK: When starting to work on a new project, for us the fundamental thing is to understand “why?” and “what is the real purpose behind a product?”. Normally, only after understanding the fundamental purpose do we start sketching. So, form, or style, rarely is a starting point for us. Instead, it is something we find throughout the process, which involves a holistic understanding of subjects, exploring the interplay of various elements. Each decision impacts the overall look of a product.

We tend to be called minimalists as our work emphasizes simplicity, functionality, and clarity. But we never do minimalism for the sake of minimalism. In fact, we believe we combine a constructivist and a minimalist approach, as our design process is both informed by iterative decision-making and guided by a commitment to simplicity and clarity for the user.

Could you share insights into your approach to material selection? Do you have preferred materials? And how do you typically choose materials during the design process?

RK: It’s challenging to pinpoint our preferred materials because our choice is largely contingent upon the project at hand. A material that’s ideal for one product might not necessarily be the best fit for another. That being said, we gravitate towards materials that not only enhance the perceived quality of the product but also align with our ethos of sustainability. Wood, metals, leather and glass frequently emerge as frontrunners due to their timeless appeal and tactile qualities. However, these are not defaults but rather options considered within the context of each unique design challenge. During the design process, we could say we normally consider: functionality and durability, sustainability, perceived quality, cultural and contextual relevance, innovation, as well as cost and accessibility.

You believe that “it is the designer’s task to apply what is technically feasible and to think ahead to what is technically desirable.” – Could you talk about your views on AI and how you apply AI to design?

RK: Over the years, we’ve been always very aware of which tools are out there that can support us in our daily lives in the office. We see AI as one further tool, which has the potential to change a lot in the actual working paradigm. As a tool, AI can be used to potentiate our thoughts or to facilitate visualization. We’re very much looking forward to see the new possibilities the new generation of tools might bring to designers.

About Package & Design Magazine

With a history of 50 years, “Package & Design” is one of the most influential professional design magazines in China which features packaging design, branding, product design, industrial design, interior design, architecture design, interactive design and design education, etc.

Rhonda Jiang is deputy editor-in-chief of “Package & Design” Magazine in China.