Danish OEO Studio has been involved in changing the lives of craftsmen and businesses across the globe – from a single guy producing crafted woodwork in Japan to large worldwide companies. But the philosophy is the same: Holistic design thinking makes the difference.
When was the last time you made a difference? Or truly felt that you gave something back to someone or something? Here at DANISH™ our meeting with OEO Studio has given us cause to reflect upon our reason for being, as this is what they strongly believe in, something that is mirrored in the variety of their projects:
“No matter what kind of project or client we are involved in, the starting point is always that it has to make sense. It has to mean something to people, customers as well as manufacturers and, more importantly: It has to give something back.” These words come from designer and creative director of OEO Studio, Thomas Lykke.
For years he has been inspired by the culture, the craftsmanship and the ethics of Japan, and a great part of the business of OEO Studio is based on this fascination:
“ROI (Return on investment, ed.) is not only financial. In Japanese culture, you also give back to the earth, to society, to your family, friends and so on. This is important to us, because this is where it all starts to make sense. We have to look at what we do and how we work in an holistic way, so when we start prying into businesses we have to make sure that several stakeholders gain from the process”, Thomas Lykke adds. He is supported by CEO of the company, Anne-Marie Buemann:
“If someone contacts us, asking us to design a new café for them or a teapot, our response will most often be: Why this, in particular? Not because we don´t want to design the café, but it is important for us to understand and work with the strategic challenge. Very often this question is followed up by a bunch of new questions that result in a whole different solution”, she smiles.
To be able to stand alone
In their kitchen of OEO Studio under the roof of an old warehouse building in Copenhagen they agree that they are known for asking a lot of questions in order to realise a solution that has the greatest business impact for the customer.
“Some of our customers might say that we are a challenging studio to work with. For us this is a necessary and fun part of design thinking – to challenge. But we never challenge without respect or being sincere about reaching a common goal in cooperation with our clients. For us designing is a journey we take on together. We tap into their lives and businesses and they affect us”, Anne-Marie Buemann explains. She says that this way of working with design also embraces their view on holistic design. Thomas Lykke adds:
“There are an enormous number of names and designers in our world today. All of them fighting to be one. Singlehanded. We don´t believe in being singlehanded. We believe in a common journey, that one of our reasons for being is to be partners with others and we don´t strive to have every product of ours sealed with a great OEO touch. We get something back when one of our clients by hard (co)work succeeds in making a business for himself.”
Questions and celebrities
Some of the businesses Thomas Lykke is referring to are part of Japan Handmade, a project initiated by OEO Studio on behalf of several craftsmen in Kyoto, Japan, who had all the skills in terms of craftsmanship, but found it difficult to find their way in business terms in a global world.
“Part of Japanese culture is to learn from your parents or your mentor, but then finding your own path. When you are the son of the most admired craftsmen working with wood in Japan, you are educated by him. Where do you pick up from there?” asks Thomas Lykke.
“I cannot explain the great happiness of having been involved in a journey like this. The craftsmen opened up their businesses and hearts to us in order to try and change direction. With a combination of all our questions, their craftsmanship and knowledge and our insights into the Western world, they are today selling products worldwide!”
Combining past and present
The story is only one amongst many where OEO has been successfully involved in changing the course of a business. The 400-year-old Japanese family business, HOSOO, is another great example.
From the best quality of woven silk, HOSOO has been making kimonos and belts for kimonos for generations. Due to globalisation, sales of kimonos are continuously decreasing.
“In Japan curtains are not a commodity, which is why HOSOO never really thought of this as an area for business. Today they are selling their beautiful fabric for high-end hotels such as Park Hyatt and Four Seasons in Kyoto. Fashion houses like Commes de Garcons and Dior have also started buying HOSOO and the young family heir has found himself portrayed in Forbes Magazine”, Thomas Lykke reveals, before finishing:
“This alone is a great success. But the greatest happiness is that we succeeded in recreating an holistic business where stepping into the future with a business bound by tradition did not mean that they had to turn their back on their history and where they came from. To us this is where designing your business makes a difference. This is where design is magic!”