The Danish designer Lars Vejen had an almost 20-year long career as director of one of Denmark’s biggest architectural firm’s in-house design department before he became self-employed. We had a talk with him about his design process, why he went solo and what design is capable of.
Lars Vejen graduated from Aarhus School of Architecture in 1996 after which he got hired by schmidt hammer lassen architects to work on the Black Diamond library building in Copenhagen. Vejen describes getting hired by schmidt hammer lassen immediately after graduation as ‘pretty wild’. Many of the products that Vejen designed for the Black Diamond building were stepping stones to the creation of schmidt hammer lassen architects’ own design department; SHL Design.
In the beginning, Lars Vejen delivered product design to different architectural projects, before turning to furniture manufacturers to contribute with furniture design directly from SHL Design. In 2014, he decided to become self-employed.
DANISH™: Why did you go solo?
Lars Vejen (LV): It became possible for me to acquire great parts of SHL Design. Both in terms of assets like contracts and products, and consequently the customers and partners. So I continued the business in my own name.
It was a privilege to do so. It was a fantastic conclusion to a long collaboration between me and schmidt hammer lassen architects. We wanted to go separate ways, I wanted to focus on furniture- and product design, they on large scale international architecture. So, I saw a potential in continuing in my own name. It was a win-win situation.
DANISH™: What is the essence of your design philosophy?
LV: I am very fond of the expression ‘keep it simple’. It not only makes sense in relation to design, but in life as a whole. I try to find the balance in everything, and do not believe that anything should be more complicated than necessary.
My SPIN bench is a good example of my philosophy. SPIN is my take on a bench – a super classic bench. It can rotate, which is a nice little twist, and is inspired by parks in Paris, where furniture stands freely, so you can move them around. I therefore suggested that users could control the orientation of the bench. The functionality is cut to the bone with a twist that gives an extra experience. In this way, it comes with a fine simplicity and easily comprehensible structure. I enjoy things that are comprehensible. Stuff that is honest. So the user feels safe when he sits in the furniture.
DANISH™: What is the most important part of your design process?
LV: For me, it has always been about design thinking. The concept of design thinking works really well for me. I am a quite classic designer, where quiet and simple geometric shapes rule yet I like to give the classic approach a twist.
Quality makes products last longer – that is my version of sustainability. In addition, I am eager to involve many different partners in my process, e.g. the company I design for and the development department, if it means that the product will become better or easier to produce. In this way, I think pragmatically and holistically. All parties move in the same direction anyway, namely to create a product that everyone can be happy about.
DANISH™: You have gone from a 9-5 job to being self-employed with your own schedule – how does your everyday look now?
LV: I have worked 18 wonderful years in an exciting company, and now, my days are both the same and all different at the same time. It is a wonderful mixture of everyday chores, sketching, meetings, travel, events, planning, friends and family. I wanted to have as much freedom as possible and keep any administrative tasks to a minimum – I managed this through careful planning from the beginning and have teamed up with the right people and systems to keep it that way.
DANISH™: How do you keep your creative fire burning? What inspires you?
LV: The everyday is my biggest inspiration. It is as simple as that. I cannot come up with a single thing or a special piece of music that inspires me specifically. I can be inspired by two figures that lie next to each other and create a third figure, which gives me an idea, a shape or a solution. It is impossible for me to say where it is coming from; it just happens.
My GRID bench is originally intended to be produced by residual materials that are compressed into a material called HPL – high pressure laminate. I was inspired to design the bench when I looked into a large container with loads of residual materials, and it is a good example of how inspiration for me can come from everywhere.
I am pretty old-school when it comes to designing. I have never learned to use the computer for sketching or modelling, so I use just a pen and a piece of paper. After all; what really matters is getting the good idea – without that all tools are worth nothing.
DANISH™: I would like to conclude by giving you three questions that I would like you to answer quickly. How does that sound?
LV: That sounds cool, so fine by me.
DANISH™: What is design capable of?
LV: As a tool, there is nothing design cannot do. As a result, design cannot stand alone. It must be incorporated into a larger view. Be part of a context, and fulfil its purpose in being realised.
DANISH™: Where does design meets its limitations?
LV: Design meets its limitations if it does not get incorporated as a part of a whole. If it is thought out of context. Design can also meet its limitation if one does not involve all relevant parties in the development.
DANISH™: What is the hardest thing about being a designer?
LV: I do not think it is hard to be a designer. In the beginning, I lacked experience and a network, but today I’ve got that, so I think it is quite easy to be a designer. It is my skill. It is what I do.