We had a talk with Danish/Russian industrial designer Boris Berlin, who back in the late 80s co-founded the Danish design practice Komplot Design and now runs the design duo Iskos-Berlin in partnership with Aleksej Iskos. Berlin has designed just about everything, from a colour marker to the graphical identity of a bus travel company, though his greatest passion is industrial design.
DANISH™: Why design?
Boris Berlin (BB): Art has always interested me. At least, since I was six, when I first started receiving lessons in visual arts. Then, at some point after high school, I thought it would be a natural choice for me to apply to continue my education within the art field. But at that time in the Soviet Union, art education was very propagandistic as art was used as an ideological tool for politicisation.
But luckily I was also curious and interested in other art forms, for instance, in how things were formed in the spatial sphere, like with sculpturing. So at one time, I thought I might become an architect, but I got scared – it seemed too big a responsibility to design the houses people live in. Therefore, I chose to become a designer – at that time I did not know the responsibility involved in designing the products people use every day!
DANISH™: You graduated in 1975 in the Soviet Union and came to Denmark in 1983 – why did you come to Denmark?
BB: Well, first I worked as a designer for eight years and then I met a Danish girl; we married and eventually moved to Denmark. Before we started Komplot Design in 1987, I was employed in a company called Penta Design. At the time, the ambition of the company was to be the biggest Danish design company.
DANISH™: So, how did Komplot Design start?
BB: Poul Christiansen (co-founder of Komplot Design) and I met at Penta Design, where we were both employed. We were not that pleased by how things were run, so we decided to start our own company – even though we had some of the biggest design tasks in Denmark.
The CEO of Penta Design asked if it was a complot against Penta Design, when I just answered “Thanks for the name”. That is the story of how Komplot Design got its name. In 2010, after working in close cooperation for almost 25 years, we decided to open up our “marriage” and give each other the freedom to “give solo concerts, or play with other musicians”. This does not mean that Komplot no longer exists – new products designed by Komplot are still being released.
DANISH™: How has design changed through the years?
BB: A lot has changed. The Danish industry was different back in the eighties. At that time, most companies where products needed to be designed were also manufacturing companies. Today, a lot of companies have placed their production in other countries, while their marketing department, development department and management are still in Denmark. The industrial landscape has been converted into a landscape of brands.
This fact changes our positions as designers. I think designers have a significantly bigger responsibility nowadays – a responsibility to figure out what designs the company should invest in and how to produce them. Today, production companies function a bit like publishers: Publishers do not own printing machines and often publishers do not even know what book they are going to publish in a few months. So the roles have changed and as a designer you have to know more about different aspects of the production process and design process. And sometimes it is harder now to get this knowledge, because you do not sit down with a workshop foreman, or the engineers and product developers to the same extent as you did back in the (good old) days.
DANISH™: How has the typical designer changed?
BB: I believe today’s designers are better at using opportunities to exchange knowledge and know-how across borders. The design community is more transparent and international; in the past many designers had craftsman backgrounds; whereas today, a lot of design students apply to design schools directly after high school – it’s a different approach.
But I believe it’s harder to be a young designer today than before. There a lot more designers today, and that fact alone makes it harder to be a designer. On the other hand, design has evolved to be a very wide profession. When I graduated, there was no such thing as service design, for example, but I believe it is an indication that the world is becoming more diverse and colourful. And you have to embrace this as a designer.
DANISH™: What is Iskos-Berlin’s design philosophy?
BB: We design in a world that is under constant change. We try to design without prejudices and without a certain style. Style is a limitation and by not concerning ourselves about it, every new design can be different to the previous one. We try to start from scratch with every new design and make it into a “simple” derivative of function, technology, historic background, tradition and whatever we feel about it at that moment. Though some say they do recognise our “signature” in our designs, but I do not know how they do it – that is not the aim of our design. .
DANISH™: Among your own designs, what are your favourites?
BB: To choose between your designs is like choosing between your children – it is impossible to favour one. Of course, the youngest one takes more attention. Another answer could be that it is the next project that is my favourite one. Design is an ongoing process. Each design is like a chapter in one long story.