We had a talk with Danish design duo Salto & Sigsgaard, who are mixing and combining their respective competencies within design and architecture to create designs that matter. Kasper Salto is a detail-oriented cabinet maker and designer, while Thomas Sigsgaard is a trained architect who helps the duo see the big picture. They have a deep mutual understanding of design and feel it is something you don’t just do for the fun of it, but rather design has to fulfil specific needs and should have a strong reason for being.
DANISH™: How did you join forces to become a duo?
Salto: We met at Christianshavn in Copenhagen, where I rented a studio from Thomas. I worked there for about a year, then at one point in time, Thomas made the decision that he wanted to quit his job as an architect and become self-employed.
Sigsgaard: When we met each other, Kasper was designing the ICE chair for the Danish furniture brand Fritz Hansen. I remember that the first prototype stood in the room where we worked. I was so eager and wild with excitement that I broke something off of it.
I had never seen a chair like that before. Since that time, we have always sat together. Not always in the same room, but in the same way, with our desks facing each other. And then we started working together. We have talked a lot about design since …
Salto: … yes, especially how it should be. Or how it could be.
DANISH™: How has the field of design changed over the years?
Salto: First off, there are many new faces in the design field. And then there has happened a new professionalization in the industry, which is a good thing. We are also seeing many new companies entering the industry and making furniture and interior stuff. There has also been quite a lot of things happening due to the opportunities afforded nowadays by technology.
Sigsgaard: Exactly. Design and architecture has seen a paradigm shift in regard to the computer. It has become an extra tool that you can use to draw all kinds of stuff. That aspect has changed things a lot. When I graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture in 1995 there was no one that used a computer in their final exam – in those days, you completed it with a pen, a ruler and a piece of paper.
This is just a banal example. But the computer has sneaked itself into all kinds of contexts. We use it in the whole design process – from creating an overview to drawing designs, to researching production methods and to use in idea generation.
DANISH™: Do you believe that the many new faces in the design field are the result of the computer’s entry into the profession? That the computer has made things more democratic and has given more people the opportunity “to design”.
Salto: It might have something to do with that. But you have to remember that the computer is only a tool. A computer makes certain processes simpler, but I believe that the fact there are many new faces in the field is more due to a generational change. There are a lot of young people nowadays who have ants in their pants and want to prove themselves – both as entrepreneurs and designers. That yields more quality but also quantity, I believe.
Sigsgaard: The things a computer can do include making a small one-man business seem very big and polished on the outside, which most of the time is a good thing. But we mostly use the computer to enhance our design process.
DANISH™: What are the important aspects of your design process?
Sigsgaard: We talk a lot about finding the right problem to solve. If we come up with a new design, it has to be a design that is currently needed but is missing. The design should not just be a new thingy.
Salto: We believe that many aspects are important in our design process. Everything is important, actually. But if you force us to point out a single aspect, it must be the beginning of the design process. We take plenty of time to analyse and research a subject to gain a good understanding of how we can tackle a specific problem. So, the beginning is actually defining all the rest, and most importantly the result.
You can compare the design process with building a house. The foundation has to be strong in order to keep the house standing. If the foundation is crooked, a deformation will form and then spread to the rest of the building. Deformations in the foundation are also hard to fix, because you have to demolish the whole house and start over.
Sigsgaard: Indeed, and then we talk a lot about how things should be put together, and we feel better, and that there is a reason for every aspect of a design. And usually designs are easier to create, if the foundation is right.
DANISH™: Was the process of making a strong foundation also present when you designed the GUEST stool for the Danish furniture brand Montana?
Salto: Certainly. It is our best example of how products have to have a strong reason for being. The idea of a guest stool started 12 years ago – a stool that you can put away easily, but at the same time is nearby when you need it. We found out that shelving units could be a convenient place to store a stool, because shelves around the globe are getting depopulated these years due to music CDs and books being digitalised, thus freeing up all that space. Therefore, we thought that a stool carefully designed to be stored in shelves would be a good idea. The need for the stool may not be huge in the Nordic countries at the moment, but you only have to go to Tokyo or some other huge city to see that space is limited in people’s homes.
DANISH™: Why is the fulfilment of a certain need important when creating good design?
Sigsgaard: We have an obligation to take care of our planet. We ought not fill the world with things we don’t need, because it has an adverse impact on the environment. As designers, we feel a responsibility, because we are some of the people who dictate what is coming into this world. Designs with relevance and a reason for being are the best. We would have a hard time if we were asked to design something just because of its newsworthiness.
DANISH™: A few years ago you won a competition to design new furniture for the Trusteeship Council Chamber in the UN headquarter in New York. The original furniture was designed by the renowned Danish designer Finn Juhl at the beginning of the 1950s. What have you learned from this assignment?
Salto: The redesign of the Finn Juhl Chamber was our first interior assignment as a duo. Suddenly, we realised how much we could really contribute individually to the fulfilment of an assignment. Thomas had the big architectural overview, while I was more the detail-oriented and geeky designer. An interior assignment of this calibre is both about design and architecture, and we felt that our two different professions fitted like a glove.
But all in all, you can say that our biggest lesson was that we learned we could accomplish a task this big. We learned to look at things in context with other things – rooms, spaces, design and architecture. And then we acquired a humility towards redesigning an old, fine chamber that was well-designed in the first place. In addition, it was a challenge that Finn Juhl had designed such a great chamber on so many levels. It was important to us to retain the good feeling we had, when we entered the chamber.
DANISH™: It sounds like you improved your capabilities during this assignment?
Sigsgaard: Nah, I’m not sure. As Kasper said, it was a contextual challenge to have the furniture fit the chamber and vice versa. There was a great deal of history and things to consider when we designed the new furniture. So you can say that we learned to work in a wider context.
DANISH™: Speaking of working in a wider context – what products do you have in the pipeline? What are you tinkering with at the moment?
Salto: Currently, we are working on some interior assignments. First, we are designing a reception desk and a big conference table for the Danish Pharmacists’ Association in Central Copenhagen. At the same time, the New Carlsberg Foundation has asked us to update the way they handle art pieces at their headquarters in Copenhagen …
Sigsgaard: … and then we have some different new products in the pipeline, but it is a little too early to unveil them. Unfortunately.