Do No Harm: An Interview With Polish Designer Maja Ganszyniec
full-width, 1920_studio_ganszyniec_overview_004photot_ignacy_matuszewski.jpg, Studio Ganszyniec, photo: Ignacy Matuszewski
‘We understand Scandinavian design because we have a lot in common with it’, says Maja Ganszyniec. The designer, who prefers natural materials, told us about the energy of objects, a canopy she designed for IKEA and designing in Poland.
Maja Ganszyniec (born 1981) designs everyday objects and works with brand communication. She studied Interior Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, the Milan University of Technology and Royal College of Art in London. She cooperated with a number of large international companies, such as Comforty, Leroy Merlin and NOTI. In 2018, IKEA released two collections, HJÄRTELIG and SPÄNST, of her design.
Michał Dąbrowski: I think working for a substantial foreign brand can be called a success. What is your view on collaborating with the Swedish furniture giant?
Maja Ganszyniec: Thanks to its recognisability and reach, IKEA gives publicity to the Pole who works for them – it is a good slogan. One day I would like to read about a Pole who designs for a Polish brand, but nowadays news about successes achieved abroad are more catchy.
Polish brands, such as Comforty, NOTI and many others, have been promoting Polish designers and products for years. It would be wonderful if these brands were as attractive for customers, but I understand that they are not as well known as IKEA. Everyone can afford a nice product from IKEA, but not everyone can afford a product by a brand which functions on a different scale. But these are the brands that made it possible for designers to work in Poland.
A Foreigner's Guide to Polish Design
MD: How is it to work for IKEA as a designer?
MG: The company gives you a lot of space to design a broad range of products. It’s a rare opportunity. So far we have introduced various products to the market: carpets, glassware, solid wood furniture and many other things. It’s unique. I learn something new with each project.
The IKEA brand is very conscientiously managed. Other than their iconic products, they also release smaller collections which are, in fact, precisely crafted messages.
MD: Is the collection SPÄNST, which offers a skateboard and transparent shoe boxes, a message as well?
MG: It’s a great example of targeting a very specific audience, namely young people living actively in cities, identifying with skateboard culture, collecting shoes, using Instagram. The collection is very coherent, even though it includes products which greatly differ from the most popular IKEA classics.
I was invited to work with the Los Angeles streetwear designer Christ Stamp. Our studio designed a visually ‘light’ wardrobe made of a metal mesh net, which works much differently in a space than a classic heavy rectangular block. We also have a stool for a tall desk, a shoe rack and quick-drying towels which can easily be taken to the gym.
MD: If SPÄNST is targeted at physically active people, then HJÄRTELIG is all about relaxing.
MG: The goal was to design a bedroom space that would be a place to relax, an oasis for every city dweller.
MD: What was your studio responsible for?
MG: We were to come up with the whole collection – its visual aspect, what products should be included and how they will fulfill consumers’ needs.
MD: Judging by the products, it seems that the collection can be perceived with many senses.
MG: Touch was the most important sense in this case. We were examining the quality and texture of different materials. First, we tried six different densities of cotton and linen, so as to choose the best type of fabric for the bed sheets. Plants and flowerpots affect the air and the microclimate of the entire room. We offer both unscented and scented candles which were produced in collaboration with a French company, with long-standing traditions. It was IKEA’s first initiative of this kind, and we did not want the packaging to contain any plastic.
The collection is based exclusively on natural fabrics which affect the electrostatics of their surroundings. I believe that different objects have their own energy, so a product made of natural materials like glass, linen, cork or solid wood will be more friendly than any other. The visual aspect was a secondary thing.
MD: What is the story behind the yoga rug and the canopy?
MG: Many people prefer to exercise at home since it is the cheapest way to stay fit. Our intention was to facilitate it by introducing cork yoga blocks or a cotton strap, which you can use while exercising. The idea for the small, decorative elements came from observing everyday bedroom rituals.
We wanted to create a separate space for the bed because not everyone has their own bedroom ─ many young people live in a one-room studio. This is the reason behind the canopy– it emphasises the uniqueness of the space and creates a certain atmosphere.
MD: Recently, visitors have had the opportunity to learn about Polish design at the National Museum in Warsaw.
MG: It’s true. Until recently the entire archive of Polish design was in the basement of a palace in Otwock Wielki. Together with a group of friends, we visited it eight years ago, and we just couldn’t believe our eyes. Efforts of a group of people from the National Museum made it possible for the exhibits to finally see the light of day.
MD: Do Polish and Scandinavian design have something in common?
MG: The designs on display at the National Museum do not differ much from what can be seen in Denmark or Sweden. Our climate and the kinds of trees that grow here are very similar, which translates into similar fabrics and interiors, especially when it comes to older buildings.
We share many traits with Scandinavian design, which is why we understand and like it. Countries that were not isolated [behind the Iron Curtain] had constant access to design, unlike Poland. IKEA paved the way for design as we know it now, by following modern European trends and showing us what a well-designed product should look like.
MD: What about your own story? Why did you decide to set up a studio in Poland after graduating from a university abroad?
MG: My generation has its own studios because its representatives had to create their own jobs. It was not a choice. It was a necessity. It has already changed for the next generation. I studied interior design in Kraków, and later I left the country to develop my skills further. After coming back from Italy and the UK, I couldn’t find a job, so I set up my own studio. It was a time of massive emigration [especially to other EU countries], and my decision raised some eyebrows. But I wanted to be in Poland.
MD: There really weren’t enough jobs for qualified designers in Poland? But it’s a major producer of furniture.
MG: Yes, it’s true. After all, a designer is necessary even before the production stage. It’s only recently that producers began hiring designers – only now is it becoming noticeable. The situation depends on the development of the whole sector.
MD: Why do you think this is?
MG: Intellectual value is not always considered equal to the economic value. It’s only recently that companies began to realise that good design or good graphic design is an investment that can pay off in the future. It’s more often that a manufacturer is willing to invest in buying an expensive machine – which is not the case with a design. Fortunately, are almost passed this stage.
MD: With all these changes, what do you think is left from the 1990s?
MG: In the 1980s there was no production going on, whereas the 1990s was a complete freestyle. In consequence, today we have to correct and explain some things. Back then the design was an open source full of anonymous projects. Even today we aren’t sure who designed some of the furniture that is still in use.
MD: It’s changed, but how?
MG: The reason for the emergence of so many Polish companies were the colossal needs of the market in the 1990s. An answer to the questions of what we produce and how we do it was a secondary thing. The most important thing was the product itself. Now we are living in the times of prosperity and well-being, we’re transmitting on a different frequency. The market has changed its profile from productive to more brand-oriented.
MD: When did the breakthrough of the perception of the product happen?
MG: This situation changed because of the 2006-2008 crisis. It changed the market, the Internet and the possibilities of low-cost travel. People started making more conscious decisions. Some companies realised that, for example, a chair is not only something to sit on, but it is also a way to communicate and share values. Each and every aspect matters, whether we are talking about fabrics, shapes or colours. It also applies to the product’s presentation on photographs and during trade shows.
MD: Design is closely connected to sales. What difficulties arise from this connection?
MG: Design is a form of artistic work even though it’s immersed in a business and manufacturing reality, which makes it difficult to describe it in a solid framework. Artists have the Ministry of Culture, while design is interdisciplinary – it is connected with the economy, industry and culture as well.
MD: What are the specific features of the Polish design market?
MG: Customers got used to thinking that good design doesn’t cost much. Low prices are possible only thanks to the great scale of IKEA’s undertakings. Production on a smaller scale causes a fourfold increase in a product’s price. IKEA plays a different role in the western countries – it’s a cheaper, but well-designed alternative. There were no higher-class, higher-quality products available [in Poland] We did not have that segment in Poland – it's only just emerging, and the process will surely take time.
Polish Design: Uncut
contemporary polish design
contemporary polish designer
MD: What does design mean to you?
MG: As designers, we constantly suggest new solutions. The most important goal for me is to minimalise the costs generated by the production process. My dream is to see a world in which people buy less but more responsibly. We can’t change it from one day to the next, but what a designer can do is do no harm.
MD: What does it mean in practice?
MG: I pay a lot of attention to the way a material affects the space. It's important if a material contains formaldehyde or harmful glues. Customers don't think about it while shopping for household products, but these details have an influence on our homes and our health.
IKEA moved away from solvents, all of their paints are water-based paints. Together with WWF, they came up with an idea for balanced cotton cultivation, because even this consumes colossal amounts of water. IKEA's production model is aimed at minimalising the use of chemical substances and water. Implementing this strategy took ten years. There are not many companies that set their standards so high.
MD: So the final question is: what are the features of a good product?
MG: Construction, ergonomics and practicality are the ABCs of design. There are a lot of chairs out there, so the decision to create a new one should be taken responsibly and consciously.
Originally written in Polish, May 2018, translated by AS, May 2018
Into the Woods - Timberland of Design