Sebastian Holmbäck is an industrial, product and lighting designer, based in the Danish capital Copenhagen. He enjoys a good challenge, tries to inject emotion into everything he makes and really just wants a year off – Design Milk caught up with him to find out more…
What’s the most important thing to know about you?
Haha, good question! I think I’d prefer to let others be the judge of that.
Tell me about your childhood – what’s your earliest memory of doing something creative?
Drawing – I’ve always done it, just doodling away, and still do. It’s a wonderful feeling to just let go and see what streams from your unconsciousness onto the paper.
What did you study?
I studied design in Copenhagen and wasn’t really happy with my school, but we were a bunch of guys having a good time creating our own space. That was really rewarding, and while doing that I realized that I wanted to work independently. I’ve had a few business partners over the years but never a boss. Even though I’m occasionally attracted to being part of bigger studio or corporation, I really cannot let go of being the creator of my own life on a day to day basis.
Tell me about Emma the Electric Kettle – the kettle seems like something that was well overdue a good redesign…
Actually, the kettle was the first sketch for the Emma series, but for a number of reasons the Thermos flask came first. The thing with the kettle is that you’re basically left to buy the least ugly one – not something you really desire, because it just isn’t there. And now I really enjoy it when people tell me how happy the Emma kettle makes them, because it’s one of the things in the kitchen you use so much – and that they think it’s beautiful.
You say “the greatest products are the ones that we become emotionally attached to” – as a designer, how do you create that emotional attachment between the things you design and the people you design them for?
It’s a secret formula! No, it’s really about human nature; for instance, an element of something recognizable is comforting, and thus leaves us more perceptible to the element of ‘new’ (a shape, a function, a material or a color, or a combination of these things). So with the Emma series, for example, the wooden handle is the recognizable element, used in a new context. Overall, it’s about understanding what affects us on a subconscious level, which is where we make decisions a long time before we actually decide what we think intellectually. Aesthetics is a strong force, yet mystically divided between our conscious and unconscious selves – working with the concept of emotional attachment is a truly holistic approach in how to give form to an object.
The about page on your website ends with the words “Please challenge us” – what does a really good client challenge look like?
Moving into unchartered territory; be it manufacturing, functionality etc, but going beyond my comfort zone. It is exhausting, but equally rewarding. 98% of new product design these days are purely entertainment that makes the wheels turn, but every once in a while something truly innovative appears and that only happens when clients really have an agenda.
Talk me through your design process.
I think you’re born with certain skills and abilities that just flow in you, and for me, it’s not really a process it’s more the way I function; it’s an underlying motor that’s always running. I see things that spur new ideas, new ideas pop into my mind, and of course, sometimes I really have to do some serious analysis, but most of the time it’s about letting go and just being open to what comes to mind. I always have my sketch book and love working with the computer, because it’s so fast to model something, render it to see it materialize and perhaps 3D print it (I have my own – it’s the best toy ever!).
What are you most proud of?
I really love my work, but nothing makes me prouder than the fact that my wife (still) loves me and that we’ve created three wonderful independent creatures together.
What advice would you give a young designer?
You have to be really, really dedicated to choose this profession. There are designers in abundance out there, and as much as the world loves design, making a (good) living from it is not an easy feat. I suppose it’s not much different from choosing music or arts, but the odds, unfortunately, are not in your favor. But then again – this is from a guy who is getting older, so if you love it, do it!
What’s next? What’s the dream?!
Taking a year off! I got very inspired when I read about how Stefan Sagmeister does it every seven years and figured it could be a fun thing to do. Whether I’ll be staring at a wall or climbing a mountain I have no idea, but changing my narrative after many years doing the same thing seems appealing.