Interview with Harry Strouzas


Winner of Furniture Design Awards

Award Winning Designer Harry Strouzas shares insights

 
 
 
 

Interview with Harry Strouzas at Sunday 21st of October 2018:

DL: Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?
HS : I began my working life in the finance sector after studying commerce at the University of Melbourne, Australia. But my true calling has always been in design. I always did want to become a designer. I love to solve problems, and always have. Drawing comes very naturally to me and I am an extremely visual person. I think that I view the world in a somewhat unique manner – which can be both a blessing and a curse. I am never short of inspiration as the problems out there are in constant supply! I am also a fully qualified bespoke furniture maker. I left the world of finance and undertook a full, furniture making apprenticeship. People must have thought I was mad. I think that this gives me the unique position of thinking about the construction issues and techniques that the craftsperson will have to grapple with in order to realise the completed piece. There's nothing that a maker hates more than receiving pretty pictures with no real technical details or no real concept of the most efficient or effective way to actually make the piece in question. You also receive instant respect from the craftspeople when you give them the detailed drawings they actually need and also because they can really talk to you in detail regarding certain aspects of the vision and the best way to achieve it. It really is a win/win situation. 
 After working as a bespoke maker for a number of years, I then used my dual citizenship (both my parents are Greek) and moved to England to study furniture design at Buckinghamshire New University. Surely, everyone around me thought I was mad. I completed the full Bachelor degree in the UK and really immersed myself in the rich design culture and heritage that Europe as a whole has to offer. Graduating the top of my class with first class honours, I was offered numerous posts to further my academic career via further Masters or PhD course, but in truth my pull to come back home to Melbourne was too strong. I also had no real desire to become an educator at that stage (maybe this will change later on, but not as yet anyway). Since arriving back in Melbourne, I have worked as head maker and lead draftsman at a bespoke furniture making operation as well as spending a couple of years being the in house designer for a boutique furniture retailer in the Melbourne CBD. I then started my own business and here I am today, working for myself and driving my own direction.

DL: What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?
HS : I think that the best designers are born observing the world in a very unique and detailed way. It's not something that I can turn off. You find yourself constantly analysing why things work, why they don't, how they can be improved, how people engage with them, why they engage with them etc etc etc. It never stops. For me, I just had to follow my true path. It's as simple as that. Designing is what I love to do. It has been that way for as long as I can remember. I tried to stifle this for a while in my late teens and early twenties where I tried to become a "grown-up" and focus on academic things, but I discovered that designers can be grown-ups too, with their heads firmly facing ahead, towards the future.

DL: Did you choose to become a designer, or you were forced to become one?
HS : I certainly chose to become a designer! No one could ever force a finance person with a very comfortable and well respected job, to throw it all away and chase their dream of becoming the highest quality (and fully qualified) designer and furniture maker. It is simply not possible.

DL: What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?
HS : I design all types of interior pieces as well as passive house buildings. From an internal perspective my favourite thing in the world is to design self-driven, speculative furniture pieces. There is something very primal about furniture to me, which I think stems from the fact that we interact with it so closely and so often. We sit on it, lean on it, eat on it, work on it, put things on it, look at it, touch and feel it and are surrounded by it. It is just so important to our lives and so personal to us, whether we acknowledge it or not.
 And if it's a speculative piece, it means that I'm driving it from beginning to end. I set the problems that need addressing, I set the time frame and I make the final decision on what the end result is. These are the most personal and intimate pieces that really get me excited.

DL: What should young designers do to become a design legend like you?
HS : I don't think I could ever think of myself as a design legend. Ever! However, if you're asking for a couple of suggestions as to how a young designer might be able to become even better, I'd offer the following........ You don’t know it all, despite what you might believe or are being told. Drop the ego, it only gets in the way of real innovation. You have lots to learn. So surround yourself with great people. You will certainly need them from time to time. And show some humility. 


DL: What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?
HS : The ability to produce truly innovative designs. Pure and simple! Great designers can.

DL: What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?
HS : A number of factors come into play in such an evaluation, however in an attempt to keep this answer somewhat concise it boils down to a few pertinent points. Firstly this question must be answered in the affirmative: does the resolved design actually solve the problem effectively and efficiently that it was actually designed to solve? This is a must for any design to be considered "good". Secondly I always undertake "the Scanning Test". This relates to how my eye tracks around the piece. Does it track around the piece in a smooth, continuous and elegant way. I hate it when my eye tracking is stopped along its path in a forced and disjointed manner. Thirdly I also take into account whether things are included in the finished piece which need not (or should not) really be there. These "no real purpose" elements often degrade a completed design in my opinion.
 It naturally relates to the two points above, and I guess highlights my leanings towards minimalism and efficiency.

DL: What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?
HS : In its simplest form good design makes life better. This applies to absolutely everything, whether it be on a micro or macro level. Clearly our world is hurting in so many compounding ways. Only better processes and "things" which are more efficient, more effective, more tailored, more accessible, more enjoyable, less harmful, less wasteful, less toxic and less stupid, need to be on the agenda. Everything is at stake.

DL: What would you design and who would you design for if you had the time?
HS : As stated above I design both internal items, particularly furniture, and passive houses. These are the things that I do in fact want to design, so I'm very fortunate in that regard. In terms of "who" would I like to design for if I had the time, the answer is - those people who can't afford to do the research and actually pay for the higher quality things with regards to their design and manufacture. This applies to both the buildings they need to live in as well as the interior pieces that they will engage with when inside these buildings. Those people without opportunities to engage with such things, and who are then cast aside are the ones who most need and would definitely most appreciate great design.

DL: What is the dream project you haven’t yet had time to realize?
HS : A complete passive house building project PLUS the full internal fit out. The entire thing, both inside and out, where people can experience what I and PodMarket™ are really all about.

DL: What is your secret recipe of success in design, what is your secret ingredient?
HS : My co-designer: Fiona Mckenzie. Her input and analysis is truly amazing. She's the real brain behind the operation.

DL: Who are some other design masters and legends you get inspired from?
HS : I don't get inspired by them. I admire them and love their work. However inspiration comes from many different sources as far as I'm concerned.

DL: What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?
HS : Way too many to mention here. I don't wish to leave anyone out and I don't have time to write a thesis. So I shall only offer one by someone I personally know and have the highest respect for. When I was studying furniture design in the UK, one of my favourite professors (Hugh Scriven) showed me a small swivelling mirror that he designed back in 1983. He said that it was one of his most treasured designs. It is a thing of genius. He gave me one and my wife always uses it when putting on her makeup. When I set up my company I contacted Hugh and asked him if he would allow me to make these small, swivelling, makeup mirrors and sell them here in Australia. He agreed and I have been making them ever since. The design still blows me away. The piece comprises of only 3 parts. First there's the central mirror section and then there are 2 separate legs. That's it. By simply grabbing the legs and twisting them, the mirror rotates through an arc of 180 degrees. It's truly incredible, and just so clever. When I finished the degree I spent some time with Hugh at his country home. One day he told me that he has had 3 truly original ideas throughout his decorated and extensive career. This small swivelling mirror was his first one. Notable, he also told me that most “designers” never really get to experience this level of originality. The more designs I see and designers and experts I meet, the more these words ring true to me. These are words of wisdom by a highly accomplished designer and maker whose career exceeded 40 years.


DL: What is your greatest design, which aspects of that design makes you think it is great?
HS : The Pende Series. The one that received the Silver A' Design Award this year. The reasons that I think it's great are pretty simple: 1. It solves the problem as to why criss-cross style underframes in the past have had to be made from materials that were either too bulky and wasteful, in order to have any real structural strength and why they could only really be utilised in items that never had to take any real loads (eg: lights....). 2. It can be varied regarding the number of legs utilised to anything above three. 3. It is totally scaleable. You can make large scale dining tables, through to coat stands and stools using the same principles. 4. It is super easy to assemble and disassemble. 5. It can be flat packed which makes it very transportable. 6. It's suited to batch runs and mechanised production techniques as well as to one off bespoke pieces. 7. When you review the resolved design it appears very intuitive. People will be able to understand the interconnected principles that make the concept work. I find that when people can engage with any piece a bit more, they tend to really appreciate and like the piece more as a consequence.

DL: How could people improve themselves to be better designers, what did you do?
HS : I left my home country (Australia) and travelled to the other side of the world (United Kingdom) and totally immersed myself in both formal tertiary study as well as informal absorption of all things design related by travelling as much as I could afford during my years spent in Europe. The end result is that to become better, you must eat, sleep and live design. It's something that becomes a part of you somehow.

DL: If you hadn’t become a designer, what would you have done?
HS : Irrelevant question for me. From a successful finance background, I gave it all away and moved heaven and earth to become a designer. The only thing that would have stopped me, is if I was a little bit better at tennis. I'd love to have become a professional tennis player! I genuinely thought about it for a while, but didn't have the nerve to give it a real go in the end. Wise choice I think! My serve was never really big enough to make it to the top.

DL: How do you define design, what is design for you?
HS : For me design means solving a particular problem (or problems) in the most effective and elegant manner possible. The design problem may be profound or quite narrows, it doesn't matter. What matters is the detailed process that you as the designer must undertake in order to make the necessary improvements and eventually propose an elegant solution to the original problem. Design also relates to this "process" that you go through in order to develop your solution.


DL: Who helped you to reach these heights, who was your biggest supporter?
HS : My wife. My parents. A few, special friends. And of course, Fiona.

DL: What helped you to become a great designer?
HS : Firstly you have to be lucky enough to have some base line level of talent and intuition in the design field. Then I decided to back my abilities and go to a part of the world where design really means something and holds a rich, generational place in people's lives. I selected England in the end. Maybe France, Italy or Germany would have a possibility, except my language skills here would have let me down. Then I dedicated myself fully to learning all I could whilst living in Europe for four years, both in a formal (tertiary learning) and informal (travelling, visiting studios, galleries, institutions) manner. I cannot underestimate how important my European experience and knowledge has been from a design viewpoint.

DL: What were the obstacles you faced before becoming a design master?
HS : There are always obstacles, but I have found that they are not really big enough to hold you back, as long as you have (a) some ability, (b) a good work ethic and (c) a good attitude towards dealing with people. The biggest obstacle is always the same in my viewpoint. Here in Australia anyway, the hardest thing to overcome is other people's uninformed and limited knowledge about what real design actually is and their innate desire to "pigeon hole" you and not accept the fact that someone can in fact be talented enough to be good at multiple things. For instance when I was an apprentice, no one thought that I could be tough enough to handle being "at the bench and on my feet for 8 hours a day" (I was a pen pusher after all). When I was a high end (qualified) furniture maker who had apprentices under hime, no one thought I could become a true designer (surely you can only be one or the other???). When I became a high end (European qualified) designer, no one thought I could use those skills and apply them to the physics driven world of passive house ("you're a furniture guy, you couldn't possibly design buildings, let alone certified passive houses"). Now that I design buildings and interiors and talk to all my tradespeople/engineers and draftspeople in detail, people refuse to believe that I could possibly design a 100% complete solution (eg: certified passive house(s) with fully fitted out and tailored interiors, all in one go). But I simply keep working and try not to let other people's projections regarding my abilities stop me. I always get there in the end. My business partner, Fiona McKenzie also faces this type of uniformed bias. And she's a also a barrister - and a woman! How could she possibly have the ability and skills to design innovative houses and furniture as well? It's just not possible, is it??

DL: What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?
HS : On the building front we have a number of projects on the go, from accomodation buildings in high tourist areas to schools and some specialist disability focused housing. Regarding furniture, I'm currently working on a unique wall mirror and some desk options which are ideally suited to smaller spaces. There's also a lighting range in the pipeline which is being prototyped right now.

DL: What’s your ultimate goal as a designer?
HS : To design many different things, especially as far as buildings and interiors are involved. I want to work for as long as I am able, and I want to have a large body of quality work behind me, that I know has positively impacted peoples lives.

DL: What people expect from an esteemed designer such as yourself?
HS : No idea. I give everyone the same thing....myself. I have an idea about what this means, but it might be better to ask those who spend the most time with me for a more accurate assessment.

DL: How does design help create a better society?
HS : In its simplest form good design makes life better. This applies to absolutely everything, whether it be on a micro or macro level within any aspect of society. Clearly our world is hurting in so many compounding ways. Only better processes and "things" which are more efficient, more effective, more tailored, more accessible, more enjoyable, less harmful, less wasteful, less toxic and less stupid, need to be on the agenda. Everything is at stake.

DL: Which design projects gave you the most satisfaction, why?
HS : I love working on speculative furniture pieces. There is something very primal about furniture to me, which I think stems from the fact that we interact with it so closely and so often. We sit on it, lean on it, eat on it, work on it, put things on it, look at it, touch and feel it and are surrounded by it. It is just so important to our lives and so personal to us, whether we acknowledge it or not.
 And if it's a speculative piece, it means that I'm driving it from beginning to end. I set the problems that need addressing, I set the time frame and I make the final decision on what the end result looks like. These are the most personal and intimate pieces that really get me excited and involved.
 So specific pieces that meet this criteria are: the "Pende" table series, the angled "Rake" shelves, and my "Escher" mirrors and lights.

DL: How long does it take you to finalize a design project?
HS : It depends on the item, it depends on the client, it depends on the time frame allowed, it depends on my personal interest in the piece, it depends on the quality of the original ideas generated at the very beginning of the process. It literally depends on many factors that make this question almost impossible to answer.


DL: When you have a new design project, where do you start?
HS : Not trying to sound all "Zen-like" here, but I always try and start at the beginning. This is not as silly as you might think and is certainly much harder than it sounds. To start a project without bringing your personal biases, preferences or desires to the table is one of the hardest things to do. I always try and start with a totally open and inquisitive mind and always try to focus on the problem that is needing to be addressed. Like a child sitting down with a blank piece of paper in front of him/her. What will they do? Draw a picture, paint a picture, make a paper plane, make a card, write a story? Who knows where that paper will lead.

DL: What is your life motto as a designer?
HS : The one overriding design tenet I always try to adhere to is: Do No Harm. Only good. If I can keep this in the forefront of my mind, and apply it to all aspects of the design, including the materials used, where they are sourced from and the finishes employed, this will always keep me on the right track. 


DL: Do you think design sets the trends or trends set the designs?
HS : Great design to me has no time frame or life expectancy. I couldn't care less about what's trending.

DL: What is the role of technology when you design?
HS : It's very important. All my designs end up being finalised and tweaked using computer technology. However, I stress that whatever the form of technology (CAD, CNC, robotics, lasers, rapid prototyping, computing, whatever) - it's reason for being is to follow through on the designer's vision and direction and make the realisation process easier and more efficient. They are design aides, not anything more. This holds for every form of technology with the only possible exception being AI. Things get a bit murky when considering the role and use of AI in today's society.

DL: When you see a new great design or product what comes into your mind?
HS : Who designed it? What was their inspiration? Why was it designed in the first place? How was it manufactured?

DL: Who is your ideal design partner? Do you believe in co-design?
HS : Fiona McKenzie fits the bill almost perfectly for me. She's super talented, intelligent, creative, understanding and intuitive. I'm a big believer in co-design. Often Fiona will take my thinking in a new direction which I hadn't considered before. Sometimes she will assimilate a whole range of seemingly unconnected things and help us to bring them together in a really integrated, unforeseen way. Not only that, she's very funny and never lets anything bring us both down for too long. The only problem is that her capacity for working even exceeds mine. We are now beginning to pull each other up and focus more on taking breaks - both physical as well as mental.

DL: Which people you interacted had the most influence on your design?
HS : My co-designer, Fiona McKenzie. This is true of almost all of "my" designs. They are never really mine but always "ours".

DL: How did you develop your skills as a master designer?
HS : Designers improve by designing. Designers improve by accepting criticism that comes from specific , valued people. Designers improve from constantly critiquing their own work - honestly? Designers improve by seeking information by the best in their field - ie: by learning from the best. Designers design, always. Additionally, I left my home country (Australia) and travelled to the other side of the world (United Kingdom) and totally immersed myself in both formal tertiary study as well as informal absorption of all things design related by travelling as much as I could afford during my years spent in Europe. The end result is that to become better, you must eat, sleep and live design. It's something that becomes a part of you somehow.

DL: Irrelative of time and space, who you would want to meet, talk and discuss with?
HS : Archimedes, Plato, Socrates, Johan Sebastian Bach, Beethoven, Leonardo Da Vinci, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, David Walsh (cycling journalist), David Walsh (MONA), John Polkinghorne (theoretical physicist), John McEnroe, Roger Federer, Charles + Ray Eames, Le Corbusier, Ron Arad, Konstantin Grcic, amongst others.

DL: What is your favorite color, place, food, season, thing and brand?
HS : Colour, Yellow. Place, Nafplio (Greece). Food, A great sandwich. Season, Autumn. Brand, Lego.

DL: Please tell us a little memoir, a funny thing you had experienced as a designer?
HS : At a friend's party (about 2 years ago) a man whom I had never met before, came up to me, and knelt down before me and said in the loudest voice that he loves my work and "everything that I stand for". Then he called over his girlfriend and some of their friends and said "this is the guy I was telling you about the other day, the furniture designer". They then began asking me all these unique type questions like: "what does a normal day look like for you" and "what are the specifics about what you're working on now". My wife stood by me throughout and on the way home, she couldn't stop laughing!

DL: What makes your day great as a designer, how do you motivate yourself?
HS : If I can squeeze in a bike ride or a swim and if my kids sleep through the night - then everything is just great! Motivation is not a problem. I'll get worried if it ever becomes one.

DL: When you were a little child, was it obvious that you would become a great designer?
HS : Don't know. You'd have to ask my parents that question. I'm still not great though.

DL: What do you think about future; what do you see will happen in thousand years from now?
HS : In my humble opinion, if we as a species seriously don't change our ways, there will be no human beings in existence a thousand years from now, and possibly no planet Earth. Certainly not in it's current form anyway.