Design Legends ("DL") had the distinct honour to interview legendary designer Dabi Robert ("DR") for their original perspective and innovative approach to design as well as their creative lifestyle, we are very pleased to share our interview with our distinguished readers.

DL: Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?

DR : After art oriented technical secondary school, I was working as a media designer for about 10 years. After that I co-founded an international watch brand, and a second one after that. Mostly working on those, i did a couple of side projects, worked for a tech incubator for a year and also catched up on studying design at the university. That was unusually late after having worked in that field for years.

DL: What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?

DR : When I was a kid, I drew a lot. My mum always loved painting and drawing, so she supported me. I knew that I wanted to be a Designer when I grew up, it was never a question to do anything else than a creative job.

DL: Did you choose to become a designer, or you were forced to become one?

DR : I totally choose and my parents supported me.

DL: What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?

DR : At the moment I do a lot of product design, most of all related to watches and lighting. Lighting is what I'd like to do more of. However industrial design isn't something I studied, I'm just really enthusiastic about it and try to teach myself.

DL: What should young designers do to become a design legend like you?

DR : Focus on learning the basic principles of design, not so much the tools for creating it. The principles will stay the same for decades while the tools are rapidly changing. And you can always quickly learn the tool you need. Whenever possible, try to work on things that you really care about. Often the best works are the ones you would want for yourself. If you work in a team, try to find places where your work is appreciated, because this is what makes you happy and keeps you going. And just try out as much as possible, because most ideas turn out not to work like you imagined.

DL: What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?

DR : A good designer does the job, a great designer doesn't stop there.

DL: What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?

DR : Design is somehow the communication between objects and humans, and there are multiple factors that define this communication. I think the more of these factors the design carves out at the same time, the better it gets. It depends on the product, which of these factors are more important.

DL: What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?

DR : Design is part of the backbone of our society. It has the power to steer our society. Cavemen designed their axes, which allowed them to hunt better, now we have smartphones which make the world more connected. If we invest in good design, we can change the world.

DL: What would you design and who would you design for if you had the time?

DR : Realistically I would like to work for Flos, Vibia or Artemide and design lighting. In a space of infinite time I would probably try to create some art instead of design. I have a couple of ideas for illustrative and figurative artworks but never get to work on them.

DL: What is the dream project you haven’t yet had time to realize?

DR : Probably +12 years ago, I wanted to make an illustrated book about our oceans to raise awareness about our environment. It should have been entertaining and informative at the same time.

DL: What is your secret recipe of success in design, what is your secret ingredient?

DR : My secret recipe is to follow my passion, it sounds cheesy but I believe in it. The secret ingredient would probably be: every time I think I have finished something, add a breeze of insanity to it.

DL: Who are some other design masters and legends you get inspired from?

DR : For example Phillipe Starck, Ives Bahar, Steve Jobs (even if he wasn't a designer he understood more of it than many others)

DL: What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?

DR : For example the Guise lamp Stefan Diez designed for Vibia, because I was experimenting with something similar at the same time it was released... his design just was much better than what I had in mind.

DL: What is your greatest design, which aspects of that design makes you think it is great?

DR : Well, I think my poise lamp is not bad :) What I like about it is that even after months of working on it, I still keep playing around and changing its' pose. From my watch-related projects, I still like the ZIIIRO Lunar watch very much, it was also sold in the MoMa shop. I think a design is great when it's still interesting after a long time, when you still want to interact with it or look at it without getting bored. Those are the things you end up getting attached to.

DL: How could people improve themselves to be better designers, what did you do?

DR : Constantly keep learning. New tools, new disciplines, new sources of inspiration, new people to work with, projects that are not in your comfort zone. Eventually, you will end up doing one thing in the end and that's ok, but if you tried many different things before, you know your strengths and weaknesses, so the one thing will have even more value to you and others.

DL: If you hadn’t become a designer, what would you have done?

DR : Maybe an artist or photographer, but at least something creative.

DL: How do you define design, what is design for you?

DR : It defines how we interact with something and it's an intersection of functionality and aesthetics. It isn't always a 50/50 intersect, something can be more useful than beautiful or the other way round. So I think that design isn't necessarily functionalism. When design leans more towards the artistic way, it can have a psychological influence on the individual, for example to inspire.

DL: Who helped you to reach these heights, who was your biggest supporter?

DR : When I was younger, my mother supported me, but in the times when I was a teenager my family slowly drifted apart and everybody had their own problems. For a long time I didn't have any mentor or special supporter, until I met my wife.

DL: What helped you to become a great designer?

DR : First of all, thanks! I am constantly driven by ideas, in fact there are far more than I can handle. Often that's a problem and I have to force myself to focus on something. That might be one of the keys to success, being able to focus on something until it's done. This argument is backed by the fact that I experienced drawbacks when I wasn't focused. Working with people who could give me constructive criticism was also important.

DL: What were the obstacles you faced before becoming a design master?

DR : I don't feel like I mastered design, In my opinion, there are only few people that did. Anyway, when I was younger, I often had the black page syndrome. i couldn't draw things that I have in mind, because my drawing skills hadn't been evolved enough. Looking back to that time, what I would do different is to just literally draw all kinds of basic things and just forget about the "perfect" picture for now. Now I'm still constantly facing obstacles, whenever something doesn't work out as expected. That can be demotivating, but the more often it happens, the better I learned to deal with it, and to expect ideas not to work out at first.

DL: How do you think designers should present their work?

DR : I think presentation is very important, even the best work can be disregarded when presented in the wrong context, or place or manner. It is important to think about a concept of how to present your work, and put as much effort into it as into the work itself. Think about what makes your work, and then translate that into the presentation.

DL: What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?

DR : I'm working on an apple watch strap, on different lamps and there is a new ZIIIRO watch coming soon. A quick little side project I just finished is www.clingclip.com, a nose clip for bandanas and face masks.

DL: What’s your ultimate goal as a designer?

DR : Happiness. What makes me happy is a good working environment, when my work is appreciated, and when I can make a living from all that.

DL: What people expect from an esteemed designer such as yourself?

DR : I don't know, maybe they expect that I can find a creative solution to a problem.

DL: How does design help create a better society?

DR : Design can define how we interact with each other and our environment. Through design, we can change these interactions and for example improve our ecologic environment by creating new ways of transportation. In my opinion, another call for action would be in the field of online communication, I think we need to think about how to contain misinformation.

DL: What are you currently working on that you are especially excited about?

DR : I'm working on a special kind of strap for the Apple watch.

DL: Which design projects gave you the most satisfaction, why?

DR : When we had the first international success with ZIIIRO watches, it was a really great time. We exhibited at the Berlin fashion week, where I talked to so many people who were excited about my designs.

DL: What would you like to see changed in design industry in the coming years?

DR : The most obviously needed change is towards being more eco-friendly. But not everything can be solved by design alone, for example not every eco-friendly material available is suitable for every product. I think the low hanging fruit is rather the packaging around the products.

DL: Where do you think the design field is headed next?

DR : With digitalisation many new opportunities came, like AI and machine learning, but also problems. I think design will have more overlaps with disciplines like psychology and politics.

DL: How long does it take you to finalize a design project?

DR : That's very dependant on the project. For watches, there were models that took over a year because we wanted to try really unusual things which oftentimes turned out not to be feasible.

DL: When you have a new design project, where do you start?

DR : I start with brainstorming and jotting ideas, which take me to scribbles, and so on.

DL: What is your life motto as a designer?

DR : It is only finished when I'm happy with it.

DL: Do you think design sets the trends or trends set the designs?

DR : I'd say design sets a trend because there can be no trend without a first product.

DL: What is the role of technology when you design?

DR : Technology provides many versatile tools for designing, almost like a brain expander.

DL: What kind of design software and equipment do you use in your work?

DR : I use a stationary computer with 2 screens and software like the whole Adobe Suite, Fusion360 and other 3D apps, note taking apps, etc. Then there are also multiple tools like a lathe, milling machine etc.

DL: What is the role of the color, materials and ambient in design?

DR : They have a big influence on how we perceive a product, even the slightest details like the sound a hinge makes, can make a product appear cheap or valuable.

DL: What do you wish people to ask about your design?

DR : How can I help you with investing & marketing?

DL: When you see a new great design or product what comes into your mind?

DR : It inspires me and I think about how it was made.

DL: Who is your ideal design partner? Do you believe in co-design?

DR : It's been a long time since I worked with a design partner, but yes sure, I think it works when two designers can complement each other and can give each other responsibility and appreciation.

DL: Which people you interacted had the most influence on your design?

DR : The two partners I work with in Hong Kong, and some professors at university.

DL: Which books you read had the most effect on your design?

DR : Rework & The value of design.

DL: How did you develop your skills as a master designer?

DR : By trying to do things and getting help if it doesn't work out. I think most of the skill development happens autodidactically.

DL: Irrelative of time and space, who you would want to meet, talk and discuss with?

DR : Steve Jobs.

DL: How do you feel about all the awards and recognition you had, is it hard to be famous?

DR : Haha, I don't feel famous at all.

DL: What is your favorite color, place, food, season, thing and brand?

DR : Apart from brand, these are questions my son also asked me before. I don't really have the one favourite thing of each. Every of these things has its' own convenience. For food I like sushi and pizza, my favourite season is spring, brands I like are Apple and Sony, but there are many more options I could pick.

DL: Please tell us a little memoir, a funny thing you had experienced as a designer?

DR : In 2010, I co-founded a watch brand together with a guy from Hong Kong, whom I didn't know until shortly before. The funny part about it is that our whole communication happened by text-chat on skype, because at that time I was employed as a designer and couldn't communicate in the evenings because of the time zones. So the first time we actually met and talked to each other was about 2 years later when I invited him to my wedding in Germany. He also brought his mum, his friend, and a friend of hers I never heard of before.

DL: What makes your day great as a designer, how do you motivate yourself?

DR : Motivation and good vibes come when something I have in mind really works out.

DL: When you were a little child, was it obvious that you would become a great designer?

DR : It was obvious that I will become something like a designer, but not necessarily a great one (haha).

DL: What do you think about future; what do you see will happen in thousand years from now?

DR : I think that countries, languages and races will slowly become one.

DL: Please tell us anything you wish your fans to know about you, your design and anything else?

DR : If you get to know me, I am actually nicer than I look like.



Poise Adjustable Table Lamp

Poise Adjustable Table Lamp by Dabi Robert

Jupiter Watch

Jupiter Watch by Dabi Robert

Cling Floor Lamp

Cling Floor Lamp by Dabi Robert

Lunar Watch

Lunar Watch by Dabi Robert

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