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.
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.
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.
DR : I totally choose and my parents supported me.
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.
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.
DR : A good designer does the job, a great designer doesn't stop there.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
DR : For example Phillipe Starck, Ives Bahar, Steve Jobs (even if he wasn't a designer he understood more of it than many others)
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.
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.
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.
DR : Maybe an artist or photographer, but at least something creative.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
DR : I don't know, maybe they expect that I can find a creative solution to a problem.
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.
DR : I'm working on a special kind of strap for the Apple watch.
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.
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.
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.
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.
DR : I start with brainstorming and jotting ideas, which take me to scribbles, and so on.
DR : It is only finished when I'm happy with it.
DR : I'd say design sets a trend because there can be no trend without a first product.
DR : Technology provides many versatile tools for designing, almost like a brain expander.
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.
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.
DR : How can I help you with investing & marketing?
DR : It inspires me and I think about how it was made.
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.
DR : The two partners I work with in Hong Kong, and some professors at university.
DR : Rework & The value of design.
DR : By trying to do things and getting help if it doesn't work out. I think most of the skill development happens autodidactically.
DR : Steve Jobs.
DR : Haha, I don't feel famous at all.
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.
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.
DR : Motivation and good vibes come when something I have in mind really works out.
DR : It was obvious that I will become something like a designer, but not necessarily a great one (haha).
DR : I think that countries, languages and races will slowly become one.
DR : If you get to know me, I am actually nicer than I look like.
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