Platform Design and Research Blog

Dominik Hehl

Dominik creates pieces that use a minimal amount of processes. They retain a simple aesthetic, one/two materials/operations per object, focusing his interest more on the gut of the object instead of it’s surface value. He also creates spaces. They are conscientious renderings of the particular human actions and interactions specific to said space. He is also interested in film, making videos with an underlying theme which is the notion of time and how one can steal it.

The first time I visited his studio, there was a big structure overtaking the whole space(for the OFFstudio part of DMY 2012), representing a mountainous terrain with brightly colored ice melting onto the pristine white paper, creating a time specific, ephemeral, and highly colorful installation. The second time I visited, the piece was gone but Dominik was still there, he offered me water, I offered him questions, here they are:


Interview Dominik Hehl


Alex: So how do you come up with an idea, how does it start:

I work in quite a dogmatic way. From the beginning I look for interesting ideas coming up, some about the materials and some about the technique, just 2-3 elements, which I then play with. With the Rohling collection it was on the one hand the material but also a half way process product, that I had to transfer into a product. It is a lot playing with ideas and making collage.

Alex: So your material does inform your work:


Alex: And up till now what material did you find that inspired you the most, cause you have been working with aluminum, wood, paper, quite technically different:

I don’t want to say this is my material, but on one hand wood is THE material because it is so cheap, it’s sustainable, you can make everything out of wood it’s incredible, it’s perfect. I also like to work with pouring materials, but with this the issue is about the chemical ingredients which I don’t like.

At Jerszy Seymour Design Workshop we did a lot with Polycaprolactone, which is a technical wax. We baked it in ovens at mixed it with other ok material. What becomes interesting is the bond you create with a material, it is like a love story, you have to get to know the material very well before you have it under control.

With pouring there are so many parameters you need to keep under control. You have the aspect of time. it happens that it is suddenly dead, you can’t use it anymore, because the mix failed. yeah…it’s almost living.

Alex: So you are involved throughout your whole process, from A to Z, but do you have people helping you or do you manufacture somewhere else:

Actually now I work a lot with the guys in the studio we cooperate a lot, we give each other a hand. And for manufacturing, I mean I really don’t think I become a big producer. For serial production of course I let produce somewhere else. I really like the production, getting things done, but I don’t really like so much the distribution aspect, the selling part, which I take care of now, I would like to get rid of it in the future.

Alex: What is your process like, do you start with a scale model or with a computer generated program:

Now there is more coming through drawing. In the beginning I made a lot of models, but now I get more ideas out of drawing. Then when it comes to the end design, the shape, the size, it’s really super important to build the model out of paper or whichever material you have. The model is not made to find ideas but to resolve them.

Alex: How do you find your interaction with potential clients, do you meet them, or is it through a third person:

I think that most important is to get in touch with people in real, so in one project we traveled through Europe, actually the Rohling lamp was also done in this project. We made contact with 15 companies from Berlin to Milano, just to see the potential and what was possible, so we made it to combine potentials, make a product where one thing is made here and the other thing there. For example the Rohlinglicht is actually this, it’s metal spinning and afterwards a completely other company doing the cutting.

That is also good for inspiration and to see things and get to know people, to talk to them. We also did a lamp shade prototype together with eternit in switzerland. Suddenly things get possible, you establish the thrust.

Since I’m producing now own pieces I’m more concerned of getting directly in touch with the people apart from industry.

Alex: What do you think of Fairs, this type of commercial situation, and also selling through online shops:

If you choose the right fair, I think it is really important it is kind of the market place where you need to be sometimes, but it is not always so effective because it takes a lot of money, you need to travel, put your things there and it’s a big investment. I did it in Stuttgart with the Rohling series and yeah…it is somehow you can’t get rid of fairs.

Alex: Your construction seems to be pretty simple, there isn’t a lot of different processes involved, why do you do that:

On the one hand the most important thing for me there is that a lot of objects are overdone, killed somewhere. To not do so much and leave things as they are, makes our lifes easier. On the one hand it permits you to be more sustainable, there are less actions and surface work involved, it gives also the buyer something back, if they can see the material and also if the object costs less. It is a way to make things happen much faster, more direct. The material becomes somehow more interesting if the process is more visible and then the material is celebrated i a way.

Alex: How do you feel about collaborating now:

I did a lot of cooperations and it is really difficult especially if there are a lot of people involved. For me now, I only collaborate with people when i know how they work and if this fits together. More than 2-3 people in an artistic work is not possible, because then there is a decision to make, there is a hierarchy installed  and there is no democratic designing, it is impossible. It is possible when there are two poles where one gives the idea and the other one is sharing it, it can be inspiring, to be honest it doesn’t happen that often. Maybe I am a bit German in this idea I need to be quiet and to reflect on things.

Alex: You speak about artistic approach, do you see a common ground between Art and Design:

I try to keep this question Art and Design as simple as it is possible. I think that the way you work is really like an artist, but the product is design so of course there is an artistic part of the design process because you are creative, you do things. Also a piece is made by my motivation, it comes out of my interest. It is a kind of authorship, it’s an artistic point of view, but if possible I try to separate Art and Design.

Alex: And do you have any reference points or a wave or a process that you try to uphold in Design:

No actually I prefer to not, I also try to not look at the design in magazines because it really bores me…

Alex: In what sense though:

I mean in a professional way i can say this is good design, it is well done in a design process, it is good work, of course this happens and I do like the work of other designers. It’s more that I don’t get inspired by design because mostly there are no open questions any more.

The problem with design is often that there is this tragedy, most people think it is made for people with lots of money, that it is a luxury, that only they get design. If you print the word “design” on the package of an hair dryer it costs more.

This tragedy is responsible for the fact that people people say “Oh that’s design I can’t afford this”or “I don’t want design”…

If Design is used just for the advertisement of a something there is no good output. Somehow Design should be the opposite of advertisement, a “strange attractor”

But also I am quite okay with the Ikea thing: design for everybody.

Alex: Yes but there is also this idea that design can be accessible to others without having to resort to the mass manufactured world of Ikea, like there is room for that, people are doing that, on the designer side the products are offering products with a consciousness to that, and okay not everyone but some people cue into that…but okay outside of design are there any philosophers, any people who inspire you, that when you are stuck on an idea you go to:

Actually when I am stuck on an idea I stop and try to use the morning, when I am fresh and new ideas come, I am not really so concentrated on one particular thought, or writer, or school of though, it is more a confluence of different sources, not just one…I can’t say which other person has influenced my work because it is more reflective. It may happen that I have found something really interesting from somebody else, which then comes up in my work but that I have, by then, forgotten the source.

Speaking about attitude, of course it’s the designers I worked with and for, who influenced me the most.

Alex: What do you feel about the recycling trend or actually this mindset where people are recycling old materials and making them into a new product, so upcycling them, as a sustainable means of creating one-of objects…not that you use it in your work:

Yeah actually I like this way of work, but it really depends on the project. There are also lots of things created which I find not so much interesting, I mean we should recycle more wait do you have any examples of what you mean.

Alex: Oh well just like let’s take the high Risk Low Tech exhibition you were a part of, Past Perfekt used wood from the streets and found lamp bulbs, and then some people just find furniture in the street and then refurbish them, add their input on the piece:

I actually respect this but you can’t do serial production out of this idea. You could, but the thing is we should think recycling in a much bigger scale. There is not so much effect if people sell their bags out of hand woven cycle tubes. It stays symbolic for a great Idea that we should incorporate in everything we do. Otherwise the project stays anecdotal, and that’s a story we heard a lot in the past. Here we have to act, not to talk.

But still, of course the objects out of recycled material can be interesting, playfull and beautiful. But if it’s just the recycling aspect it’s not enough.

To mention a good example:

I had one friend, he used the old christmas trees that were in the streets and made beautiful furniture out of this, it’s a great idea. cuz they have a new meaning, it is quite cool. I mean that’s a real problem in the streets: what to do with the christmas trees, almost dangerous.

Yes we should always consider waste and recycling. And if someone discovered interesting waste that can be transferred into new value: congratulations!

Alex: I guess it goes with this idea of elitism, not in the superior sense, but that there is only one piece that can be made, and then that is it, it is a particular piece…it sort of translates into your work, not because of this use of old materials, but because you are mixing this idea of old process with then using a new technique, such as the 3D metal cutting:

If you don’t use much, using only you, spending less money, saving up action and time but still be able to enjoy, with the old when you economise, there is always something that brings you to it’s a task of freeing your mind with using less.

Alex: Have you ever seen an object that you thought was perfect:

Yeah, this car for example, it’s a metal box just there for the space and there is just a few shaping actions.

Alex: Have you ever experienced failure in a project, something that didn’t come through:

That happens most of the time, you fail but then you transform and I never give up then, if I think something has failed then it is just not finished.

 Alex: Do you see your work as one long progression or do you see it as fragmented elements:

There will always be a kind of communication in my products. That’s why it’s maybe more a continous progression, search for something that makes a reaction with something else…

Feels like you never finish, you can’t see an end, you will always find something else to share and tell. So in my work it does play a role, trying to tell stories but still working with industrial processes and really only with a few words, a kind of quiet storytelling.

Alex: And do you want people to be conscious of that story:

Of course I want people to find their role in it. Design objects can condition you to feel a certain way when you are using an object, you are different, you work differently, you behave different, in a nicer way, with more joy, it is great when this happens.

Alex: Do you see Design school as instrumental to shape your mind, or go against, or did it inform future projects, or do you think people can achieve this on their own:

Often schools are…there are two parts, there is the crafty part, where you have to get in touch with the materials, school is very good for that, to learn about how to draw, use materials, and then there is this thing that school can never bring, I mean they do bring people together and then the rest will happen without any teacher. You meet people, share ideas and then work.

If I think about the school system I would somehow organize it in two parts, for it to be free as possible when you create on your own, and then the part where you would have basic training of how to work with materials.

Alex: How do you see the social aspect to your work:

To be honest the social aspect in creating tables and shelves and lamps is quite low, but I am interested in design for schools and for learning spaces and so there it is so important to find objects that are positive to the whole situation. If you organize a space it affects the social behaviour, how people are organized together and work in a space.

Alex: Do you remember the first thing you ever designed:

Well there was a lot of bricolage when I was small but then the point of saying when did  design happen, I can’t really…I made presents for my family and painted on boxes. One thing I can say is, knowing already that it is naive, but for my sister I wanted to give her a present, and I heard her say that she didn’t have time for sports because she was too much in front of the computer, so the question was: is there a sport training instrument that could solve this problem. Then I made a wooden box with a spring and then she could put her finger on top and train her fingers.

Alex: Okay so for the last question, what do you have for breakfast on Sunday mornings:

I eat a lot of bread  and sweets, marmalade, sugar, Nutella the whole set up. It is only complete if everything was used.



Photography: Feature image by: Dominik Hehl, post images by Friederike Seifert and Björn Ewers


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