Product designer Joa Herrenknecht
Joa Herrenknecht is a Canadian born German product designer based in Berlin. She is known to have a clear-cut geometric design language that combines solid natural materials. She works on different design related projects including furniture, accessories, lamps, textile and interior design. Joa is part of Danish design community MUNK Collective, where she is the designer behind the versatile PALO lamp.
Tell us a bit about what you do.
I am a designer for products and furniture, designing lamps, sofas, side tables, rugs, textiles and other accessories for interiors. Initially I studied product design in Germany at HfG Karlsruhe with great teachers such as Stefan Diez and James Irvine. After finishing university I went on to continue studying graphic design at a small private school in Sydney, Australia, which I also enjoyed a lot. In 2012 after coming back from Australia I started my own studio in Berlin and since then I worked as an independent designer for different companies. All my life I have been interested in mindful design and the relationship of objects and interiors. My grandparents had a small upholstery shop in the village I grew up and I really always liked to be in the workshop, it had a very nice atmosphere. As a student I went to Milan and worked for Patricia Urquiola for a year, which really opened my mind and attitude towards design. The love and passion Milanese designers have is quite seductive and I really enjoyed the cheerfulness and creativity of Italians. Being able to create and realise an idea from the beginning to end is something special and I like to see the final product.
How does your typical work-week look like?
I just had my second child so things are pretty wild. Right now I take Miles (who is 3 months old) with me to the studio, which is very close to my home in Kreuzberg. There I meet my assistant Nina, sometimes we have an intern as well, and we have coffee and talk about the tasks for the day and then start work. I usually get a brief of my client, so I need to do research and think about ideas and sketch proposals. Mostly I build paper models to check proportions and of course we build the objects 3D on the computer, which often takes a while. After making sure I got the proportions, colours, materials, etc. right, I make technical drawings and the prototype is build according to this. The biggest task is to revise the prototypes and fix problems and details to make the production ready – often you need multiple prototypes and revisions to get it right. This last step takes some time – I would say that often an object takes about a year or two until it is in the shops. In fact it is crazy how long it takes to develop an idea into a final serial product, I don´t think the consumer knows this. So when you work you have projects at all different stages and orchestrate them.
How did you end up joining MUNK Collective?
Hans saw my work at Salone Satellite, where I exhibited three years in a row. I think he followed me for a while, then some years later he asked me about collaborating with his brand. I was meeting another client in Denmark and we met for the first time in person at the train station in Copenhagen. He hopped on the train to the airport with me because I had so little time, and I was impressed by his passion and interest, it was fun talking to him and I remember we talked until I had to leave. Some months later he came and visited me in my studio in Berlin and we started working together from there on. It has been a real pleasure.
What can you tell us about your design the Palo lamp?
Palo means ‘stick’ in Spanish. The lamp is made of one solid piece of wood with an integrated dimmable touch sensitive LED. You can playfully alter the omitted light to shine up or down by turning the stick, which is hung by the textile cord, not much else, it´s very minimal. My main idea when designing it was to create a pendant lamp, which is flexible and can be height adjusted. With flexible I mean from where in a room the lamp is hanging down, independent of the given light fixture. I like the idea that you are free and not bound to this light fixture, which often is in the middle of a room. Instead you just need a hook and can hang it anywhere you want. You can use one of two hooks, hang Palo vertical or diagonally, and with the nice little mechanism control the omitted light to have a pleasant light in the room.
What does Scandinavian design mean to you, and would you say that it influence your designs?
I like everything about the sensibility of Scandinavian design, it is minimal and sophisticated. Denmark in particular is really ahead in design and I like the fact that people mind about quality, material and details. In many ways I think Danish and Scandinavian producers are some of the best, because they have such a long-standing culture of design and craftsmanship, at the same time they are not afraid of colours and new ideas. That creates a fresh open mind-set and pleasant work spirit, as well as an honest interest in aesthetics.
What has been your favourite project to work on up to date?
I can’t tell. I like most of my projects, it´s like having kids, you grow with them. But what I enjoy most about my work is to collaborate with producers like Hans. It is important that you have a vision and are truly interested in the product. Only if my client is willing to invest in details and understands what design is about you can end up with a good product. I personally am interested in working on products that are sustainable and not trendy, so I enjoy when I see them in action.
If you could only design one type of furniture for the rest of your career, what would it be?
Possibly lamps, I think that light has it´s own magic. You have two personalities in one, the lamp has to work as a sculpture when it´s not in use, and it has to work in the dark when you need the light. I like this two-sided aspect of it.
What other designers out there do you look up to?
There are so many beautiful things out there. I look up to a lot of old Italian designers, like Sottsass, Castiglioni, Enzo Mari but also to Scandinavian designers like Hans Wegner, Alvaar Alto, Finn Juhl – all masterminds and full of creative fire. I love the work of the Bouroullec brothers and really enjoy seeing architecture. One of my favourite studios is Herzog de Meuron. I enjoy minimal design with soft elegant lines, and a sense of balancing both proportions and purpose.
What makes you stand out amongst other designers?
You know for me it´s more about my work, the objects themselves should stand out. Not so much my person, I like to be the one helping them to come alive and be realised. As a designer maybe the one thing that is different is that I am one of very few women in design, most studios are led by male designers, just like in architecture. And having two small kids I start to understand why, you need a lot of passion for this work, support of your partner and creative freedom.
What is your most treasured belonging?
I really like the mobile, which my partner the artist Leif Low-Beer made for me after the birth of our first son Milo. It is a simple mobile with big rings out of coloured felt. I just love everything about it, the colours and the simplicity, but also the love with which it was made and given to me. Leif´s work always makes me smile.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In my studio, full of people I like, working together on a great project. Perhaps on an interior design or a sofa. I would really like to design a hotel one day. Currently we are planning to move to Toronto and I will need to work from a new place, so I hope I will find a nice one and still be able to keep my place in Berlin, going back and forth. It will be a challenge, but I think it can work. Ask me in five years.
“Working with Hans Peter Munk has been wonderful. MUNK is a young Danish brand and I believe that the attention to detail and love for the work which Hans brings into the company is special, he cares about the design and the designers he works with and that is not given in such a fast moving industry of consumption. It is good to be mindful – both as a designer creating something new and someone buying something new. And I hope you feel this. After all I personally want to create things that work and last for a long time.”