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“My studio is in California, on the beach but it’s taken me a long time to get there”. Thomas Meyerhoffer, 37 years old, from Stockholm, talks to SPD students about design from a personal viewpoint, as a designer who left school not many years before. Today he has experience in various countries behind him, work with small and medium-sized companies but also with ICT giants like Apple or NEC, as well as work in the development stage for Cappellini. Beyond the worldwide success of some of his designs, Meyerhoffer has gained the professional baggage of an awareness of the extent to which the approach to design changes according to the work situation: as a consultant, as a freelance professional with his own studio or inside a corporation.
This is why he insists the relationship with the client/company that the designer has to build should be in the light of listening and negotiation. It’s an attitude in which one has to be educated in order to achieve the aims in which one believes. “Design is a non-quantitative piece of information: so it’s very important to ask questions, to persuade and to promote design inside the company itself. (…) Some companies are able to understand what they need” he continues. “They can tell you they want a concept: in other cases, the brief is very specific and your work changes completely”.
It isn’t surprising that his experience in Apple should have made such a profound impression on his career. “When you work in a corporation, your results have a broader effect because you have access to mass production and your objects get distributed all over the world. (…) But you also have to learn to work with the resources that you have available to you, following the whole process and checking every stage”. When Thomas arrived at Cupertino the new chief designer, Jonathan Ive, was innovating Apple’s design. Meyerhoffer and a colleague became the drivers of this change. “The design wasn’t just creating new shapes for new computers but managing to do all this from the inside, respecting the needs of marketing people or engineers who often go in different directions to yours”. Apple had a strong core idea: “the computer was not for the office but the person”. And a key to his success was the possibility of orienting the engineering on the basis of design needs, using the latter as a lever to make everyone, inside and outside the company, understand the path they had started out on. “It’s like leading an army, you have your flags, your logo and everyone goes in the same direction”. To back up its new design Apple had the ability to change its marketing and advertising immediately. Instead of talking about everything and displaying the product in the corner, the attention was finally on the object. “Even the corporate image really started off from our work; then we went to see the ad agency. We took care of the positioning, enlarged the logo, used translucent colours, made the videos, created the identity…”.
Meyerhoffer reveals himself to be sceptical about consultants who create strategies from the outside, based on market research. He is convinced that by concentrating on the product, the image of a company can be radically changed in one or two years. “The company is the product itself because that’s how you, the consumer, perceive it, it has meaning for you and tells you a story”. This is why the meeting ends with a paradox: “Personally I’m not very interested in design itself. I love surfing more than anything. I think my job is building stories like in a puzzle. The traditional approach, of even really good designers, is “today I’ll sit down and do a sketch. “At school I used to think the most difficult thing was starting off. Today for me design is a continuous process. There are the various pieces you gradually make, which are added to your work in progress, and they lead you to ask yourself a question or to follow one direction instead of another”. A standpoint which is also supported by a phrase which appears on his websitewww.meyerhoffer.com : “I’m interested in icons that communicate a familiarity, objects from your memory. Once you emotionally engage with an object, you’ve started a relationship”.