Having been nominated for the German Design Award 2014 and being part of AD Selects, a curated collection by AD Magazine, the designer and founder of her eponymous Studio, Joa Herrenknecht, is one of today’s most promising designer of burgeoning Berlin’s creative scene. Here she shares her beginnings as a designer, her journey of establishing her own studio and what it takes to become a product designer.
I studied Product Design at Hochschule für Gestaltung in Karlsruhe, Germany where I had the chance to learn from the likes of Volker Albus, Werner Aisslinger, James Irvine and Stefan Diez. During my studies I had worked as an assistant for Patricia Urquiola in Milan and after graduating I moved to New York, where I worked as an assistant for Studio Dror. After that I moved to Sydney to follow a post-grad course in graphic and packaging design, I very much love graphic design and Sydney was a great experience for me. I really loved the atmosphere there, but decided to go back to Europe. The cultural diversity and mentality towards design is great here.
Joa on her Sushi couch
Because I always wanted to start a studio and I came to Berlin to work with a friend from Toronto. We tried out for three months but it was not really taking off, so I jumped into cold water and immersed myself into my own work. Fortunately that year I received the Red dot Award which helped launch my career.
It’s certainly a great starting point to get an award, but the reality is that you have to constantly push yourself and experiment by constantly creating and exploring multiple projects, to establish yourself long term. I work with lots of different materials in various product ranges which is very interesting to me but also tricky, as it is a huge field. I love doing lamps but also work on tables, carpets, sofas and experiment with a multitude of materials to push my creativity forward. Especially natural materials like wood, textile, leather, metal and porcelain are interesting, as well as marble. I think wandering around different areas is very important to me. Until now I was lucky enough to be able to try out various projects and it has been interesting to both work on commercial jobs and on things that I just want to work on, without having a producer.
It’s certainly a great starting point to get an award, but the reality is that you have to constantly push yourself and experiment by constantly creating and exploring multiple projects, to establish yourself long term.
Product design is very different to graphic or fashion design, everything is slower, so you have to learn to be patient. A carpet I designed for DWR for instance took eighteen months from the final drawing in 2013 to the sales of the product into the shop 2015. So compared to fashion design production loops are longer. The process is long as companies and designers have a lot of prototyping to do, different materials to check, prices and producers to choose from and logistics, transportation to think about, all this becomes a big machinery and a big investment for a large company, so they will think twice about producing a new item. Working through this process is not always easy for the designer, because our income is royalty based, I get a small percentage of each sold product so it asks for a lot of patience of the designer, and you have to build up a good range of products over the years to live of that. I sort of compare my job with that of an artist, who first has to be really productive, before someone comes along and wants to buy his or her work. You need to build a portfolio and develop your own style.
I sort of compare my job with that of an artist, who first has to be really productive, before someone comes along and wants to buy his or her work. You need to build a portfolio and develop your own style
I also do some graphic and interior design. Particularly I love working on interior design, and hope to do more of that. Last year we completed a yoga studio, it was our first bigger project, it was interesting as it is a completely different way of working. For these type of projects you have a time frame and a specific budget, whereas in product design you never really know how long it will take and how much it will sell. Sometimes, as a creative, it’s nice to have specific boundaries, to know how far you can go, what you can and cannot do. I would like to create some timeless pieces, products that you will also like in a couple of years from now. So I try to focus on aesthetics, clear geometries and lines and fresh colors. A wonderful product for instance is the Eames Chair DSW by Vitra, it is such an old design, but it became a classic and is still in use today, I think that is really wonderful. The search for a good form in combination with function is a real challenge, and fun.
When I decided to start my own studio I did it from zero and literally had to build everything from the ground up. Luckily I found a wonderful space to start, with great light and a good atmosphere, that was the first step. It was a big commitment and felt like a real decision to invest time and energy in this, but sometimes in life it’s good to step up and take a chance. The first step was the hardest one, but once I was running I realized that a lot of things come along without too much stress, it’s interesting how one idea branches out into a whole tree of ideas.
My partner at that time told me to get an intern because it would help me structure my day and I remember being so scared about it. He is a super organized person, and I was a bit worried about having someone working for me. But finding some help was one of the nicest things I ever did and one of the best advices I got. My first intern was wonderful and from then on I had several really good people coming in, two of them are still my part-time assistants, Mattia and Nina, and it feels a bit like a small family. I am lucky to have a good team around me and found some great craftsmen who help with prototyping. It would be great to grow a little more for sure as I enjoy working with a lot of people, once my own family is a bit more organized I want to push a bit more. I feel like I have tons of ideas, and would like to be much faster.
As I’m having my first baby soon I’m moving the studio to my home for a while, it will be interesting to find out how to balance those things. When I was working on my thesis I interviewed the designer Inga Sempé and was fascinated by her. Back then she worked from her home in Paris, she just had her second child, and I thought that it was quite impressive how she is organized. When you look at her line of productivity you almost don’t see a gap and I would love to emulate that.
Strong women are especially inspiring. I remember while working with Patricia Urquiola, I was amazed how productive she is. She reminds me of a volcano. I just recently read that she already realized 300 projects. Her team of about 30 people is amazing. When I worked there we were only 12 people – and it was like being under fire constantly. It’s great to feel a lot of energy and see work evolving. She is great in choosing and building a strong team around her, I think basically there is almost no home deco magazine without something of hers in it.. Very inspiring and amazing. It’s crazy to see how much you can do in life. I really believe that if you have a vision and a good focus things will happen. We are still really at the beginning and I feel like learning things every day. When I have a new idea I have to start to dig deep, do research and find out how to realize the project best possible. That is always a wonderful process and I’m lucky to have the kind of job that never gets boring.
Starting your own studio makes you grow up, not only as a creative but also as a person. During the past three
I learned many things but first and foremost I learned that the place where you work, the people you work with and how you treat them is the most important factor for a successful business and life in general.
In Germany success is called ‘Erfolg’ . My dad, who is a great engineer and quite successful in what he does, has always said to me that Erfolg is something that comes, it’s something that you build up over the course of time. ‘Folgen’ means to follow… It’s not a one-night thing. Doubts are normal but you just keep on going and focus on the outcome. You have to believe in what you do and work hard.
In Germany success is called ‘Erfolg’ . My dad, who is a great engineer and quite successful in what he does, has always said to me that Erfolg is something that comes, it’s something that you build up over the course of time. ‘Folgen’ means to follow… It’s not a one-night thing.
In the future I would love to teach, I think young students know a lot about what is going on right now but sometimes forget the history of design. It’s important to know the history of design and of other artistic fields. I would also like to do some more interior projects, like a restaurant or hotel or bar.