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The decisive 13 seconds

Magazine Contact #18

Industrial designer Andreas Krob of B4K has developed products for many of the major players in the office furniture branch, one of his swivel chairs even made it into the latest James Bond film. The North German in his adoptive country of Switzerland is currently hammering and polishing on a re-design for Wiesner-Hager. We were able to briefly wrench him away from his work for our interview.

“The cobbler’s children wear the most tattered shoes” – does that also apply to designers? What’s your office like…your desk and chair?

Krob: [laughs] Yes, there’s some truth to that. In our lives there are just prototypes. On one hand we have to test them, on the other they are the source of inspiration. Furniture we buy doesn’t last long, as we always dismantle it to see what’s behind it.

 

A new project, a new challenge. How do you approach your work?

Krob: I usually approach it directly from the first rough sketches and make 1:1 prototypes out of plywood. I rarely do renderings.

 

Really? Isn’t most of a product designer’s work meanwhile done on the computer monitor?

Krob: Renderings have a 13-second half-life. If you contrast that against approx. two weeks of work then that doesn’t make sense.

 

Why precisely 13 seconds?

Krob: Well, if a customer looks at the rendering and says, “I don’t like it!”, then I have to start from scratch again.  If he says, “I like it!”, however, then he will want to see a model afterwards. One way or another it’s 13 seconds for two weeks work. So I prefer to make a prototype right away that the customer can examine and test from all sides.

 

How do you get your commissions?

Krob: I enjoy developing products for myself and then I take them to potential customers. That’s also how it was at Wiesner-Hager when I presented a chair. Only it went differently, as the feedback on my proposal was: “We don’t want the chair but could you design a table for us?” Thus the chair became a table.

 

You are strongly rooted in the office sector. How did this come about?

Krob: In my early days, Giancarlo Piretti advised me to do office furniture, as I make the most money with it proportionately – but that was just well-meaning advice with a wink.

 

So what was it then?

Krob: Firstly, it is the function of the piece of furniture. I can’t re-invent sitting, for example – human proportions are not going to change so quickly. But the manner  of sitting, that’s changed. Office chairs, for example, have turned from pure sitting devices into interactive, communicative pieces of furniture. It is very interesting for me to solve the wide variety of problems here. Secondly, the office furniture branch is extremely professional and a serious need exists behind the challenges. That also suits my temperament, my style of working.

 

So you’re saying that design is a damn serious matter for you?

Krob: Around 70 percent of the work, yes. The remaining 30 percent I keep free for fun projects and inspiration. That’s how a leather organiser or a skimboard ends up getting created, which develops into a constantly growing business.

 

A skimboard?

Krob: Yes, I developed this for my two boys. With skimboards you ride a flat, oval disc on shallow water on the beach and do tricks and “moves”. The previous boards were not very robust. Stones and shellfish cut through the resin, the wooden board absorbed water and broke. During one project I came across an extremely resistant material where that doesn’t happen anymore. Well, word of this got around. We meanwhile produce skimboards under the name of “skimbowl” and distribute  them on the internet worldwide, mainly via Facebook.

 

An unusual line of business for an office furniture specialist!

Krob: [laughs] Yes, definitely, I first had to get used to that myself. In the middle of the night messages trickled in from god knows where, talking about what trick had just worked with which board.

 

How did you and your wife as North Germans actually end up in Switzerland?

Krob: That was for professional reasons. We wanted to go into business for ourselves and looked on the map where we would be the most centrally located for our clients. That ended up being Switzerland!

 

Many a North German has written an entire book about their experiences in the Alpine Republic – how was it for you? Or does it sound more exotic than it is?

Krob: The move wasn’t hard for us. People say that the Swiss are somewhat reserved – we North Germans are also somewhat reserved. To that extent we acted with a great deal of respect and were marvellously received. Our children were still quite young, they even speak Swiss German now!

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