There's unassuming greatness in a soccer goal according to Sam Hecht, a co-founder of Industrial Facility, the London-based design studio behind hundreds of Muji's products, office systems for Herman Miller, gorgeously restrained furniture, and much more. For the second installment in our Design Deconstructed series (the inaugural story featured Cooper Hewitt curator Ellen Lupton on a masterwork of poster design) he chose to unpack the merits of this humble, well-known piece of sports equipment.
Co.Design: Tell us about why you decided to deconstruct the soccer goal. Why does it fascinate you?
Sam Hecht: For me, it's interesting to chose something that's public and that you don't necessarily own. Because of that, the appreciation of it is shared among more people.
The idea of a goal in football attracts me because it's something that is a visualization of a system, a set of rules, and those sets of rules are completely fictional. They're totally man-made. They could be anything.
Someone has laid down a set of rules, and part of that is visualizing them. So you have a series of borders on the field and two goals on either end. There's something very, very beautiful about being able to spend 90 minutes playing a football match within a set of rules that are made up that everyone abides by.
When I design it's somewhat similar in that everything I create is also a visualization of some system. That system is utterly man-made—it's not absolute truth. So when I work, I am visualizing the system behind it, whether it's a telephone or a chair or anything.
In some ways, the football goal is the purest form of visualization.
Just like a set of parameters dictates the game, parameters dictate design.
Yes. Everyone creates their own rules for certain situations. And that includes everything we've consumed. There are certain criteria you have to perform within. The point I'm trying to make is that the football field and the goals are symbols of a system that we enjoy. What's also fascinating about it is that when I walk through a park and see a set of goals, I instinctively want to have a game and a kick. It's something very attractive and very compelling.
When you have a set of rules, you actually get a lot of freedom. Graphic designer Otl Aicher said you need a set of rules to actually tell yourself that you have a lot of freedom. If you don't have rules, it's hard to actually get a sense that you are experiencing freedom. Freedom in the sense of football is this idea you can wake up in the morning and it might be a cloudy, miserable kind of day but you get up and you get your football kit on and your football boots and you go out onto a field and you play with other people in a strict regime where there will generally be a winner and a loser. And within those 90 minutes, you feel as though you have a lot of freedom as a person, as a human being. You're enjoying the sport.
There's also something extremely beautiful and enjoyable about seeing how the net moves when a ball makes it into the goal and the tension when the ball hits one of the posts.
If you watch it on T.V. and they replay the goal in slow motion, you see the goalie diving for it and missing it. Then the ball continues on its trajectory, it hits the goal, then it goes down and hits the net. Then you see the net flying up and very curvaceously moving with the ball and bringing it back to the ground. It's an extremely beautiful, satisfying, and celebratory feeling. It's very primordial. Perhaps it's because even though the goal is representing a system of play, a set of rules, perhaps when you do score a goal, you feel you've broken it. You've broken through that system and you've achieved something and it's extremely beautiful.
When I last saw the World Cup, they had designed beautiful goals where the net itself was a reflection of the football. The football is made up of a series of hexagons and they used the same hexagons as the grid for the net of the goals. It was a lovely kind of connection between the ball and the net.
Tell us about the parameters you typically use as a designer. Do they change or are they static?
The way we work and the way we live obviously influence the office's output. And there's automatically a particular way of looking at the world. On top of that, there are obviously certain parameters or certain constraints: you want to sell more, you want to experiment, you want to develop a particular new type of business for the company. In every project that we do, there is a slight autobiographical nature only because of the way that we look at the world. That comes with being Industrial Facility. We're not going to put ourselves into another person's shoes. That's fairly meaningless.
Your lamp for the Swedish company Wästberg is soon to launch. What specific parameters influenced the design?
Wästberg was a young company. They were essentially born in the age of LEDs. The interesting thing for us about LEDs is that they are purely electronic light. To control it and to provide the light, you need to involve the electronics, so printed circuit boards, microchips—all these things that go with providing the correct type of light. It's a very, very different world from older lighting where you essentially designed the the materiality around the lamp.
When you design with LEDs, you're designing the electronics and not just the lamp. When we put that in the context of Wästberg, it made perfect sense for them to pioneer a new type of lamp, something that's very useful to people and that leverages its electronic status. The w152 is able to provide very good USB power. It has a power-management facility so it knows what you're plugging in and always gives the correct amount of power for you to charge or use whatever you plug in. It can charge the newest Apple laptops. Generally, when you're using this power, you need a light source so that's how the combination came about.
What were the challenges in the Wästberg lamp and how did you design around them?
Finding a meeting point between the form of the lamp, the light output, and the way it would emit light required a lot of science and engineering. It was a very difficult balance.
When you involve electronics, it's easy to say everything about the lamp can be electronic, including the switches. And I was quite strong in wanting to have a physical button that you could press on and off to activate the lamp rather that a touch or motion activation. They're very unnatural, in a way, because you're still conditioned to press things and have some tactile feel That was a point of going back and forth and persuading the company.
And then also the ability to put it into different types of places. What we did was we wanted the lamp to be able to be set into a table or into a wall or any surface, but also be a product that's freestanding.
When we design, we're always on the side of the customer. We want to have very enjoyable, pleasing products that don't frustrate you but also give you some aspiration and some freedom. In some ways we're guardians of what customers expect.
What constitutes a strong design, generally speaking?
A strong design to me is a design that doesn't show its compromises. What I mean by that is pretty much all design has to navigate some through some form of compromise, because it's not art. It has to get through these compromises to arrive at something that's very, very strong.
For us, the strength in our work is essentially knowing all of the potential compromises up front, at the beginning of the process. We try to listen to research, to really understand what pitfalls there might be so when we start to develop our thoughts and our approach to the project, they're rooted in reality. That way, the strength of the design will not have been diluted by the end. There's very little change between out first ideas and the products people buy. That's what I look for in a strong design of other people's work. I can see that they have very cleverly been able to overcome any potential compromise or problem whereby the strength of the idea and the beauty of the execution has not been affected by it.