Jens Skisbted and Instant Icons
I met with current Danish designer Jens Skibsted about his book “Instant Icon” (available for now in Danish) and his upcoming English book “Brand Icon - The world’s most powerful marketing tool.” Jens recently premiered the Bamboo Bike designed by Ross Lovegrove at Salone de Mobile in Milan (The Milan Furniture Show). Jens runs Biomega Bikes and Skibsted Ideation out of Copenhagen with the strongly simple idea that long-lasting and well-made products (with smaller footprints) can be a powerful eco choice and contribute less to the landfill.
(www.skibstedid.com and www.biomega.dk)
The Movie “Objectified” that features Marc Newson’s bike for Biomega introduces to mass culture some of these ideas discussed here and is well worth seeing. To further this conversation, we will focus on the product and industrial design approach of Biomimicked products, which have a cradle-to-cradle focus to prevent brand landfills. Next in this series we will take a look at the eco ‘culture’ around design change.
For this conversation, Jens and I met on the corner and sat outside at a sunny North Beach San Francisco café sipping away. I was using my Mac and intermittingly taking notes with my handy MontBlanc pen – an iconic pen my father passed down to me as I will do when the time is right!
“Jens, sustainability has been on the mind of design, can you speak to the iconographic design approach we have been hearing about and thinking of?”
"Iconographic design is a big topic, covering over a third of the well-known product icons of industrial design. What we commonly hear about in this vernacular and to give a little background let’s cover a few icon categories out there:
1. Slow Starting: Design Classics. Form Changers Such As The Aeron Chair
Some consider this design super ugly and yet the healthy functionality of it allowed us to believe in and love the product. Because of this people purposefully adapted to the look. The Aeron Chair is a category leader. This is a slow starter category of form-driven changers whose design over time through value and familiarity move from uninteresting to taking up considerable space in our consciousness.
2. Democratic, Functional and Humble Masterpieces Like The Local Mailbox
Peter Fiel and his theories about icons being democratic must be mentioned here. While we never think of the mailbox as design it is. This category is about very functional objects that after a while are so familiar we give them meaning. The mailbox is a powerful icon in our culture showing how low design again gains meaning in our consciousness through the brutality of time. It has staying power, even if we move to pure virtual mail it will retain a creeping historical place of importance in our consciousness.
3. Instant Icons, Quickly Adopted Game Changers Like The Polaroid Camera
Typically these products are newer in form and function. What is notable about them is their paradigm-changing powers. Though this product or icon may not look that different, the thinking around them is by providing a new manner of use that inspiring other shifts and developments. The Polaroid looked like a camera but it’s image developed quickly. It is this category that began the impetus for the “Instant Icon” book.
The Walkman is another Instant Icon. These particular icons would last forever if not for their technology becoming obsolete. Instant Icons can morph into retro collectables, if not they are landfill bound. We want the icons of the future to be Instant due to visionary concept but long lasting due to brilliant usage of materials and consideration for long-term human necessity.”
“Jens, tell us about your current book, Brand Icon.”
"I had the idea for writing this book when I was working with the client Puma. Puma is a culture and lifestyle brand that gave us freedom to move within new product categories as we ideated future directions.
Regarding sports and design in Europe, Puma first focused on sports tech marketing and the very first forays into fashion with the likes of Jil Sander and Yasuhiro Mihara. Then not long ago, Jens Skibsted, Marcel Wanders and Philippe Stark started working for Puma. Those guys are design guys rather than fashionistas. A high design precedent was set.
The PUMA bike is the most meaningful PR product of all PR products they have made. It is very different from a fashion strategy as it has an attractive combination of movement and eco lifestyle. The bike is a statement meant to last versus a transitory seasonal design statement.
Transportation is a huge topic worldwide. Our Puma design approach has meaningful iconography - lifestyle expertly addressed with a depth and value of sustainable living, urban mobility and empowerment as we rethink and redesign our experiences on this earth.
Marc Newson's Biomega bike and Jens Skibsted's Puma bike became popular right away - instant icons. Unlike fashion, the bicycle doesn’t lose its appeal. Both of these bikes have staying power.
Newson and Skibsted brought forth a new way of approaching design for these seasonal brands: design with a new appeal, yet long-lasting use, where Fashion + ID integrity seemed to be instrumental in creating “Instant Icons.”
Blockbuster Versus Icon
Icons are not made in the design phase but rather in the visionary phase. In going about this, companies would do well to begin by differentiating between what is blockbuster and what is icon.
Icon is not defined by commercial success but rather by cultural success.
If they coincide, that is great. But if you look into the cabinets of MOMA you will find that not many of them are both. Rather they are instant icons from the cultural perspective with a slow burn of desire and collectability that builds a deeper relationship within the psyche of the user.
Why just a cultural success? Economy was most recently about how to create a product of ultimate desire and monetary results. Economy is now more emotionally meaningful: “If I create value for you, you will in turn give back some value.” With this, companies have added offers of meaningful social context to purchases, services and experiences via deeply human marketing alignments, which strengthen the interconnected value.
Now it is about this AND recognizing the possibility of a long-lasting contribution through a lengthy relationship with the product itself.
Today people seek cultural contribution, levels of interactive value and success in their lives. They need to know they are contributing to a part of the solution versus the overall problem, and this is top-of-mind everywhere today.
The cheap merchandise of the moment and the tendency to trick one into purchasing is still ongoing, but is much more costly to advertise and market these and people are gaining an understanding of this. The slow market and money approach means you may not buy it now, but you would over time and/or buy other products in the same product portfolio lending itself to brand loyalty. This is much cheaper to sustain marketing-wise and landfill-wise.
The cultural value is quite powerful, ingrained within it is a naturally meaningful marketing expense and approach taking us away from aspirational advertising, which has led to the over-consumption paradigm we are now in the middle of.
In summation there are 3 standout reasons to make design icons in general:
1. To create focus on your passion and intent, to build a natural and authentic attention for your product and purpose.
2. Products with longer life cycles will force a redesign in market delivery strategy and will increasingly speak less to market leadership strain and more about doing what is good and timely.
3. Global icons will help create products that are sustainable just in the fact that they last longer and provide deeper relationships, created for more considered human living.
This interview was co-written by Jody Turner and Jens Skibsted.
Elizabeth Adams is our editor, www.elizabethadams.biz
Part 2 of this Eco Design series will include conversations on Biomimicked Design and Materials in Sustainability.
More on Jens:
Instant Icon Facebook: “For those of us that think marketing & branding starts with an extraordinary product.”
Another Jens Biomega Product By Ross Lovegrove:
Each year Jody joins many in Malmo, Sweden speaking on sustainability via DesignBoost.se. Here Jens is captured speaking on meaningful design:
Check out another infamous Dane we will be interviewing for next month,
Kigge Hvid of The Index Awards focused on “Design To Improve Life.”
Note on author: Jody Turner lives a very simple life as a trender and designer in the US which allows her to study, report and speak about the business and design opportunities available in our world today. The world is facing an economic crisis due to an over production economy with less of a focus on what the consumer truly needs or is looking for today. A solution driven and problem solving education, experience, skill sharing and community building economy product base are the opportunity directions. It is Jody's intent to help those businesses that need opportunities and those needing reinvention and focus a helpful and true pathway forward.
Our world is facing grave economic disruption due to the choices we have made to date. It is our purpose at Culture of Future to usher in a new focus on opportunities unlike those we have created before. Today is a time of finding your personal passion and relinquishing that, which has not worked. It is no longer a time to serve a greater that does not consider the mass effect be it environmental or economic sustainability for the mass livelihood.
It is our hope that the slowing economy can kick start with new directions and consciousness benefitting all in a new way.