Olafur Eliasson will not compromise on his vision. So when it came time for the Danish-Icelandic artist to position his latest project in the marketplace, the he enlisted the expertise of brand consultancy Wolff Olins to help craft and define an identity that felt true, and aligned with his goal for the product. Little Sun is a small, solar-powered light that can last for five hours with just four hours of charging.
“Olafur had the piece of hardware and the ambition, which was to get light to all these people who are off-grid,” Wolff Olins chairman Brian Boylan tells Co.Design. The challenge was finding an elusive sweet spot that highlighted its role as piece of art and functional object for all. Before Little Sun’s debut earlier this year at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Addis Ababa (where Eliasson walked around wearing one like a necklace), they landed on a slogan that sums it up: “A work of art that works in life.”
The firm was then responsible for creating all Little Sun’s visualization, from the sun-on-a-string logo to the structure of the site itself. The ultimate goal is to create an enterprise in the (RED) model (an effort which Wolff Olins also worked on). But philanthropy only goes so far–they also needed to establish a business model.
“The idea is that the bulk of the profit will be at the point of need–and the point of need is off-grid,” Boylan says. “We had to make a structure where those living without power would want to sell Little Sun, and indeed set up small businesses around selling them.” In order to achieve this, manufacturing in China as opposed to Europe will keep costs “extraordinarily low,” and “on-grid” buyers will pay a price that also includes retail and distribution. “There used to be a belief that charity was the answer. It’s not the answer,” Boylan says. “If people can make money, they’ll be much more motivated. That is a very crucial part of this.” In the next decade they hope to see 50 million Little Suns in hands and homes around the world, a step towards the overarching desire to unite through light.