An interview with Industrial Designer Yiannis Ghikas about the future of design in Greece and abroad.

With a background encompassing Computer Science alongside Design, Yiannis Ghikas employs functionality as the ultimate purpose of his designs, while exploring their potential emotive responses. He sees design as a process of satisfying needs either tangible or intangible. His “Monarchy” stool received the Red Dot Design award in 2009 and he has worked with companies like feld (Belgium), Objekten (Belgium), miniforms (Italy), convex (Greece), the Industrial Gas Museum/Athens and Non Sasn Raison (France), while his work has been exhibited internationally.
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Would you say that Greece has a distinct design identity? Which are the country’s national characteristics that could be used in that direction? I don’t think that Greek design has a distinct identity and to be honest, one can hardly say that Greek design even exists as a term – at least not with the significance and the sense that it is used for its Swedish or British equivalents. Pointing out the characteristics of Greeks that differentiate them from others and that could be used in product design is not an easy task. My opinion is that there needs to be an inter-disciplinary study with the participation of historians, folklorists, sociologists, even social psychologists and other scientists, in order to define ‘Greekness’ at all levels. The results of this study could then be made available to all kinds of designers, allowing them to incorporate them in their work. This might sound a bit over the edge, however only such a process, along with the contribution of education – e.g. by establishing a respectable education institute of design (along with whatever that might require) – can give birth to a systematic and distinct Greek design identity.

Do you believe that simple and easily assembled objects have become a necessity in an age of constant movement and lack of time? I believe that the main reason behind this turn towards simple, easily assembled objects is the reduced cost associated with their moderate volumes. Large volumes result to increased storage costs and, more notably, transportation costs. Taking into account that products nowadays are designed, manufactured and consumed in different locations, one can easily understand why flat-pack products have become an obvious necessity.

The use of environmentally friendly materials and processes has not yet become common practice in the field of industrial design. Would you say that that’s a result of their lack of practicality or simply a lack of motives? I think that the answer to this question is similar to the answer to “Why do political leaders keep following the same path with regards to energy production policies despite the warnings of scientists about climate change?”. Choices on materials and production processes are usually not up to designers to make, but in most cases are presented to them as given facts. However, at an experimental level, many designers and scientists – such as e.g. material technologists – work on more environmentally friendly solutions. Yet, between experiment and actual implementation lies a gap, defined by economic and other factors. Looking at the past, one will see a tendency for improvement. For example, fiberglass – widely used in the ‘50s – has now been abandoned due to its toxicity and has been replaced by eco-friendly plastics.

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Monarchy Stool

Would you say that the objects you design reflect your feelings or are they simply a result of strict rational thinking? I don’t think that it is easy for any person, in any activity, to clearly set apart feelings and rational thinking. That’s precisely what takes place when designing objects: the end result reflects both rational thinking and feelings.

You have collaborated successfully with many companies, both in Greece and abroad. How do you approach the design of an object in order to take into account the cross-cultural characteristics of its projected use? I have indeed collaborated with some Greek and foreign companies. In most cases, those collaborations involved putting into production designs that I had already completed, while in other cases there was such a high degree of cultural relevance with the market being addressed and such a small investment required, that a cross-cultural study wasn’t deemed necessary. Such a study became more necessary in my latest project ‘Sam loves Betty’ (commissioned by Biocidetech), as it involves a higher degree of mass production that targets both EU and non-EU markets.

In what way should Greek industrial designers be supported by the state in order for their work to be showcased abroad in a more systematic way? To start with, the state should realize the potential gains associated with industrial design and other similar sectors. In other countries, studies are held to evaluate the contribution of design to the national economy. Once the associated benefits have been made known, the state should move towards supporting Greek designers. How could that take place? Almost all the countries that value and benefit from design have state agencies dedicated to it, such as e.g. ‘The Foundation for Design and Architecture in Norway’. This is an agency that carries out various activities for promoting Norwegian design. These include taking part in exhibitions both across the country and abroad, such as e.g. ‘100% Norway’, which – in collaboration with the Norwegian embassy in London – has become a regular at the London Design Week over the past 10-15 years. Their support also includes awarding scholarships to designers in order for them to take part in workshops, seminars etc.

One should point out however, that such a ‘state’ initiative in Greece could be full of pitfalls. The past has proven that in Greece there are a number of people who specialize at abusing state mechanisms, eating up funds, producing next to nothing simply to justify their position and their income, contributing nothing at all and having no actual relationship, passion and knowledge of the sector they’re involved with. There should also be an education institution in place dedicated to design, in line with similar schools that exist abroad. Of course, one can easily argue that this is rather off the table given the current situation in Greece.

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‘Game of trust’

You initially trained in a completely different field, as is the case for many other art and design professionals. What would your advice be towards young people who want to work on something that really interests them? First of all, I would advise parents to offer their children stimuli of a varying nature from an early age, in order for them to discover their interests while they’re still young. In turn, I would advise young people to work hard and keep trying, staying informed and critical towards their work. In addition, to communicate and collaborate with other creative people, and avoid making economic success their top priority. If they keep trying despite the difficulties they come across, that would mean that they really love what they’re doing – and it is only a few that show that kind of dedication to their practice.