In 2015, while studying at the University of Applied Sciences Düsseldorf, German designer Benjamin Messingschlager came to Dublin to meet with and interview a host of Irish designers in order to establish what Irish design looks like and how it is made. The resulting publication, There's No Such Thing As Irish Design, can be read online (just brush up your German first...)
Could you tell us about your book There’s No Such Thing As Irish Design and the thinking behind it?
Talking about design there are some countries you might think of first – the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Scandinavian countries like Sweden or Denmark… but you probably wouldn’t think of Ireland. Nevertheless, or precisely because of this, I was wondering what Irish design does look like. And so after I quickly got bored of online research I pretty much just booked a flight to Dublin to meet people working in the field of design in Ireland and learn more about it at first hand.
How did this piece of work come about?
Actually, the background is quite pragmatic: I had to find a topic for my bachelor thesis. I really like this kind of design report and so I decided to give it a shot myself. And it turned out to be quite a good decision: after I had overcome some insecurities – going to a country I had never been before, knocking on doors of people I had never met before, asking them to talk with me about their careers in design industry as well as their views on design, none of it even close to my comfort zone – it went really well. In a relatively short amount of time I met some outright inspiring personalities and was able not just to learn a lot about design in Ireland, but also broaden my own view on design in general.
When you spoke to Irish designers in the process of creating this book, how did this idea resonate with them?
All Irish designers I talked to were very interested in my project. Actually, I was just stunned by the openness and kindness of really everyone I talked to during my whole research. They heartily welcomed me to their studios and workplaces, offered their support for my project and patiently answered all my questions. Some interviews lasted over two hours and often took place after work – however, I never felt refused.
Do you think it is important that Irish design work is recognisable as Irish design to an outside eye?
To be honest I don’t really think it’s that important for design in general to have a clear geographical origin. The world has become a much smaller place thanks to the internet and design might be one of the most affected industries. Today you can get inspiration from just anywhere around the world within seconds, trends are spreading in no time. It gets harder and harder to distinguish design by its origin or attribute a specific style to a specific country. I think at the end of the day it’s not that important that design work is recognizable as “Irish” – it’s important that design work is recognised as functional, well thought out and convincing, no matter where it comes from.
When you think of ‘Irish design’, what designers/agencies come to your mind and why?
The 24 great Irish designers I talked to during my research.
In your experience, how is Irish design, and Irish designers, perceived on the international stage?
That’s quite hard to tell. As I mentioned earlier, Ireland may not be the first country which comes to your mind when talking about design. If I would ask anyone working in the field of design around here in Germany to name just one Irish designer or some popular design work from Ireland, I’m quite sure almost everybody would fail miserably. And so would I, before my research. So without intending to sound harsh, I’m afraid Irish design may not be perceived at all on an international stage, and that is just because of a lack of knowledge. But that may change in the future – talking about quality of design there is absolutely no reason for Ireland to hide behind other countries which may be more famous for their design work. If my report could help to speed up this process even just so slightly, it would have been worth the effort. Speaking of which, I'm still looking for a publisher…