Designing for 2120: An Interview with Lars Holme Larsen

Dear 2120,

Permit me, if you will, to intervene in your daily routine, which might involve managing an army of problem-solving artificial intelligence serfs utilizing vast amounts of accumulated data in the efforts to overcome the many challenges thrust upon you by us, your cerebrally impaired ancestors. That is, if the futurist predictions of my next interviewee turn out to be true.

larsenlarsen

Lars Holme Larsen.

On that note, I’d like to introduce you to my former employer and one of 2017’s very best designers: the award-winning Lars Holme Larsen, former Head of Design at KiBiSi and the current Founding Head of Design at Kilo. Other than being a world-class creative responsible for products like AIAIAI’s prize-winning TMA-2 Modular headphones, Carlsberg’s biodegradable Green Fiber Bottle and a diverse range of other bold, aesthetically sustainable design, Lars is also a very reflective man who spends a lot of time anticipating what the future might bring and how to go about meeting the inevitable challenges. You can probably guess why I’d like to talk to this guy.

A proud father of three, he has vested interests in creating a future where the next generation can grow up without having to navigate a gnarly, sci-fi-dystopian scenario. This has made Lars steer his design company, Kilo, in a socially responsible direction that could have lasting, positive impact on our resource-depleting consumption through forward-thinking, design-driven innovation.

Other than that, Lars’s products have this rad, iconic and timeless character to them. An innate, archetypal quality that comes with labouring incessantly over them and tweaking every little detail for a vast number of hours. This makes them look like they could last for the next 1000 years and survive several apocalypses. I mean, look at them:

Aiaiai_TMA2_Preset_03

AIAIAI’s TMA-2 Modular Headphones.

Oblong_02 (1)

Bulbul’s Oblong watch. 

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The packaging for the TMA-2 Modular headphone system.

LampThe Bend lamp. 

Despite his somewhat grave concerns for the future, talking to Lars actually makes me feel sort of hopeful. Like everything’s gonna be alright. If it all goes according to the Kilo plan, at least, I’d say his game-changing take on idea- and solution-driven design will have positive repercussions that you should be able to feel all the way up to 2120.

Could you start out by introducing yourself and your design philosophy to our future readers? One thing that’s stuck with me is your concept of aesthetic sustainability.

Aesthetic sustainability is actually a philosophy that grew out of the Danish design tradition. It’s about creating a product with a certain aesthetic and quality that we perceive as appealing. We can see it as a part of our daily lives; today, tomorrow, in 5 years and in 10 years. That’s how the concept of the ‘classic’ came to be. A certain level of quality is required to survive. Or that you can update, make repairs, reupholster it and so on. I’m pretty taken with that product cycle. Designing the product that’s needed, as opposed to just designing a product. The one that you max out on all parameters, making it the best that you can get or the standard in its category.t was easier to design an aesthetically sustainable chair in the 50s because of the simple fact there weren’t that many different chairs then. Today, it’s been varied to a degree where there’s an overwhelming abundance of stuff, and you probably don’t need that many new chairs. Unless you can design a better chair.

scoop-3

The Scoop chair from +Halle designed by KiBiSi.

Generally, the biggest challenge right now is the speed with which we consume. There was a time when we would get a leather jacket and a pair of jeans, and we never really had to replace them. At some point, people started going: ‘Hey, we can sell that stuff.’ That’s when you started having two fashion seasons. Then there were four seasons. And now you get the feeling that they launch something new every week. For me, that’s one of the biggest ‘stealers.’ The way we’ve taught humanity to consume. Because we’re slowly but surely digging our own grave. I come from that cycle, but I’ve tried to take Kilo into a different direction, which means that we say no to a lot of clients and invest more in products and companies that can make a difference in the world.

Carlsberg_GFB_02At step in the right direction: Designed by Kilo and made from sustainably sourced wood fiber, Carlsberg’s new Green Fiber Bottle creates 0% waste. 

So time in a crucial factor in all this? The speed of consumption is the biggest challenge in creating sustainable design?

Yes, because the cycle is accelerating. You can interrupt it in two ways; either the consumer does it, meaning that they have to refuse to consume at the current speed. The other way is for companies to find a way of slowing down the rate and still make money. The thing is that there are commercial interests invested in the contemporary cycle of consumption. If we don’t buy all the shit they throw at us it stops. But maybe it isn’t a case of one or the other, maybe it’s a case of both. Consumers should be aware of the resources that we’re sitting on, and the way we manage it. The problem is that we all want what new and what’s fresh. But do we really have to have a new phone every year?Producing these kinds of products leaves a relatively large footprint. When I look at what’s going on at the moment, I feel fortunate that I’ve been born in a good place on this planet. With good fortune, comes responsibility. And when you’re sitting on the resources, it’s only fair that you carry a bigger share of the burden and give back.

 

‘..maybe AI is actually what might save us. For example, discovering the cure for cancer is within foreseeable reach. The scientific process is accelerating, and if we get much better and effective at treating the accumulated data through AI, who’s to say that we can’t solve similar problems within a year – instead of, say, 10 or 20 years?’

 

Looking at recent development in a positive light, maybe AI is actually what might save us. For example, discovering the cure for cancer is within foreseeable reach. The scientific process is accelerating, and if we get much better and effective at treating the accumulated data through AI, who’s to say that we can’t solve similar problems within a year – instead of, say, 10 or 20 years? But ultimately, this also creates a huge problem if people don’t leave Earth. We’re 7 billion people now and we’ve fucked it up. If that number keeps on rising at the same pace without the corresponding number the other way, you’re looking at insurmountable, fundamental challenges relating to how we live. All of this makes 2120 an interesting concept. I’m basically what you could call a decent person. I don’t get a kick out of cheating, I don’t think it’s cool to trash things. I believe in working in a conscientious way with what you’ve been given within the existing framework. And I have to live with how I work, which means that certain things probably take longer – and they don’t become extreme since it’s all placed in the middle somewhere to make all the ends meet.

Is being a decent person something you think will still be relevant in 2120? Are you an optimist as far as that stuff in concerned?

A quick glance at the world would seem to suggest that values are slipping. But I believe in love as a fundamental value that ties people together. Part of this is being inclusive and getting close to other people. This is my reservation about social media; it makes you think that you’re close to other people, it makes you think that people love you – but you can be damn sure that most of them don’t.

 

‘When I design I want to create the standard by which all other designs are met. I’d like to create icons that live forever. Then again, it’s hard to say what the future brings. It’s essentially a dream.’

 

Tell me about the thoughts behind AIAIAI’s TMA-2 Modular?

The TMA-1 which we designed in 2009 has now been transformed into TMA-2 Modular. Working from a circular approach, we’re meeting the consumer in a way which was totally new at the outset. It’s essentially about getting the user to buy into the product by constructing their own, unique headphone from a range of components. This flexibility creates less waste since we don’t have to go keep coming out with entire headphones in a steady succession. We can just introduce new parts and components. This means that consumers don’t have to throw an entire product on the scrap heap, they can just upgrade, making it a concept that’s much less harmful to the environment while simultaneously being better for the bottom line.

Modular_01

To me, that’s an ingenious way of securing the product’s relevance for the future – by making environmental concerns and business interests coalesce.

Yes, to a certain degree. But when we’re all running around with an implant in our jaw, we’ll probably be looking back and saying: ’Hey man, do you remember that time when we all rocked headphones?’ By which I mean to say that this concept also has a lifespan that stops if we look further ahead. But you have to play the cards you’re dealt within your given framework. For us, this has been a way of creating an innovative solution that’s good for business while being socially conscious.

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Grime rapper, Novelist, rocking the TMA-2 Modular headphones in his London studio. 

And it’s not just about headphones. This can apply to other industries as well. Maybe it’s not that smart to just make something out of straw, you know? You have to design products that meet the market. But this is about how we conceive systems around consumption. I personally think it’s a good idea, plain and simple. Designing is about sampling different bits of culture, and I think it works when these bits come together in the right way. That’s when you get products that stand the test of time, like the TMA-1 headphone. It’s a powerful link between different bits that doesn’t go away. Ticking off all these different boxes that creates the good idea, is what it’s about for me. When I design I want to create the standard by which all other designs are met. I’d like to create icons that live forever. Then again, it’s hard to say what the future brings. It’s essentially a dream.

 

‘Nothing we make is ever 100% perfect. Reality sucks.’

 

But you have still have the ambition, right?

Of course. When we’re in the studio, we set the bar high and we go for creating unparalleled design. Still, nothing we make is ever 100% perfect. Reality sucks. There are so many parameters you have to contend with. The end result of the design process is the best you can possibly get – within the context existing at the time. If we talk about design in 2120, I don’t think TMA-2 Modular will still be around. But I think it’s in a museum somewhere. TMA-1 is at SFMOMA in their permanent design collection and I hope that the way in which TMA-2 Modular is conceived might have some kind of place in history.

sfmomis

AIAIAI’s TMA-1 at SFMOMA

Which of your products do you think stands the biggest chance of making it to 2120?

Assuming we haven’t trashed the planet completely, it’s… This is going to sound lame, but the best design I’ve made are my kids. If we include them in the design category, I can tell you that they’re much more work (laughs). With respect to my other designs, I hope that some of the products we created have helped spur positive developments. In terms of relevance and the future, we’ve just designed a product called Woobi, which is an anti-pollution mask for children.

woobi

Designing for the next gen: designed by Kilo, the Woobi Play anti-pollution mask for children filters at least 95% of dangerous airborne particulate matter. 

If we can say one thing for certain, it’s that we’re not going to get less pollution in the coming years. So that might still be around since it’s made for the next generation. Woobi is part of a general shift in our strategy, which is to stop the design of superfluous products and start to react to a rapidly changing world with appropriate products. Obviously, changing things is not going to happen from one day until the next. Considering the fashion industry and its all-consuming need for newness, behavioral change is a slow, incremental process.

Going back to artificial intelligence, is that something you could see yourself being a design partner on?

Possibly. I think that the human brain can only invent and design so much during its lifetime. If we’re to survive as a species, I don’t think it’s the human brain that will answer the pressing questions related to overcoming the daunting challenges. That will likely be facilitated by AI. The fact that you can crunch accumulated data and work at a rate, which is out of the range of human capacity presents undeniable advantages. In the efforts to fix problems that we created, but are unable to fix, I think artificial intelligence might be a significant factor.

 

‘I think design in the future will be used as a tool to solve problems and overcome challenges for humanity.’

 

This is a hard question, but what do you think good design will look like in a hundred years?

First of all, the aesthetic notion, the concept of beauty, which we currently operate with is firmly placed at the top of the Hierarchy of Needs. It’s only relevant in a world where we don’t really have any challenges. I think design in the future will be used as a tool to solve problems and overcome challenges for humanity. Going forward, our obsession with how we look and what kind of clothes we wear will be completely irrelevant.

At some point in my career it became extremely important to me to not be one of those designers that just added to the consumption party. Saying no to certain things comes with the territory when you think in those terms. I’m not an artist. I don’t have a need to create just for the sake of it. I do, however, want to take part in making things better by creating solutions for the ambitious clients that we work with.

That sounds like it might be the future of design.

I sure hope so. It might not be the easiest way to make money, but if I can balance these elements in way, so that I can make decent living for my family, and take part in creating a better world, I’m happy. In my heart of hearts I believe there’s a universality that can last into the future, and I think it’s based on creating essential solutions instead of just random solutions.

marceldett

Berghain-resident DJ, Marcel Dettmann, using the TMA-2 headphones. 

I am not an artist, I see my job more as a midwife helping the design to evolve. We only add the ingredients needed – no more, no less. I’d rather clean out and find the fundamental substance. You have to work at this. When you’ve invested enough love and hours into a given product, it starts to take on a universal and iconic character that straight-up minimalism just doesn’t have. That’s the goal; to establish that universality. An example of this is the Green Fiber Bottle we designed for Carlsberg, which is 100% biodegradable and has the potential to create lasting change by way of its circular concept. To me that has universal relevance.

Any last remarks for our readers in 2120?

In 2017, we’re at a point where things are so fucked that it can’t be about me or you – it’s about us. There’s something very wrong about the richest 1% of the world population owning the same as the 99 % remaining. Creativity has to be focused on improving lives for all of us. We need multinational companies who are interested in creating a better future, and getting consumers interested in changing things.

This interview was translated from Danish into English. Keep up with Lars’s prescient design solutions over at: www.kilodesign.dk  

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