WHEN you talk about product design in South Africa, the brand Dokter and Misses (DAM) is one of the first to be mentioned.
From the start it was clear that Adriaan Hugo and Katy Taplin were going to have a big impact on the design landscape. One of the attractions of the pair's work is that they have a strong South African voice and identity, while staying in tune with international trends.
Their products are playful, colourful, modern and avant garde, and stripped of frills. The approach is strongly reminiscent of the Italian architect/designer Ettore Sottsass and the artist/designer Nathalie du Pasquier who turned the world upside down in the 1980s with their Memphis movement — their furniture has been described as a shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher-Price. Bright colours, geometric shapes and strong patterns were harnessed for postmodern furniture, lighting, fabrics, carpets, ceramics, glass and metal objects.
I asked Adriaan and Katy a few questions.
Where did you study and meet?
A friend of ours, Zander Blom, introduced us to each other. Katy studied graphic design in Pretoria and I studied industrial design in Johannesburg.
How and when did you decide to work together and finally start Dokter and Misses?
Our first project was cardboard handbags that we made for the SA Fashion Week. That's where Katy with her 2D (graphic design) and I with my 3D (industrial design) background officially came together.
What inspires your furniture?
We feel very connected to our place and our time. Wherever that is. We get inspiration from the here and now. Music, architecture, culture, art. We try to innovate and always come up with new forms and interpretations of materials and techniques. It is not something I can put into words, but if we feel it and can see it in our mind's eye, we must bring it into the world.
Was there anyone who had a big influence on your work and aesthetic?
Adriaan's first job was with Gregor Jenkin [known for his contemporary versions of, for example, Cape Dutch tables made of mild steel], so he was a big influence early in our career. Not his style, but how he looks at life and design.
Then also Memphis, Italian radical design, Bauhaus, and the artist Esther Mahlangu.
But these days we try to get away from design inspiration, people and movements if we want to be creative. There is just too much on the internet. We try to look away to see something new.
How do you work? Do you conceptualise together? How do you divide the work? Is one more practical than the other? Or maybe more creative?
We work together in different ways at different times of the process.
We work together at the beginning to solidify the idea. Then we give the idea time to develop between the two of us, kind of like a relay. After that it is my job to look after the production. Katy then works on the surface finish. I look more at the production side where Katy looks more at the user experience side. It's like an orchestra where everyone plays separately but together.
Are there any processes you need to outsource?
Yes, but everything comes back together in the studio.
Do you collaborate with other designers?
Not really, but we do with other makers such as Ngwenya Glass from Swaziland and the Gone Rural grass weavers, also from Swaziland.
Are there design limitations on your products due to too little expertise and industrial possibilities in SA?
No, I think it has more to do with the market. If the market had been bigger, we could think bigger and take more risk.
What materials do you prefer to work with?
For us, materials are like words in our language and we speak Dokter and Misses. But we work a lot with steel.
What happens if you disagree?
Then we go back and think some more.
How has the business changed and grown over the years? Are there things you are doing now that were not part of the original plan?
Yes, we “manage" too many things and design too little. But we are changing the trend slowly but surely.
Do you sell a lot of products on social media or more from your website? Or does exhibiting and belonging to a gallery work better?
We do a little bit of everything. Our collectible work is managed by Southern Guild gallery. It works very well. We are part of Always Welcome, a shop that sells South African design. They have stores in the Cape, Johannesburg, Windhoek and Hamburg. Then we have a sales team that does online and personal sales.
What would you like to do if anything was possible?
Just something that takes me away for a few months so I can be creative without worrying about the rest of the world. I look back to when we just started and the joy we got from just creating. I think it's the drug we always crave.
What is the product or project you are most proud of?
The Dokter and Misses brand.
Then there is the Horseman cabinet from the Kassena series that we showed at the Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial in New York. And with our latest work, “Sketches from the Edge", we again feel that we are moving forward with what and who Dokter and Misses is.
We are working hard to get international visibility, especially in America. We want to get out of our comfort zone and grow.
What would you say to young designers who want to start a similar business?
Find your own voice, build on it, work hard, be open to criticism, but focus on where you want to get to. And don't imitate others.
♦ VWB ♦
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