“In design there is space for both exploration as well as reasonable and pragmatic production.” Interview with Maja Ganszyniec
We discuss different design approaches, the recipe for success and the importance of competitions in the work of designers with Maja Ganszyniec, juror in this year’s make me! competition organized by the Łódź Design Festival.
Zofia Malicka: The list of awards you have won in Polish and foreign competitions is impressive. What does participation in competitions mean to you as a designer?
Maja Ganszyniec: Depending on the stage of professional development, competitions mean something different. It is important to remember that a competition is a subjective part of reality, an area that is difficult to assess unequivocally. In the early stages of professional development, contests give you confidence and allow you to strengthen your belief that what you are doing makes sense – it is well received, noticed, reaches an audience. This is very crucial, because the creator and the user are an inseparable pair, one without the other has no right to exist. Confirmation by a group of experts or more experienced people of the value of what is created is very meaningful. However, let’s remember that the competition is also a specific context, more appropriate for determining the intellectual rather than the material value of the project.
Z.M.: Do you think that the aspect of promotion in the media, which often results from participation in a competition, has a great impact on the career development of a young designer? Is it easier to break through not only in Poland, but also in the world, thanks to the prizes and awards won?
M.G.: This is the paradox, that awards are given for worthwhile projects, and thanks to awards you can continue creating meaningful things, because you increase your credibility. From the point of view of my clients, investment in a project is a huge undertaking for an organization, and it is always burdened with risk. Balancing business risks, the company is certainly more willing to go for names that have a record of achievement. By doing so, it offsets the risk of losing money and time, primarily for a development that will fail, for example, due to the designer’s inexperience. On the other hand, after all, designers have to do their first magical implementations somewhere, to learn and prove that this is the right chosen profession in life. A good few years pass before a body of work is collected, and what can be done is to participate in competitions and publish, but also to choose such competitions and media that will reach potential customers. It is known that a very experimental project related to a new material, which is absolutely unimplementable and unproducible, does not lend credibility to the designer in the eyes of the management of a company mass-producing, for example, chairs. As with everything, it is a matter of individual self-concept and the direction the young creator decides to take. The more things in a particular field or area we release into the world, the more feedback will come back to us from that particular piece of the world. So it is important what we send to the competition, because if we win, that is what we will be associated with.
Z.M.: Therefore, can the competition put a label on designer?
M.G.: If someone has five chairs in his portfolio, a manufacturer will sooner contact him than a designer who deals with the conceptual use of seaweed. Fortunately, there is room in the professional community for each of these areas, for different directions and different approaches – that is, for both exploration as well as rational and pragmatic production. It is important that in the general discourse in our environment we make sure there is room for both activities. Therefore, when participating in competitions, you need to ask yourself what you want to do next – whether to devote yourself to research and exploration, or to the profession of designer – these are two completely different paths. One is more scientific, and the other is pragmatic, technical, technological.
Z.M.: Is the fact that you have not been labeled the result of your desire to explore and develop?
M.G.: I operate widely, but in a clearly defined field. I work in 95% with companies that operate in the market of materials and products for interior decoration and furnishing. Within this field, I consciously decided not to specialize in particular products. I get bored quickly, so working with different brands is refreshing and developing for me – I learn new technologies and materials, it makes me happy and feeds me. In this mode of work it is absolutely necessary to partner with technologists. It is the technologist who has expertise in the production process of a particular material, and I participate in the process by bringing in a different range of expertise. There are designers who focus on one material and basically have deep technological knowledge. They too create a variety of designs, but within a specific market. I made a conscious choice at the stage of my studies not to show experimental projects, because I knew that I wanted to be associated with the production market. I constructed my diploma so that the projects would be understandable to my potential clients. This was a very common-sense and, as you can see, effective strategy.
Maja Ganszyniec, Łódź Design Festival 2020 / ph. Oświecony
Z.M.: Do you feel a great responsibility being a juror in the competition?
M.G.: Fortunately, I’m not an oracle and I’m not the only one – from the point of view of a juror it’s the most difficult and at the same time the most interesting, because it’s the choice of the whole group, which takes place in very specific conditions. How the work will perform depends on the level of other, competing projects. When the level of entries is not the highest, it is rather clear from the beginning which work is the best and then there is no discussion. However, there are competitions in which there are so many excellent works that one would like to award all of them, and unfortunately this is not possible. In such circumstances, even very good works are lost, because it takes a meticulous and thorough approach to the criteria and context to determine the winner. The quality of the submission also matters – a great presented project, with good photos and description is able to outshine another – better, but less attractively presented. This is the vapidity of contests. For this reason, aspiring designers should not worry about failing in a competition, because the jury’s decision is influenced by a peculiar array of different variables, including the jury members’ ability to convince others of their opinion. The deliberations are not a meeting of bored experts who review designs without commitment; on the contrary, they sometimes last for hours, and the discussions are so heated that there are almost cases of hand-to-hand combat.
Z.M.: Certainly, many people have not yet decided whether to send an application to this year’s make me! competition, held as part of the Łódź Design Festival. Do you have any advice, encouragement for them?
M.G.: I always urge people to create things as much as possible in harmony with their own sensibilities, needs, ideas and with their own goals. If a competition comes up that is the right context for a project, then by all means send it in. make me! is a competition that focuses on a fresh perspective on the future. Certainly projects that are experimental have a chance in it. For this reason, it is more aimed at young creators who have a very research-based, conceptual approach to design and have the space – often at universities – to experiment. In make me! we evaluate the thought behind the design, and not necessarily its form, although it is of course also very important. This definitely distinguishes this competition from others.
Maja Ganszyniec is a designer with a comprehensive approach to the design process. Born in Poland, she studied interior architecture on Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow before graduations in Design product at the Royal College of Art In London in 2008. In 2013 she established Studio Ganszyniec, focusing on human oriented and nature friendly objects. In her practice she combines design that is both visionary and responsible – always looking for new opportunities within the limits of strategic thinking. For the last decade she has collaborated with brands like IKEA, DUKA, Comforty or Noti. In 2017 the polish Institute of Industrial Design awarded her with the Designer of the Year title. In 2020, she was appointed as a Creative Director of Profim – leading office furniture manufacturer in Poland and one of brands of the scandinavian Flokk Group. She is also an owner and founder of an independent furniture brand Nurt.
The make me! international design competition organized by the Łódź Design Festival is one of the most pioneering events in Europe created for designers who take their first steps in professional careers. Applications for the 16th edition of the competition can be sent only until March 22, 2023. The winners will be presented during the final ceremony at this year’s Łódź Design Festival. The prize pool is 50.000 PLN!More information about contest
The organization of the Łódź Design Festival 2023 is possible thanks to the support of the Łódzkie Centrum Wydarzeń and the City of Łódź. LDF was co-financed by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage from the Culture Promotion Fund.