Every year in the make me! contest Jury distinguishes bold ideas, accurate answers to diagnosed problems and projects likely to bring about good change. Such solutions are prepared by young, amazing people, full of passion and the need to improve reality. In our series of interviews with the finalists of make me! we want you to get to know the distinguished designers and their ideas. This time we are talking with Helena Wierzbowska and Agnieszka Cieszanowska - the authors of the project "na balkon!", which won the third Paradyż Award in the make me! 2020. Helena (Hela) is a designer for whom it is important not to take too seriously things that are not, but also the presence and effect of color. Participant and co-organizer of exhibitions. He draws and pastes, takes pictures of curiosities he spotted while walking around the city and likes how everything fits together. Agnieszka deals with product and interior design, visual communication and social topics. She is a participant of art and design exhibitions, awarded in national and international competitions, two-time make me! finalist (2019, 2020). A passionate amateur photographer, who loves to spend time looking for strange graphics on Wikipedia.
Hello Hela, hello Agnieszka! Let's start our interview with the qualities you think a designer should have these days?
Hela: Hi there, I think that today, when it is crucial for our survival on this planet to reduce and change the system of production of goods, designers have a very important role to play. We are the ones who are (to some extent) responsible for what later goes into the market and we should be very sensitive to environmental issues. Other important traits of a designer should be openness to people and their needs, and the ability to find answers to real problems.
Agnieszka: I agree with Hela! I would add that creativity, as one of those important attributes for designers, can help to solve, for example, some environmental issues. Also, openness –in the professional context too – is essential. We are becoming more and more specialised, but the challenge is to combine the knowledge and experience of different backgrounds, and it is designers who can help to create and bind together such interdisciplinary teams.
How did the idea „na balkon!” arise? What gave you the most joy, or perhaps surprised you most when designing it?
Agnieszka: I think that once you become a designer you are always a designer, not just when you are working on something. To me, one of the most important practices is to look at myself and other people and question everyday routines and practices. It is from these observations and discussions that our idea „na balkon!” was born. In the urban setting, even on a single street you can see hundreds of attempts to develop the balcony space. Often they may appear surprising or even bizarre, but I think it's our role as designers to look at what the user's expectations are behind them and whether they meet real needs.
Hela: In fact, the work on „na balkon!” is not over yet. The set we have designed is open, and so are we, to extending and refining it. And since we've had the balcony idea in our heads for a long time, we're all the more sensitive to everything related to it and notice the more surprisingly developed spaces Agnieszka mentioned. I find it particularly ridiculous, but also interesting to see how important a role the balconies play in flats, in new buildings erected next to freeways, where every flat has a permanently glazed loggia.
You have interviewed a number of users of balconies of different shapes and sizes. Did the owners often have problems with planning and arranging this space?
Hela: Very often. Actually, almost every person we talked to would like to change something on their balcony, either to furnish it because it is void, or to put it in order. Some people don't have dedicated furniture and bring indoor furniture from their flat to their balcony. Others think their balcony is cluttered (we have noticed that although the balcony is often the hallmark of the flat, as the only space visible from the outside, it is often treated as a repository for all unnecessary things). Only one person (my grandmother) was completely satisfied with the appearance of her balcony – she only keeps there her flower pots.
Agnieszka: Precisely! And probably the owners of larger balconies did best. However, with the smallest ones there was certain helplessness on the part of their users – since the choice of furniture dedicated to such space is limited, it's difficult even to pick up helpful solutions from others and try to recreate them in your own flat.
What techniques and materials did you use to create „na balkon!”? What was most challenging during the production itself?
Agnieszka: The set is made of powder-coated aluminium – we used bent pipes and pierced sheet metal. When we started designing, we discussed for a long time which materials we should use. Aluminium has a lot of advantages – It's durable and lightweight, but it would heat up faster than wood, for example, which in turn is less resistant to weather and requires frequent maintenance. Such choices are never clear-cut and lead to many other issues which need to be addressed later in the designing process. When we chose aluminium, we knew we had to adapt it – therefore we decided to paint it with polyester powder paint and add textile elements. The metal additions, in turn, were made using a sheet crimping technology, which currently doesn't have a wide range of applications – It's mainly employed for chimneys and, most commonly, tin cans – but it saves a lot of material by stiffening even the thinnest sheet by folding it.
Hela: Agnieszka didn't mention that, because it is quite a basic principle, but of course a very important criterion in selecting materials is environmental one, followed by strength, weight and so on... As for production, there are completely different problems when creating a prototype than when implementing it later. When we were designing the set, we took into account the target technologies, so we had to expect that our prototype would be imperfect and its production would be much more expensive than the target product.
Do you think about working further on „na balkon!” project? To develop it with additional elements or a colour schemes, or maybe even to market it?
Hela: Of course we do! We are thinking about additional elements, we have designed the set in a way that allows us to select them in line with the needs of the users, and not all needs have been met by the items we have designed so far. We assumed four colour schemes at a fairly early stage of the project, following the principle that they should be distinctive and not too obvious, but at the same time not too flashy. Apart from pistachio, these are: bottle-green, brick, and beige. The colour we chose for the prototype, complemented by dark green textile additions, goes nicely with the plants that many people grow on their balcony or (as we found out from our online survey) intend to grow. We would very much like to introduce „na balkon!”! to the market, we get quite a lot of purchase requests, which makes us very happy, and we will be even more pleased with an offer of cooperation for the production.
Agnieszka: You can follow our project on our instagram @na.balkon, where we post all the news about cooperation, exhibitions, and competitions.
Apart from the make me! award, your design has also been recognised in other competitions. What advice would you give to aspiring designers?
Agnieszka: I guess we both still feel like beginners, so it would be hard to offer any advice, but we can certainly share how we try to work. The first hint is a cliché, but it's the most important one for me – keep evolving and exploring the world from a variety of perspectives – you never know what might inspire or help you in designing. And try, try, try – I myself, and I think Hela as well, have sent – and still send – a lot of applications for competitions and residencies, and even if in the hindsight I see that not all my choices were well thought out, it has allowed me to build a language I can use to communicate with external institutions and verify the level of my work.
Hela: Precisely! Competitions are particularly important because they offer the best way to promote your work and allow you to network in the design community. They can also be a start of collaboration. We managed to rank at different places in several competitions. Apart from make me!, our project took part in the Graduation Projects review in Cieszyn, took 2nd place in the Młodzi na Start competition, and recently became a finalist in the Young Design competition.
I have one more piece of advice for you: try to do different things and don't be afraid to experiment. Sometimes it's difficult to leave your comfort zone, but it's worth it! And I highly recommend various workshops.
Apart from design, you are also interested in graphics or architecture. Agnieszka, you have started your studies at the Design Academy Eindhoven, Hela, you work in Jan Strumiłło's studio. Can you tell us what you are currently working on and whether you are planning another project together?
Agnieszka: Like Hela, I am now studying an MA programme, although quite different from the BA at the Faculty of Design at the Academy of Fine Arts. I am specialising in Social Design at the Design Academy Eindhoven, where the requirements are different – there is more focus on theoretical work and speculation – not necessarily product materialisation. I try to make my design practice interdisciplinary, so it's a great place to develop. Currently, in my design, I try to take into account other organisms and (in)animate matter by creating activation practices, video installations, and sculptured objects. As for the cooperation – as I already said, despite the large distance separating us now – Hela stays in Warsaw and I am in the Netherlands, we are planning to reveal a new project soon. It is an extension of our interest in sheet metal crimping technology. We are currently working on vases for interiors that will use this technology in a creative way. The range will be different from „na balkon!” furniture because we are using enamel and testing its various properties, so you can expect more colours.
Hela: As Agnieszka mentioned, I am also (apart from working in Jan Strumillo's studio) pursuing a MA degree. I am continuing my studies at the Faculty of Design of the Academy of Fine Arts, unfortunately in an imposed online mode. Nevertheless, I do not regret it, the MA course is very different from the BA and focuses on developing other skills – working on different topics in a group, using other design methods. I take part in an interdisciplinary project that combines elements of indoor architecture, landscape architecture, furniture, and design. At work, I designed large models of satellites for a Warsaw club, I made a piece of furniture, graphic setting and packaging of a game, and graphic elements for an exhibition. As far as our new project is concerned – when it is at a further stage, we will certainly share it with you!
So, summing up: imagine you have the opportunity to create a project with a designer of your choice in the world. Who would it be and why?
Agnieszka: This is a hard question as there are many! From a product design perspective, I would definitely like to work with design teams such as at Form Us With Love, HAY, or Ikea. I've also recently been captivated by the work of Lucy McRae, who is a body architect / designer, so this would be a less typical dream collaboration.
Hela: True, the choice is not an easy one! I would love to have the opportunity to work with product studios like FUWL, HAY, or Jaime Hayon's studio because their aesthetics and approach to creation are important to me. In the case of HAY and Hayon, it's about fun and in the case of FUWL, it's connected with high environmental responsibility. The collaboration with artist and fashion designer Maryam Keyhani would also be something very interesting and different for me. If I could pick designers and studios from the past, I would love to do something with the duo Les Lalanes, Alexandre Girard, or Bruno Munari.
Thanks for an interesting conversation. We keep our fingers crossed for your further successes!
Hela and Agnieszka: Thank you for the interview and interesting questions!
the project „na balkon!” was created in 2019 as a bachelor's degree at the Faculty of Design of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, under the supervision of Dr. Paweł Grobelny
materials: Helena Wierzbowska, Agnieszka Cieszanowska
photos: Ignacy Ciszewski and Agnieszka Cieszanowska
some of the photos were taken in Wozownia Bar in Warsaw