''Technologically possible: humanly preferable.''
A statement from Creative Director, Oscar Peña, who talks about the importance of listening to what people want and not being boxed-in or driven simply by what is technologically possible. Read more about his perspectives on the world of design in our latest ''Spotlight on a Designer'' article below:
How long have you been working as a designer?
I started out as a qualified designer 26 years ago and since then have worked in many different lighting fields. After I graduated in Product Design I moved to the US and did a post grad program in Visual Communications. It was from there that I was hired by Philips and have been working for them for the last 24 years.
So, which areas have you worked in during that time?
I spent many years working in the telecommunications sector for Philips as the whole mobile market was growing and I was involved in a lot of design related projects such as car antennas for mobiles. I was also involved in actual mobile telephone design back in the 80s and moved on to faxes, PCs, printers, laptops etc….
After spending so much time in the hi-tech area I moved into a more consumer related sector and began working on design for kitchen appliances. I’m currently the Creative Director of Product Design and UI for professional lighting.
It’s clear that LED technology is changing the lighting world but what is the impact on design?
I think the main point is that we should be innovating and putting more emphasis on the application of light. It’s a digital world so naturally LEDs offer us many more possibilities, but we need to be careful - because although we have the LED technology, we need more designers behind it to orchestrate it properly.
Why? Because when you are suddenly faced with much more choice and so many more options, you need an expert who can filter through this and see what the best solution is. For example, in the 80s there were lots of new DTP packages on the market which meant that people didn’t want to use designers because they could do their own design work. The result was a huge amount of bad design.
How much feedback do you get from the end user?
I try to gather as much feedback as possible, whether from the end user; project owner etc….The skill of a designer is to make connections. To connect technologies with the people and the context and to create something that is meaningful and relevant and attractive so people want to own it or use it.
Take Philips Freestreet for example. We listened to feedback from communities, individuals, municipalities and heard that streets were too cluttered and people wanted more space. There was too much visual pollution from signs, lampposts, bins. This feedback came from all parties so we needed to create a solution.
So, you get the feedback from the end user but how do you find inspiration for designs?
I believe the best designers are the ones who have seen the most. I’m always observing, trying to understand how things work, why people like them. I gain inspiration by watching how people behave, how they interact, what they eat, who do they talk to, what do they buy, and also how they dress, and move…
Using historical references is also a way to see what’s been done before and why. I believe in the power of the idea and everything has an idea behind it. Once you understand this, then you can create.
You also need to understand what you are going to communicate, in this case with light. You ask yourself, how do I want people to feel or react to this light? Do I want them to feel excited, relaxed, impersonal and warm? Do I want them to interact with the light?
You gather, you collect, you make new connections, you understand and then you can create something new and attractive.
Does your background/heritage affect you as a designer?
Sure, I’m Latin and, as the stereotype goes, very emotional. I like to touch. I won’t buy anything that I can’t touch. Although I buy books on the internet, everything else needs to be physical so I can touch or smell the product. The more digital we become the more physical we need to be.
Do you think being a designer is in your DNA or can you learn it?
I definitely think you can learn it and, as the Head of a Department Man and Activity at the Design Academy Eindhoven, I tell my students that we do not teach design. You must learn by doing because it’s a much more intense experience. Design must be learnt by doing.
What separates a good design from a bad design?
It’s about content.
Can you give a few examples of your favorite designs and explain what it is that appeals to you?
1. Drinking glasses by Ingegerd Raman: They are familiar. Handmade, transparent, light and beautiful to hold and to drink from it. Also her Light shadows bulbs.
2. Alvar Aalto Ceiling light fitting, Kultakello (Golden Bell) made by Artek. It’s graceful. Made out of brass.
3. Eclisse Bed side table lamp by Vico Magistretti. A small object based on the juxtaposition of three half spheres, one acts as the base, another as a dome shaped covering and the third, which is internal and revolving on a pin, allows the adjustment of light flow.
4. Wilhelm Wagenfel tea service: ´a pure feeling for its purpose´. In other words, functionality superbly resolved.
5. London Black Taxis: Because they are a very civilized way of transport in a city, comfortable, spacious, recognizable and elegant.
What books would you recommend to our community if they’re in search of design inspiration?
- In praise of shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki
- Designing Design by Kenya Hara
- Air made visible by Bruno Munari
- Alvaar Aalto, A gentler structure for life, by Markku Lahti
- ´One hundred years of Solitude´ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
‘Is it a pleasure to use? Clarity, appropriateness, authenticity and focus on the human content define my designs, whether it's a concept or for the mass market’
Oscar Peña’s main function at Philips Lighting Design is Senior Creative Director, Product and User Experience Design.
Oscar’s career has spanned a number of continents and design disciplines. He worked at Bill Stumpf & Associates and Seitz Yamamoto Moss in the USA before joining Philips Design in 1987. Since then he has been involved in the design of numerous consumer, lifestyle and lighting products.
In March 1996 appointed Head of ‘Man and Activity’ department at The Design Academy Eindhoven, The Netherlands. This appointment is primary involved with the department’s design vision and direction. From April 2001 to April 2006 was member of the supervisory board of Droog Design the leading Dutch Design organization.
Has lectured on design at a number of Universities and conferences across Europe, The Americas and Africa.
Oscar was born in Colombia. He trained at Xavier University, Bogota, Colombia where he received his Diploma Industrial Designer (1982). Postgraduate studies in Visual Communications at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (1985).