Christian Gafner is a leading industrial designer from Switzerland who has made a name for himself with all manner of projects. Christian Gafner trained as a general mechanic. A few years after completing his apprenticeship, he studied at the School of Innovation and Design. He completed his studies in 1999 by creating the official military eyewear for the Swiss army. A number of projects followed, including traffic control systems for the cantonal police forces in Zurich and Solothurn, capital goods, product and furniture design, corporate and interface design as well as Internet sites.
Being a firm believer that “the design must tell customers the story of a product and the idea behind it”, Christian Gafner caused a furore in the watch industry with his design of the MIH watch for the Musée International d‘Horlogerie. At the beginning of 2015 Christian joined the team of 1ofa100 as Design Director. 1ofa100 is an exclusive marketplace for designers with an entrepreneurial spirit and people who prefer individuality over mass-production. Christian is also responsible for artist acquisition at do nxt, a platform that simplifies the way artists, musicians, filmmakers, authors and anyone with a fanbase can get funded for their next masterpiece.
Magazine MN: Christian, tell us a bit about your background. How did you start your journey in the world of industrial design? What do you enjoy the most about your profession?
Christian: Back then when I started my journey, I was sketching and drawing all the time. At the age of five the optometrist found out that my sight was not good so they gave me a pair of glasses. When I put the glasses on for the first time, the experience was like switching from VHS to HD. What I believe today is that my imagination was particularly well developed. My imagination was a bit like a detailed CAD due to my early - lets say VHS - view.
Years later my apprenticeship in Polymechanics gave me this rather technical part of my career, forming my insight into the whole process of building products. Learning how design serves functionality and usability of a product was more or less the first contact with the meaning of design and how design could serve us in our daily lives. My interest for design and my vastly growing knowledge of technical engineering made me aware of what I wanted to become in life. After gaining experience at workshop production, working as draughtsman and technical merchant, and getting lots of impressions, I started studying industrial design.
What I enjoy most is guiding an idea with a motivated team from the very beginning up until the final product - with all aspects, difficulties, setbacks and, of course, successes. I love pondering about the initial idea, the challenge and the requirements and constraints, and finding a solution. Having endurance, patience, forbearance and free & open minded thinking influences the work in a very positive way.
Magazine MN: What aspect of your profession do you find the most challenging?
Christian: The challenges in the field of industrial design are diverse and require a broad spectrum of experience and know-how in some special techniques which help with the implementation of more complex projects. To find technical solutions for the production implies a close collaboration with engineers and production workers. Sales, marketing and also after-sales service staff need to know all about the idea, material, handling of a product in order to sell it to prospects and service it for customers. Bringing all the relevant aspects together for each of these domains requires great teamwork and that’s what fascinates me.
However, the biggest challenge is to bring products to market. Bigger companies have all the relevant departments and people to help with this. Of course, independent designers don’t have this luxury. They have to do everything themselves - from designing and creating to marketing and selling. This requires a lot of additional knowledge from independent designers.
Magazine MN: Tell us a bit about the projects/products you have worked on so far.
Christian: I am not, and don’t want to be, specialized in products from specific areas. It is the whole process, the development, the creation which inspires me. It’s designing a total concept. I got the job to design the glasses for the Swiss Army - a huge opportunity right after getting my degree. The list of the requirements and aims was even bigger than I thought, but in the end we managed to make a good looking product meeting all requirements. Then other projects followed - like wrist-watches for some well-known brand. I had to learn all stages of watchmaking to get the idea of how a wrist-watch is created. Only after knowing the product inside out you can really start with the design concept for any of these brands. One of my bigger projects was the fashion brand ilmia founded in 1848. I designed a new line of hand made sneakers and a small collection of bags even though I didn’t know anything neither about leather nor shoes and how they were made in the beginning. Like in any other activity it is a big learning in every project, but I also believe it is important to start off unbiased, unknowing, which helps getting new and innovative ideas.
Magazine MN: MIH watch, the design concept of which you were responsible for, got a distinctive look and attracted a wide attention among professionals. What is your design philosophy?
Christian: I do not have a philosophy like the ones you might have read on corporate websites. I prefer puristic, modest and honest designs, non obtrusive style. And I firmly believe that it is essential to give the same importance to all stages of development and introduction to market. This is what we made with the MIH watch. A sophisticated design, readable format, no packaging - just the booklet and the watch inserted in the current issue of the NZZ, Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Purchasers loved the idea of having the MIH watch on a booklet and, even more, the newspaper as contemporary witness.
Magazine MN: Where do you find inspiration/ideas for your design work?
Christian: Most inspirations flourish by meeting people and discussing together, having talks. Let`s say ideas grow out of nearly everything – careful observation, perceiving things - recognize and bring it on paper, and visit nature.
Magazine MN: What’s your favorite productivity hack?
Christian: I feel like permanently productive in what i do and I also like to ponder the advantages and disadvantages of previous ideas. Except in the kitchen, where i calm down. I usually spend some time on figuring out how much time and effort i spend for an idea, and if i decide to go for it i do really put away any doubts.
Magazine MN: Recently you have joined 1ofa100 as Design Director. Tell us more about the project. What does the platform offer and how does it work?
Christian: 1ofa100 has convinced me from the very beginning. It is a marketplace for design talents that see themselves confronted with the challenge of entering the market. I’ve been in this position myself and, at this point, questions like these arise:
- How can i best present my product?
- How do i get financial possibilities for my project?
- Do i sell my work online of offline and how should i do that?
- How do i reach customers and get their attention to sell to them?
- How do i calculate the price of my product?
At 1ofa100 we would like to answer these questions for the designer and solve the initial problems they might have while launching their products. Our team does not only choose from the big range of designers out there, but it also takes good care of placing the product. Many designers have developed some kind of resistance to advisors who charge too much and take credit for the designers’ creativity. What we offer is, first of all, a free platform for the designers and their products in interior design, fashion, furniture and so on. So they are free to set up their profiles and place products. And they can present themselves and their products better by means of perfectly shoot images, well written and search engine optimized text in their description. While we have the understanding where designers come from and how they like to work.
Magazine MN: What is the main mission of 1ofa100?
Cristian: Providing support for designers who enter the market. We want to encourage designers to do what they do best - to create - and let us help them with the rest. Out of hundreds of products we try to find those that correspond to a contemporary view of design, material use and product usability. Our mission is to facilitate the life of the designer by undertaking certain tasks that are simply not his passion or expertise. The 1ofa100 team has both passion and expertise not only for design, but also for e-commerce, marketing, web design and other branches that are crucial to find a customer for a product. We understand the problems designers face when they enter the market. And we want to help solve them.
Magazine MN: How can readers get in touch with you?
Christian: Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or directly sign up here as new designer. We`ll give you hints if needed.
Christian Gafner was interviewed by Natalie Myhalnytska