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Birgit Lohmann, Editor of Designboom (INTERVIEW)

— November 13, 2009 — Art & Design
Based in Milan with her family, Birgit Lohmann runs the website of her own creation, Designboom. At Designboom, people from around the world can compete in design competitions, view design jobs and share their design work.

Having created one of the go-to websites for design knowledge, Birgit Lohmann is certainly on the cutting edge. We had the chance to speak with her about the role trend spotting plays in her work with Designboom.

12 Questions with Birgit Lohmann

1. How did you get involved with Designboom and what motivates you to continue?

I practiced as an industrial designer and product development manager for 15 years, I worked for a number of Italian architects and master designers which include Achille Castiglioni, Vico Magistretti, Bruno Munari, Enzo Mari and Renzo Piano. At that time we did not use computers, we drew by hand and made lots of models and prototypes. I was able to work on the first chair using polypropylene and developed the tools for producing it. I enjoyed the work so much, that I did not plan to work on my own, but then there was a time when the ‘eternal assistant’ aspired for more autonomy.

Two of the things I like best - spending time in nature and figuring out how things work. I got to combine these things through Internet publishing. Massimo Mini and I founded Designboom in 1999. We left Milan with our two children (at that time 9 and 5 years old) and lived in Bali for a while. In between tropical plants in our garden we created an open air office with 4 desks, where the kids did drawings and homework (which was sent to us by email from their Italian school teachers) and we created and updated Designboom.

1999 - we are the ‘grandparents’ of online publishing in the field of art, architecture and design. When we started there were only two other relevant sites, the American and the Belgian Core77 was created by students inside the university and this targeted their audience - students and young professionals. Designaddict was initially a XX century design collector’s database. Designboom, because of our work experience, always reached design professionals. The ‘real world’ is a place where things change all the time, and it is essential to be updated continuously.

Based in Milan, our small international team is still made up of designers, not journalists. We talk about real experience, cultural intents and influences, restraints and contradictions. We stimulate a global discussion and the rapport that we’ve established with our readers and the greater design community keeps us motivated. It’s a lot of work, not exactly a typical 9-to-5 job, but we spend our days sharing ideas with people of all ages and backgrounds from more than 200 countries. Seriously - what could be better?! 

2. How significant are the topics of cool hunting and trend spotting to Designboom?

I think the biggest impact we have is as organizers of extraordinary design challenges.

We do lots of initiatives that help upcoming talents to experiment and get noticed. We have revolutionized design competitions (worldwide participation, no age limit, no participation fee, all the shortlisted entries are published, copyright protection because of credits, etc.). Designboom’s competitions offer excellent career opportunities.

In autumn 2009 we’ll distribute a total amount of USD $65,000 through 3 different contests: ‘Les Cravates par Hermès’, ‘Think Outside the Parking Box’ (both of which we are currently judging) and ‘Green Life’.

Designboom is currently the most popular showcase for professionals and design enthusiasts. We created a completely new formula of exhibitions - the Designboom marts. Since 2005 we have organized 15 international shows that combine high-profile design with a popular street market setting. It is a fantastic occasion to reach people - curators, press, customers…see more here.

These shows were the launchpad for now well-known designers, among them the Czech Maxim Velcovsky, the Japanese Nendo and Kyouei, the Portuguese Sam Baron, the Dutch Susan Bjil, the Swedish Karin Ericksson, the Spanish Luis Eslava, the British Alex Taylor, Julian Mayor, and Hulger Phones; the Canadian Loyal Loot, the American Josh Owen, the Korean Zinoo Park, the Philippines’ Stanley Ruiz, and New Zealand’s David Trubridge.

And last but not least, we offer nonacademic design education to professionals ‘design-aerobics’.

3. How do you define a trend?

When all do the same, thinking that it will be the right thing. For example, in investments, a trend is an idea about the overall average historical direction of prices. A trend is also a convenient way to view history. Trends gradually increase and then decrease.

4. How do you define cool?

It is among the most common slang terms used. Most ‘professionals’ say cool things spark imagination combined with a dose of nostalgia. Honestly I think cool = boring. When it’s really cool nobody notices it and when it gets acclaimed it’s not cool anymore.

5. Do you need a culture of innovation to create something that is cool?

No, ‘cool’ does not need to be backed up by innovation. People find the ‘cool aspect’ in everything and it just means ‘worthy of approval.’

6. What is the best way to create an infectious idea, product or service?

Starting from your personal needs; hopefully you are similar to others. An infectious idea has its effects because of two-way communication, and the Internet is the perfect media for this.

7. What is the key to innovation?

Research, learning by doing, investment, being tenacious. Too many young people are attracted to careers for the wrong reasons - they see what looks like lots of money or a glamorous, prestigious lifestyle. The truth is that the best things in life require a lot of hard work. It helps if you pick something you enjoy doing.

8. What is the most important trend you see in your industry?

Big companies are lost. they don’t know what to communicate. Small companies deliver excitement.

9. What are your ambitions for Designboom?

To buy

10. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?

By having interests that DO NOT relate to your work. We organize our work to have very long summer breaks. With enough sleep and no TV, we observe what we do from a certain distance. In general, to remain perceptive for the unknown you need to empty your mind.

11. Professionally, what do you want to be doing in 10 years?

Hopefully something similar, different though and that the ‘wrong things’ will be different too.

12. What are your most important hobbies?

I like to draw and build things with my hands. gymnastics, searching for things that lie on the ground, I love to read (before sleeping - comics), art, music, traveling, gardening for contemplation and home farming for better food.