The poetry of creation
Martin Bergmann, Gernot Bohmann, and Harald Gründl founded the EOOS design company twenty years ago. Since then, they have worked with a very special tool: “Poetic Analysis.”
The EOOS design company in Vienna is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The three founders, Martin Bergmann, Gernot Bohmann, und Harald Gründl, work only with a few companies. They include Walter Knoll, Lamy, Duravit, and Herman Miller. In their work, they have developed a very special creative process: poetic analysis. The interview with Martin Bergmann is like a declaration of love – to customers, his colleagues, and – last not least – EOOS.
IF: Mr. Bergmann, 20 years ago you founded EOOS together with Gernot Bohmann and Harald Gründl. How did you come up with the name and what do you want it to say?
Martin Bergmann: Right after our studies, we started working for ourselves as Bergmann, Bohmann, Gründl. However, we weren’t happy with that name and started looking for something else. By coincidence, we ran across Metamorphoses by Ovid and the wonderful story of the sun chariot. It was the fastest vehicle at that time and built by the goldsmith Hephaestus. It was pulled by four horses with unimagined power. And one of the horses was named Eoos. By the way, the horses can also be found on the Basilica of Venice, the city that incredibly fascinates all three of us. The story of the sun chariot tells us that everything that happens is somewhere between burning up and getting lost. When the sun chariot comes too close to the earth, the earth burns. And when it flies too high, it leaves its orbit and gets lost. That was simply the best story and the best image for our work. If a designer comes too close to an approach that is typical of the time, the present, that designer burns. But on the other hand, if the designer drifts too far away from that, he or she gets lost. And it is the same for our customers, companies that produce good products and market them worldwide: Everything happens between the poles of burning and getting lost.
IF: How can the typical EOOS way of thinking and working be seen in the design process?
Bergmann: We have developed a tool that we call “poetic analysis.” We don’t use it for every project, but for very complex ones. For example, there was a big and strong poetic analysis for the development of the “b2” Bulthaup kitchen. Using pictures, we analyze stories, deep-seated images, and myths about a topic and hang them up. We arrange thousands of pictures and thus come closer and closer to the topic. In this way, we also found the cookbook of Pope Bartholomeo Scappi from the 15th or 16th century. In the engravings, we found a kitchen that was a workshop kitchen for the first time. To start off with, it made us conscious of what that is: built-in kitchen versus workshop kitchen. It has a completely different principle of order. In a built-in kitchen, you pull out a drawer and see a universe. In our workshop kitchen, you open the kitchen and see everything. Everything at the same time with all the quantity and quality you own. In a manner of speaking, you see your own mirror image. In a poetic analysis, however, you have to drop anchor time and time again. Determine how far the story can go. That again has something to do with getting lost. That is the typical way that EOOS thinks and works. By the way, the poetic analysis of the “b2” kitchen can be seen in our current exhibition in the Austrian Museum for Applied Arts (MAK) in Vienna.
IF: How do your own approach and those of your partners differ? How do they complement one another?
Bergmann: When we started out, we were always asked who does what and what do you do actually? Our answer was always: We are like a rock band, like an orchestra in which each person plays an instrument and in the end a sound is created. And if one person doesn’t play, something is missing. It is as balanced as in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. That was the first image that took us further. And over the past 20 years, one thing has become clear to us in the daily results, the weekly results, the yearly results, and 20 years of EOOS – the amazement at the results and the knowledge that one of us could not have done it alone. It is simply the collaboration in creation that fascinates us so much. And tonight we will probably leave the office again after coming a millimeter or a hundredth of a millimeter further. Or perhaps having gone backwards. You don’t always go forwards, sometimes you go backwards, that’s the way it is. But even then with the awareness that I could never have thought of that alone. And that is what’s so beautiful about EOOS. And something else: You are surprised at the result and at the power of the idea. When an idea is really good, it has enormous power. And when the idea is developed, it is seen and evaluated by each person in a different way because of the different characters. And then the result is simply amazing.
IF: You work with only a few companies. But they are from very different sectors. What criteria do you use to choose your clients?
Bergmann: We work with only a few customers is a very intensive way. When we decide to work with a new company, it is a long process of getting to know each other. We have to be absolutely sure that we are not only working with the management or entrepreneur for one product, that we will really be able to develop in a constant, evolutionary way. We take lots of time, we analyze in a different way, we are slow, it takes us a long time to really gather momentum. But when we do get that far, we are incredibly strong together. Not least because we can feel the DNA of a company well. With that momentum, with continuity, and with the evolution of developments, the products come about almost on their own or they come from the communication, from friendship, from hard work. But if a customer only wants one product, we don’t do it. We can’t, because we would burn up if we did.
IF: Do you also have “desired customers”?
Bergmann: Yes, we do. For example Herman Miller. As students, we already wanted to work with that American cultural enterprise. We were simply fascinated with the design of the 30s and 40s. And then it really happened. Harald Gründl always says if you really believe in something, it will happen. We visited the company for years and talked with one another, received the first orders, developed the first product and presented it, and got the next orders. In that way, we can gather momentum, build up a good relationship with the customer, and be 100% EOOS and 100% DNA of the company.
IF: You have won over 140 design awards. Is there one that is especially important for you?
Bergmann: Yes, there is. The Compasso D’oro. We won it with Matteo Grassi for the “Kube” series. And we are really proud of that because it is an independent design award that is presented without being applied for. I think we were also the first Austrians to win the award.
IF: At the moment, an EOOS exhibition can be found in the MAK Design Laboratory in Vienna, which you designed. What can visitors expect to see there?
Bergmann: In the central room of the MAK Design Laboratory, we have put robots in “EOOS transforms” and five selected products – the Bulthaup kitchen, the shower partition and a bathtub by Duravit, a sofa by Walter Knoll, an office stool with a tablet by Keilhauer. We have more or less set up a giant ballet so you can see how objects are transformed when they are used as a person would use them. For example, we move a sofa: People can look in various directions, they can face one other and converse. People go through the exhibition and see what they can do with the furniture, how their surroundings and life can be transformed with it and what added value it can provide. And there is a side room that is called “EOOS designs.” In six showcases there, we present the development process of various products by EOOS in order to show the visitors how we work, what a poetic analysis looks like. That is also a fascinating room. In the other rooms at the MAK Design Laboratory, we have set up interventions. For example, in the area of cooking, we show the first presentation model of the “B2” Bulthaup kitchen. Or for drinking and dining, we show the breakfast set and the wine glass for Alberto Alessi. Another example is the Collecting room. In giant letters, a message reads “EOOS doesn’t collect” because we don’t. I think that is a very interesting form, the way an agency like EOOS can present itself. We don’t want to pat ourselves on the back. Rather, we want to fit into the idea that we introduced there a year ago and serve as an example for the viewer who is looking at the concept of design in general.
IF: What do you think the challenges for design and thus for your work will be in the future?
Bergmann: In our view, the future will be in the creative tension between craftsmanship and technology, the archaic and high tech. Within these concepts, we will continue to develop. That’s where we see the future – for our customers as well. For us, it is also important that our work and ideas as well as our strengths correspond to those of the company 100%. If that works, a very successful product can be created for the user that really gives added value. A good product and a good idea also stay on the market for a long time. The first sofa we designed for Walter Knoll – we have been working with that company since the beginning, by the way – is selling better than ever today. It is an object that is produced in the highest quality, in which craftsmanship and technology come together, and if the cover doesn’t look good anymore, the customer can have the sofa covered again at Walter Knoll. It doesn’t land at the dump very often. That is important for us: We want to develop high quality furniture that lasts not only one generation, but rather two or maybe three generations. That makes us happy!
The interview has been published in the InteriorFashion issue 1|2015.