Daniel · Emma: Fastidious, scrupulous, nice

Published:  March 12, 2014

Daniel To and Emma Aiston established Daniel · Emma in 2008, immediately causing an international stir with their debut collection and celebrated as ‘Design Graduates To Watch’ by Wallpaper* Magazine and ‘most promising talent’ by 100% Design London. In just 5 years, the pair (partners in life as well as business) have exhibited across the world and received many accolades, yet this international whirlwind left them overlooked in their home country, until very recently with their first Australian show BIG! held in Melbourne in December 2013. We talk to them about their journey so far.

Can you tell us how you came to be working together as Daniel Emma?

In 2003 we both began studying industrial design in Adelaide. We did one project together and argued so much that we vowed never to do a project together again. Yet in 2007 we both moved to London and worked for various design studios, and through our different experiences we decided that maybe we could give working together another go! We first showed during the London Design Festival in 2008 and have kept at it since then.

Earlier work: The ‘Solids’ collection includes a rubberband ball, desk light, wall hook, stationery container, wall clock, thermometer and pencil box.

What was this first project you did together?

The very first project did together was the hopping hamster (a recycled racer) at University. The first official Daniel Emma project was the Shapes collection that we showed at that first London Design Festival. The collection was based purely around four shapes; a pentagon, square, circle and a triangle.

Earlier work: ‘Vessels’

The work that comes out of your studio is always extremely reduced — how do you work together with such a strict aesthetic?

The decision making in the studio is always collaborative. This is reassuring, at times, but can also create frustration and delays in progress. However, it is probably the way that we have been able to keep to a very specific aesthetic.

Basic geometry appears to be the anchor point of most of your work – how do you begin to form a shape so common (a pyramid, a sphere) and turn it into something so uniquely desirable?

Shapes are not anything new! We just try to apply them across different mediums and use them for their natural characteristics. Often there is no need to make anything more complicated than a basic shape.

Mish Mash chairs for ‘BIG!’

Is there a reason for the re-visitation of the same palettes of material, form and colour?

With the products that we produce ourselves, we are often limited by the materials and processes available to us in Adelaide. This has meant that we have become accustomed to using certain colours and materials simply because that’s all there is. When we work with other companies they have other options available which allows us to do other things. Recently, though, our newest work for BIG! allowed us to begin to look at using different materials, which was refreshing! As for our aesthetic, we think it will naturally evolve over time, but each time we design something it is very important that it looks ‘Daniel Emma’!

‘Loop’ & ‘Puck’, for BIG!

Do you look to any movement or rely on any particular principles to inform your work?

We tend not to look into that sort of thing. What tends to inform our work more would be our lives around us. If you are informed too much by specific movements than you can end up copying that movement too much. Our job is to create our interpretation of everyday objects from this point in time for our unique position in the world.

Your work has recently been on show at Lamington Drive (Melbourne). The pieces in BIG! are much larger in scale than we are used to seeing from you. I read in an interview that going large was a reaction to the size of the exhibition space! Are you planning on ever going bigger?

At the moment we are just beginning our journey into larger items. Going bigger than the current objects will take some time, however if the opportunity was thrust upon us tomorrow we wouldn’t be able resist giving it a go!

The ‘Pick n’ Mix’ table for BIG!

Through industrial design, you have produced domestic objects as well as art objects, but aside from how your pieces are ‘used’, is there a difference in your process between functional and decorative?

In both cases the end ‘feeling’ is the same, but logistically and technically the approach is very different. Art objects are usually one-offs or limited editions that allow you to be free from the production restrictions of domestic objects. For us this often means we can be rather indulgent in our usage of certain material. But with domestic objects, you have to think more about the lifecycle of the product. In our self-initiated work, we use solid materials and durable finishes that it wears in a natural way and, if desired, can be refinished to brand new.

BIG! exhibition at Lamington Drive last December. Photography by Kate Stokes

You have said that you used industrial design to “express your thoughts” — what thoughts are they expressing?

Fun thoughts! We try not to take design too seriously. It can all get a bit too wanky now and then! Hopefully our work provides people with a refreshing point of view on an object, and maybe even a bit of a surprise. We always try to keep to our philosophy to design objects that are ‘just nice’.


First published in desktop magazine #301

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