Halfway through my internship now at FUNDAMENTAL BERLIN I have come to realise a thing or two about how Fundamental as a design studio operates and ensures its prolonged existence. One of them is that Fundamental is really designing purely decorative objects and that their business strategy relies mostly on impulse buyers. Fundamental’s specialty are flatpack products made of thin brass, copper or steel plates which are laser-cut in a certain pattern and can, henceforth, be folded to a 3-dimensional object. What makes those products great is that they are cheap to manufacture, cheap to transport and ask the owner to participate in its final form, thus building a sentimental relationship between owner and product.
“There is nothing ‘smart’ about the products of Fundamental”
As contrasted with the faculty of Industrial Design (ID) the products of Fundamental are not used in the same way as the typical intelligent products, systems and related services of ID. Therefore, I would say that the users of Fundamental’s products are not really users, but owners. The interaction is limited to some preparatory actions such as folding and bending until the desired shape is reached, after which the product is put on display for the eyes to enjoy. In other words, there is nothing “smart” about the products of Fundamental. Their quality, however, resides in a clever and simple use of materials and their aesthetic properties, provoking a “wow-effect” on the first encounter.
Moreover, I would say that Fundamental’s strongest competencies, based on the competency framework of ID, are “Creativity & Aesthetics” and “Business & Entrepreneurship”. They know very well how to sell their products. For example, when they design a new product they often create a series of three or four variations of which one is up to three times more expensive than the others. This makes the potential customer think “Wow that one is expensive! The others are in comparison quite affordable. I will buy one of the cheaper ones because I get real value for my money”. Also their pricing structure is optimised for the impulse purchase, as most of their products fit within a 20 to 80 euros price range. I have often got the remark from friends or customers in our shop that our products are “really not so expensive”.
“At first I thought they would design every product from scratch, but as it turns out quite a couple of our products are based on ‘ready-made’ samples from the factories we collaborate with”
Design-wise Fundamental thrives on their network of suppliers and manufacturers, which are primarily situated in Italy, Austria and China. At first I thought they would design every product from scratch, but as it turns out quite a couple of our products are based on ‘ready-made’ samples from the factories we collaborate with.
Every once in a while Gunnar or Steve visits them to negotiate prices, assess the quality standards and if our products can be improved, and lastly what they are capable of creating besides what they are already creating for us. After such a visit Steve or Gunnar sometimes bring back random material samples, which can have enough potential in themselves that little R&D is needed to make them into an actual product; a rather cheap way to innovate. The vase I made, which you can see below, was more or less such a product. Although not based on a specific sample, the idea for it arose after Steve visited a rubber factory in China where they said that it was fairly cheap and easy to glue stone tiles and rubber sheets together, which sparked Steve’s imagination and I, then, turned into a prototype.
The difference in focus between Fundamental and ID is that between designing and combining materials for visual pleasure, and designing new functionalities and interactions for increased efficiency and personal well-being. I have the feeling that the latter enjoys higher levels of prestige, but the former is definitely not an inferior form of design.
“It is actually quite a relief not having to bother tackling societal issues and instead just focus on making something look hot”
For me it is great to be able to experience them both. On the one hand it is actually quite a relief not having to bother tackling societal issues and instead just focus on making something look hot. On the other hand I am faintly bothered by the fact that what we are essentially doing is feeding the capitalist, consumer society with stuff that, in Steve’s own words, “nobody really needs”. Then again, I am not a purist about it and don’t think I would feel guilty if I were to design beautiful objects that nobody needs for the rest of my life. It is quite frankly a lot of fun to do.