Front is Sofia Lagerkvist, Charlotte von der Lancken, Anna Lindgren and Katja Sävström - four Swedish designers based in Stockholm. In a meandering warehouse filled with artists, musicians and sometimes a magician, their work is process-driven and involves collaborations with the most unexpected people. Here, Peter Salhani chats with Charlotte von der Lancken about group dynamics, computer games and how their design approach is not so different to the work of a magician, where what you see is not always what it seems. PS:  You are unusual in the design world - a design quartet. How does the group dynamic function and how did you all meet?

CVDL: We studied industrial design together and were hanging out as friends, so the dynamic in our group is based on friendship. We had a lot of discussions about design and also shared similar interests outside of design. When we started to work together it went really well, because we were all very curious about what design could be.

PS:  Do you each bring particular traits or design skills to the group?

CVDL: We all have different strengths, of course. We have the same industrial design education, but slightly different backgrounds as well, for instance: Katja also has a degree in textile design; Sofia has experience in set design; and I studied metalwork. It’s not that we bring different skills – we share the tasks on each project – it’s not split. We share the same curiosity and the will to develop something new that inspires us; that makes it interesting to work together.

PS: Describe your studio and the way you like to work.

CVDL: It’s super crowded; we’re collectors and we’re overloaded with stuff here. We don't do big prototypes here but we do miniatures, about 1:10 scale. For example, for the Moroso project we did, the [Moment] sofas were modelled miniature and sent to Moroso. They have a prototype workshop, which is handicraft-based. From the miniature we gave them, they built it by hand at 1:1 scale. We visited several times during this phase - we can’t give away a prototype and just let it go - so many things happen between a small model and the full-scale version, it’s important we are there to resolve details that crop up. But it’s different for each project. With the Chess table for Moooi, we didn't have to do that because the idea was so clear from the beginning. It’s a great feeling when we’ve done a small prototype to then see the full-size version after maybe six months of prototyping, but it’s a nervous time, too. Sometimes, we might only see the pieces a couple of days before they’re released.

PS: How did your collaboration with Marcel Wanders begin?

CVDL: When we were studying, Marcel Wanders was a hero of ours; we hoped to work with him in the future. One day we got an email from him saying that he liked our work. We were super excited. We had only done the Design by Animals project, and that’s what he liked. A year after we graduated, Marcel called and asked us to make something with him. The brief was to do a lamp that “even his grandmother would like”. We started discussing what people like and why they like things. We had done this research before about what makes people collect particular objects; what makes them hate their computer or not throw away things that are broken… questions like that. We interviewed a lot of people and many of them talked about small, figurative objects that they related to, so that became our start for the project. We ended up with the Horse lamp, the Rabbit lamp and the Pig tray table. People reacted strongly to this series: a lot liked it, many didn't. At the time it was released it was different from other design pieces that were around; today, I think there is a lot more figurative design around. In a way that’s what we were exploring, the fact that people connect emotionally to an object.

PS: The Blow Away vase for Moooi and Royal Delft is interesting because it’s an unconventional piece made by a very old and traditional company.

CVDL: The Delft vase came from a computer game we built to explore making design objects that only existed in the virtual world. This idea came from a discussion about the representation of things: often you only see things in magazines or films, but you haven't experienced them for real. In the game there were lamps you could shoot at, and the bullet holes became decoration, so you were influencing the design. One of the pieces in the game was the Delft vase, which you could throw a bomb at and it would ‘blow away’. It’s not easy to make a product out of something that is transformed in a computer game. It’s an unconventional way of doing things, so it takes really skillful people to make it work. Delft has a long tradition of handicraft, so I guess it had to be this kind of company to be able to do the piece.

PS: I've read that you like to talk to technology experts, futurists, and have recently collaborated with a magician. Tell me a bit about that.

CVDL: When we were studying industrial design, and at the start of our collaboration, we felt that design processes were structured and prescriptive, with rules about how things should be done. We weren’t inspired to design in that way and wanted to experiment more with the design process itself. In our first joint project, Design by Animals, we studied the behaviours of different small animals: rats, snakes, beetles, dogs. We had to adjust to their behaviours and we used that idea in our design process. We made pieces like Rat wallpaper, which was ‘gnawed by rats’ so when you unrolled it there was a pattern of holes through it, and Snake hangers, where a snake squeezing clay left the impression of its body. That was exploring a very random process and we had no idea what would happen.

For the Sketch Furniture project, we wanted to make a hand drawing into a definable object and found this technology called motion capture that’s used to capture movement and transform or [delete] it into an animated figure, such as in a computer game or a film. We adapted the technique to capture the tip of a pen so that when we drew lines in the air with the pen, they were captured as a 3D file. We combined this technique with laser rendering that’s used for 3D prototyping. So we could draw in the air, then print what we’d drawn in 3D to model a real piece of furniture. We showed the Sketch Furniture series of tables, chairs and lamps at Design Miami/Art Basel in 2005.

Our collaboration with the magician came after winning the Designer of the Future Award at Design Miami in 2007, when we started doing a collection with Galerie Kreo. We had this guy at our studio, a friend of a friend, who was a magician. He’d come in and do tricks, like pull shoes out from behind his ears. We discovered that our process as designers and the process he had were very similar. He, too, was working with people’s expectations and what they see; misleading their concentration so he could do something where they were not focusing. We recognised this in our own work. For example, our soft wooden sofa [Moment] is somehow misleading: the fabric upholstery is printed to look like hardwood, but when you sit on it the bench is soft. So we combined his way of working with our design process. In that collaboration we made a lamp with a levitating lampshade that looked like it was ‘flying’ over the bulb. We did a cupboard where the handles ‘floated off the doors' and when you put things into the drawers, then close and reopen them, everything ‘disappears’ and the drawer looks empty. There was also a chair that was ‘standing on one leg’ until you sat on it. Right now we are working on another collection with Galerie Kreo, but I can’t say what it is.

PS: What would your dream project be - is there something you have wanted to design and haven't yet?

CVDL: I’m not sure if there’s one particular thing – we work very broadly and would like to continue that way. We’re quite interested in technical gadgets – that could be a good project. We like to explore a lot of different fields and not get fixed in one groove… we’re kind of restless.