Countless articles, an endless list of podcasts, a timeline packed with image after image ... In our digital world, we are bombarded with new ideas from all quarters. You could say we live in an age of not just information overload, but inspiration overload. But all this stuff rarely makes much of an impression: of the roughly 11 million stimuli that our brains process every second, we are conscious of only about 40, either because they elicit an emotional response, or – thanks to an evolutionary hangover – because they represent a possible threat. The trick is to pick out that something special from the multitude of other things vying for our attention.
Hanne Willmann is one person who has made this quest to find that certain je ne sais quoi her lifelong task. The celebrated product designer tells us about her passion for simplicity and reveals where she finds her inspiration.
Like looking for a treasure chest in a vast ocean: that’s how Hanne Willmann describes her design process. Her goal is to come up with the ultimate idea and introduce it to the world. Because she’s convinced that design can come up with a simple solution to even the thorniest problem. “My heart skips a beat when I see a gloriously simple, yet ingenious solution. A tiny detail that has been brilliantly conceived and is not trying to be more than it is. It has to be straightforward,” sums up Hanne Willmann.
Furniture, lights, tableware – all her designs have one thing in common: they are pared down to the essential. Hanne Willmann’s work is about directing one’s attention to the essence of things. You could describe her style as “less is more,” but that wouldn’t do it justice. Her designs may be all about clean lines and clearly defined shapes with a notable absence of kitsch or fluff, but they are never boring or sterile, or lacking in emotion. From original concept to finished product, what counts is emotion. Or as Hanne Willmann puts it: “Good design is when something grabs your emotions.”
In the creative process too, emotion is the decisive ingredient that sets the tone. As Willmann says: “The emotion must be right! When I’m totally absorbed and no longer thinking in terms of the brief, everything flows. I’m buzzing with ideas and could work for nights on end.” It’s only hard work when she doesn’t have a feel for the project. That doesn’t happen often, but if she gets stuck, usually the only way is to start again from scratch, says Willmann.
Sometimes, all it needs is a little time. “Often, I put my finished design to one side for a few days before presenting to the client. Because when you sleep on it and put distance between yourself and your project, you’re in a much better position to gauge the potential of your design,” says Hanne Willmann. “More than once, I’ve ended up ditching an idea. That makes it so much the better when – sometimes days later – I still wake up so excited because I can’t get the design out of my head,” she beams.
The sources of Hanne Willmann’s ideas are as many and varied as the ideas themselves. The inspiration for her FLAKES table lamp, for example, came to her when browsing through a glassmaker’s archive. Among the rows of old glass beads, certain ones caught her eye – richly coloured beads that were actually made to scare birds off flowerbeds. “I had the idea of making a bead much bigger,” says Willmann.
This example might seem a trivial one, but sometimes it is precisely the unassuming, everyday objects that spark an idea that sets the ball rolling. What that means is, when it comes to nurturing her creativity, it does no harm to forget about the classic sources of inspiration from time to time, such as travelling to far-off lands or encountering fascinating new people, says Hanne Willmann.
“I can find inspiration anywhere, so I really don’t need to travel to do so.” On the contrary, at the moment she’s achieving more than ever. “When the Coronavirus crisis started, I was three months pregnant. I don’t know whether it was down to the pandemic or the minor change in lifestyle having a baby on the way, but now I am much more focused when I work. I have less time, so I want to make the most of the time I do have,” she confesses.
The simplicity and plainness of Willmann’s designs may be what count, but her “passion for simplicity” does have one exception. When it comes to tea, the fancier the better. Hanne Willmann describes herself as a “tea junkie”, her favourites being herbal infusions. “At the risk of sounding like a tea bore, there are some fabulous ways of combining herbs that really make you feel happy. I think, when it comes to tea, my motto is more “a passion for complexity,” she laughs.
About Hanne Willmann, her aspirations and her designs
On the topic of inspiration overload