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Design Talk with Rolf Hay

Pivot's Senior A+D Director, Edward Woodill sat down with Rolf Hay, founder of HAY for a compelling conversation about what inspires him and his creative design method.

March 13, 2019
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Rolf Hay

What's your favorite part of designing?

That's easy. The moment I love the most is when we go from a drawing and rendering, to full-scale. When you see a new object for the first time in full-scale, that can be a fantastic moment or it can be quite depressing. It can confirm something you had in your mind or it can be such a disappointing experience to see that it isn’t what you imagined it to be. We care a lot about the first prototype – it’s very important in our design process.

Tell us about your design process?

I think you could say there are a few ways we create starting points for our products - number one is being inspired by the possibilities of our time. Many of our products are often inspired by a new material or about a smarter and more efficient way to produce things. HAY at its core is about creating great design with who we believe are the best designers in our generation and within a democratic context.

I heard that you usually bring prototypes to your own house to see how the product fits within the home environment. Is this true?

It's true. I think the key point of bringing the prototypes back home is to have them around for those moments where I am sitting in my Eames Lounge Chair reading a book and happen to notice the prototype in the environment. When you create a prototype, you’re constantly looking at it but you also need time to observe it in a more natural setting. When they are in your home environment, you tend to view them in a more relaxed way.

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Of your first prototypes, how much development goes on after you’ve decided to move forward with it?

We normally have a good idea of how the product should be made before we even start. I think after the first prototype, it's about getting the size and proportions right. What's really interesting, especially about chairs, is that even if you make a small change, it has a consequence on every other element of the chair too. That’s what I really enjoy about creating chairs – they're complicated subjects but it’s a fantastic challenge.

You have great knowledge in regards to all of the design principles of scale, balance, and proportion. Do you believe that those are learned behaviors or innate behaviors?

We have this huge advantage, and also a problem at the same time in our design team and product development team. They've been with me basically since we started the company and we’ve developed this thing where we don’t really have to say much to each other. They just know and have a fantastic eye. My wife especially has a fantastic eye and can see things so clearly.

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"There was once an intelligent man who said, 'Only beauty can save the world.' I'm quite sure that he didn't think of furniture when he was saying that, but it's true in our own context that aesthetic and beauty is also part of this conversation." -Rolf Hay