When a commission to design an office pod/screen system didn't come to fruition, creative duo Dokter and Misses decided to pursue the project themselves. "We kept revisiting it and couldn't really forget about it," says Katy Taplin, who makes up Dokter and Misses with partner Adriaan Hugo. The Johannesburg-based outfit teamed up with expert weavers Gone Rural, a social enterprise in rural Swaziland, to develop the Woven Screens series.
The screens are made of a slender steel frame with inserts woven from a combination of sustainably harvested sisal and indigenous Lutindzi grass, which grows wild on rocky outcrops in the Swazi mountains. The inserts, handwoven by the Gone Rural women in Swaziland, introduce this age-old production method to the office environment.
We ask Taplin and Hugo of Dokter and Misses and Philippa Thorne of Gone Rural about the experience of working together.
What quality in the other partner's work appealed to you?
GR: Their clean, graphic look and their production processes, which is a stark contrast to our work. We are very low-tech. Everything is made by hand from our design sketches to the finished products. Dokter and Misses brings a more polished aesthetic and we love their exceptionally well-resolved design, attention to detail and precision. Our contrasting materials also reflect our different locations; rural to urban, it is nice to bring those spaces together.
DAM: The lightweight, texture and graphic nature of their work is appealing. When we were coming up with the screen/pod system, all the pieces fell into place. Philippa had spoken about doing inserts in screens before and we had a design idea. We worked really hard across borders to get the product finished. Phillipa and the Gone Rural team work with more than 750 women and their management, training and people skills are something special.
How did you go about designing the collaborative pieces?
GR: After we discussed the initial ideas, we both visited each other’s work spaces to see what was possible with our materials and techniques. Knowing what was practically possible was an important starting point. Katy and Adriaan led the design process and structurally how it would work while we worked on the textile weaving elements.
DAM: Adriaan went to Swaziland to see Gone Rural's set up and different ways of weaving. Then we set about designing the functionality and proportions of the screen. Once we had that down, Katy and Phillipa started designing the woven inserts. A lot of backwards and forwards, sample making, testing and choosing colours took place. We made the sample frame and sent it to Swaziland; final samples where made... and then changed again. The project took place under extreme time pressure, across borders in order to get it ready for the launch at 100% Design. But it all come together because we trusted each other and delivered on our promises.
What did you learn from the collaboration?
GR: Following the design process of such a dynamic design team was really interesting. It also opened up more possibilities for us, by thinking and pushing us outside of what we would normally create. We definitely noticed that our product development takes time, all being done by hand. We have to do experiments and learn by trial and error. We would like to expand our weaving techniques to give us more flexibility in finding solutions to design challenges and we want to continue to do more experimental pieces and really push the high-tech-meets-low-tech aesthetic.
DAM: Have an idea, a strong one, but be open to change. Let everyone shine – it makes for much better light. Deliver what you promised. Be honest all the time and you will have a winner.