Q&A: Inside the Munich Coalesse Design Studio

In the lead-up to the company’s tenth anniversary, Coalesse relocated its design studio from San Francisco to Munich, strengthening our engagement with other design leaders around the world. The Coalesse Design Group  now makes its home inside Steelcase’s European Learning and Innovation Center. We asked the Coalesse Design Group —John Hamilton, Markus Marschall and Florian Schulz—to take us inside their studio and share some insights on their work culture and design process.

1. How would you describe the culture of the Coalesse Design Studio? 

John Hamilton: Curious and energetic, very collaborative and very committed to the challenges we are tackling. Open and interested in ideas or feedback from anyone, anywhere. The studio thrives on hard problems and thinking about how workplaces will evolve to support the ways in which new generations of workers will want to work. We are passionate about design.

Markus Marschall: I would say it’s very open—in many ways: We are working and exploring in so many different directions; we aren’t only focused on the actual furniture products. We try to find new materials, techniques, processes, input and ideas all the time. This works only if you keep your eyes openin your daily life, both around and apart from the office environment. 

The design studio also sits directly next to product engineering, project management and Steelcase’s research group, WorkSpace Futures, so we are constantly in exchange with these departments. That’s why I would describe us and our culture as open.

Florian Schulz: It is really interesting seeing all the different disciplines (product engineering, design, project management, and so on) working together. We brainstorm a lot and have really open discussions about future projects, current projects and the direction they should go. I think you could say we’re trying to build a culture of fast prototyping and open, honest communication. Great projects happen with great discussions. 

2. How does this work culture contribute to your design process?

JH: The culture is our design process. It enables us to collaborate more and build on each other’s ideas, it makes us better together and it allows the projects that we work on to be richer and more innovative. Creativity is a shared experience, and our studio demonstrates this on a daily basis across all of the disciplines.

MM: It is essential for the process. Design is a democratic and empathic process with an ongoing exchange. This culture really supports the design process because it allows me to interact easily, all the time, with the involved people. 

FS: For me, design is all about good discussions that push you one step further. These discussions will make you uncomfortable, which means you have to leave your comfort zone every day. This makes you think and talk about things you haven’t thought about before. 

Also, with our model shop, we are able to prototype very fast, so we can fail early in the process and fix the issues and problems we see during process and prototyping. This is the key for a great product—see problems early through discussion and prototyping, and solve them to create something really great.

3. How does the team’s work process reflect the Coalesse brand statement: “Led by intuition, backed by research, driven by design”? 

JH: The design studio, and the team of people who make it up, are constantly observant of the world around them and the emergent trends that they are seeing. They use this to form their intuition and lead their explorations. We are constantly working with our partners in research to help inform our thinking and to make sure our intuition is directionally correct, and then we use our design skills to turn these ideas into physical prototypes which test the viability and desirability of the concepts. The brand statement is our process.

MM: This describes approximately our daily work process. The intuition comes from our experience, previous projects or studies. The research helps us to focus our perspective on the issue or situation which has to be solved. At the end, the design is our way to solve the problem in an innovative, intuitive and appealing way.

FS: We always start an exploration with our intuition—we think about the user’s behavior, future technologies and what’s next. But to prove our intuition, we have to manifest our thoughts and learnings with research. Once the concept is set, we work closely with our team of engineers and project managers to get the best result in performance, aesthetics, function, sustainability and a lot more things, which then ends up being good design. 

4. What Coalesse products do you personally find yourself using the most in the studio, and why? 

JH: The studio surrounds itself with the products it designs and develops—it tests new ideas and prototypes by using them. I often find myself sitting in a LessThanFive chair if I’m working at the desk, or in a Massaud Lounge if I want to put my feet up or be a little more focused and on my own. We gather around the standing-height Potrero415 tables both when doing individual work next to each other and when doing a project review. We have a large Potrero415 meeting table with a variety of chairs around it, and this is our go-to location for collaborating, meeting or even having a small celebration. We’re constantly trying new product configurations, and we also watch as others use the products, looking for insights that can be incorporated into current projects.

MM: Mostly the Massaud Lounge chair, because it provides an alternative seating posture compared to my work in a task chair at a desk. It’s comfortable, easy seating, and I can still work with my laptop or iPad in it, thanks to the attached table. 

FS: I use the Massaud Lounge the most. It’s great for focused work. I always use it during a research phase. The other one is the LessThanFive chair. It’s funny, but I mostly don’t even sit on it. I take it with me, carry it around and play with it. It’s just so light!

5. What’s on the horizon for Coalesse?

JH: Building on the last 10 years, more new projects that create new categories of work applications, more new materials and processes, more craft and customization that will unlock creativity and more projects that focus on comfort and the well-being of workers.

MM: For me the horizon is a vision for how the way we work will change in the future and how we can create suitable solutions for these scenarios. My vision here is to make a change and have an impact—for example, making our products more sustainable, more eco-friendly, more appealing, more contemporary. 

FS: We are all curious about what’s next, how technologies will develop, what new eco-friendly opportunities lie ahead and so on. I can say, the projects we are working on right now will be super interesting!

John Hamilton, global design director Markus Marschall, industrial designer Florian Schulz, industrial designer
Published On: February 22, 2019
Filed under: Design News

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