Friday, August 8, 2008

interview - Soren Luckins

Top image - the Buro North team (Soren in the centre), and below, a snapshot of their fantastic workspace in the CBD.

Buro North's Green Xmas Tree, which won a prestigious Premiers Design Award last month

The team at Buro North produced this cover image for Inside Magazine, responding to the theme of the issue - 'Creative Spaces'.

'Chiodo Splash' won the 2005 Melbourne Design Festival's 'Design Landscapes' competition. The concept was based on the idea of capturing a 'frozen moment', and was designed as an installation for the stairwell / window of the Chiodo men's clothing boutique in the CBD.

ING swirl public sculpture

Identity design for Eat Green Design - part of this year's State of Design Festival. I thought the 'egd' was made of illustrated vegies but no it's a photograph. Lovely, simple yet effective idea...There's a great little time lapse video here on the Buro North Blog about this one... check it out.

In only 4 short years, Melbourne-based multidisciplinary design company Büro North has come a very long way. Founded in 2004 by designer Soren Luckins, this young design house has gained a solid reputation for its innovative and meticulous work, and has won numerous awards both here and overseas. In the last 12 months, the business has grown from 2 employees to 10, and continues to develop with the challenges of every new project. They recently received a Premiers Design Award for their 'Green Xmas Tree', and this year Soren was also named one of the 'most exciting designers under 30' as part of the 'Young Guns Awards' by the New York Art Directors Club. Over achiever alert :)

Büro North's diverse folio includes signage and wayfinding, graphic design and branding/identity, industrial design, furniture design, publications... the list goes on. Their website and blog are well worth a browse for a dose of diverse, innovative local talent of a truly international standard. 

I am so inspired by Büro North's amazing success and impressive portfolio. I am also in awe of Soren's work ethic! (check out his answer to my 'typical work day' questions - makes me tired just thinking about it!). I've no doubt we'll be hearing a lot more about Büro North and Soren Luckins in the next few years.

A big thankyou to Soren and his team for this fantastic interview and the pre-formatted photos (love that!)

Tell me a little about your background - what did you study and what path led you to what you're doing now?

As a kid I had a habit of pulling things apart and never putting them together the same way. I always tried to remake my model cars, boats, planes and improve them with modifications. By 18, I was rebuilding a Volkswagen and I realized I could do this for the rest of my life (not rebuild Volkswagens, but create and play with objects and things)..

After studying at art/design school for one year to develop a folio, I completed a BA in Industrial Design at Swinburne University. I then headed off to Germany where I studied a combination of Graphic Design and Architecture. Whilst in Germany I worked for an multidisciplinary studio, and when arriving back in Melbourne I searched for a similarly diverse firm, only to realize that none existed. I then started freelancing at various firms until landing a large signage project that enabled me to fund the development of Büro North.

Büro North has come a long way since you first started in 2004. What goals did you initially have for your business, and how has the company evolved over the last 4 years?

For the first 2 years it was just me, freelancing wherever the jobs called, and working for other firms by day while working nights on Büro North projects.

The goals that motivated me to work all hours then still resound now. I wanted to develop a studio practice that was highly creative and exciting, while realizing client's briefs purely and honestly.

After 2 years I had enough regular project work to justify an employee and about a year later, things really took off. In the last 12 months we have grown from the 2 of us to the 10 people that are involved now. We have 6 or so designers, an Office Manager, Accounts and a part-time business advisor who coaches and assists with the development of the practice.

The studio has grown quite organically and we have managed our growth so that every client we have is a client who shares our design objectives, if our clients’goal is a high quality design outcome, then our roles and responsibilities are straightforward and the outcomes reflect this.

Distinctive wayfinding and signage at Falls Creek

Büro North has an incredibly varied portfolio - how is the company structured to facilitate such a variety of work?

We do have to manage our project typology very carefully. It’s really quite a trap to become renowned for a certain type of work, and then get stuck repeating that type of project. As the crew span from graphic to industrial design, we often create new collaborations that allow us to blur those traditional boundaries, which in turn promotes greater diversity in our folio.

Given our diverse project base, we like to maintain the balance between graphic print based work, environmental graphics, signage projects and product design.

We also enlist the help of many experts so that we are not confined by our own knowledge. We often work with way-finding experts ID LAB on complicated signage projects. We will call in the expertise of LCA (Life-Cycle Assessment) experts for projects where we can really push the sustainability and we also seek opportunities to work with interesting collaborators such as the VEIL innovation lab, where we get to build on their research and turn their ideas into professional concepts.

The VEIL solar-shade is a government-funded solar energy harvesting structure designed for Australian primary schools. This design was commissioned by the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab.

When you approach a brief initially, where do you turn for inspiration - books, magazines, or the web? Do you pay attention to trends in the broader design world like fashion, film, architecture?

I tend to take in the brief and mull it over for a few days before we start discussing it in the studio. I usually end up coming up with a direction without even realising I was thinking about it, when eating, riding or doing something random…

We also invest a fair bit of time in the research phase, and this takes in everything from books, magazines, web to a host of other influences. My goal for Büro North is to output highly creative projects that are matched by functional and technical rigour, the pragmatics need as much attention as the creative expression. There is a host of work done around the world that is pragmatic and perhaps boring, and a host done that is highly creative yet functionally flawed, but the middle ground where the two compliment and are co-dependant is the hardest and most rare, and this is the space that I enjoy working, the challenge of both gives the best reward.

Graphic material designed for State of Design's recent Design Made Trade event. Buro North also collaborated with VISY in the design of the cardboard booths and exhibition layout. (some photos here and here)

Which designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?

Thomas Heatherwick

Alex Trochut

2x4 New York

Rem Koolhaas

Robert Owen

Tronic Studio

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Coffee, training, work, food and people, sort of in that order.

5am Short macchiato before kayak training on the Yarra River or running at the tan.

7am Get to work for 2 hours of great clear-headed time with a pot of fresh coffee & breakfast.

9am Day turns into a blur of calls, emails and design reviews, lunch at 3’ish at Slow.

7pm Home to my partner Kate for a late dinner and debrief our days.

12pm Call it a day and switch the brain off.

What are you most proud of professionally?

The studio. We have a really fantastic team, an amazing space and a strong network of creative and interesting people around us…

What's the best thing about your job?

Proposing a design direction to the crew, and seeing it develop and turn into something better than I had imagined would be possible.

And the worst?


Singlehandedly the most boring and annoying part of my life.

What would be your dream project?

One where the challenges are plentiful, with tight parameters, a client that cares about innovation, good design and sustainability, with a budget to match the design tasks

that is set in an exotic location like St Petersburg or Oman... And upon successful completion, the client is ecstatic, has become our friends and we all high five afterwards…

What are you looking forward to?

My wedding in November, the honeymoon, not taking my laptop.

Melbourne Questions -

What / where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Dining Room 321 – A surprise from my partner for winning the Premiers Design Awards last week. Was the most incredible meal I can remember eating.

Where do you shop in Melbourne for the tools / necessities of your trade? (ie sketching / rendering tools, computer equipment, sculpting tools and materials for creating prototypes?)

Actually. Almost everything is done on a trusty Mac. We design everything and output 3D files or artwork. We are specialists in designing, and in curating the process with our team and collaborators, and we prefer to engage specialist manufacturers, prototype companies, artists etc for their skills when we need them.

I strongly abide by the idea that if something is worth committing to, then its worth committing 100% and really the only way to ensure incredible outcomes is to put the right people together with the right tasks, and that often means we have to find and seek out the right collaborators for new ideas, a process that can be both rewarding and frustrating!

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Either riding my mountain bike in the Otways, surfing down the coast, or cursing my 1951 BMW motorbike for breaking down again…

Melbourne's best kept secret?

James Cameron boutique