In the interview that lies before you you’ll be introduced to two award-winning passionate students of industrial design of the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Tino Duralija and Jon Schwarzmann earned that title for their robot vacuum cleaner made suitable for people in the third age. The device got awarded first place in the category “A Hygienic Home” at this year’s London’s Student Design Awards presented by the Royal Society of Arts. The design was acknowledged at the annual Design Month Big SEE Awards that took place in Ljubljana on the 16. of October 2018, in the “Perspectives” category that is made to show the achievements of young designers.

First Id like you to introduce yourselves; Who are you and what do you do?
T: I’m Tino Duralija, I’m 21 and a student of University of Ljubljana, the Academy of Fine Arts and Design, where I study industrial design.

J: My name is Jon Schwarzmann, I’m 22 years old and I’m Tino’s classmate at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design.

Can you briefly explain what industrial design is?
Industrial design is an umbrella term to product design, in which the designer creates everyday objects, his job being to connect the end user to engineers. That is why he has to know the main issues and needs of the user and get those to the engineers. The end goal is connecting the engineering part to a good user experience.

And how did you get into it?
J: Well, ever since I was a kid I was drawing sailboats and cars and things like that, and in primary school I had this 3D modelling software that I started toying with, so in the 7th grade I already kind of knew I wanted to do that, and after high-school I just went for it.

T: For me it’s very similar, not the 3D software part, but I was constantly drawing cars and things of that nature, and I wanted to continue doing that – even in secondary school during class I was always drawing, so it was kind of a similar starting point to Jon’s.

What is the process of designing a product?
To simplify the process it is divided into 2 parts: the first part that people don’t really know about, but is really important, is the research part. Here’s where the designer has to observe the user, pinpoint all the problems of existing products and do a lot of research about materials and the manufacturing process and other aspects of product development. After he gathers all this information he has to take a step back and filter all this knowledge that he’s gotten, so he can get the crucial parts of it, and that is also what he focuses on later in the second part of the process.

The second part is the development process where he has to sketch and come up with different concepts, as many as he can, and then he has to take a step back again and evaluate which of these concepts solve the problem that he focused on in the first part the best. The better the first research part is done, the better the end result will be. So the main point is trying to solve those issues that you noticed in the first part, trying to create the product that fits the findings of your research the best.

You shouldn’t solve your own problems, you should always focus on the user so the first part is crucial to that.

Which aspects do you find most enjoyable, which most challenging, and why?
T: I guess one of the most enjoyable parts is when you’re near the end and you start making renders, because that’s when you get to see the product come to life. The hardest part is trying to get the answers from the users, because sometimes it’s hard to approach people you don’t know, and ask them stuff, because you have to ask them in the right way or observe how they react to certain things from the environment.

J: For me it’s similar, because I’m not particularly outgoing, so approaching strangers is quite difficult, and it’s sometimes hard to get the right information out of them. And another difficult part can also be the ideation phase, where you have to come up with lots of ideas and sometimes you just hit a creative block and you can’t come up with anything, so that can be hard to overcome.

The part I like the most is where you already have it all figured out and you just have to finish the visualisations and sort of present it in a right way, that part is the most enjoyable.

You mentioned creator’s block, do you have any strategies to get out of one? Some people say that you just have to turn the tap on and let the ideas flow, and some of them are pretty out there but then you stumble upon a good one, is it like that or is it something else?
J: That’s true, you should sometimes go crazy with the ideas and just do anything you can think of, even the crazy ones. The thing that helps me a lot is the fact that if you do good research i.e. the first part of the design process you get a lot of problems you can solve, so you can first just focus on very specific issues. That way you can find a solution easier.

T: Maybe the worst thing is to do nothing. You can’t say “Oh I don’t know what to do” and do nothing, you have to do something, sooner or later you’ll get to a point where you’ll get new ideas, maybe even based on some of the craziest ones, so the best thing is to just get going.

What is the source of your inspiration when youre designing something?
T: I’d say that I rely on my research and the problem at hand most of the time, and other times it’s usually some design-orientated publication.

J: I try to draw my inspiration from the actual problems that occur when I do the interviews and the research, and when it comes to the actual development and the form of the product, I’m really interested in how things work, the insides of a certain product.

Youre this years winners of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) Student Design Award, and it was also just revealed that you won the Slovene award from Zavod Big, called “Perspektivni” (“Promising”), at the annual grand opening of Design Month 2018 for the same project. Whats the story behind the project?
Last year we went to Ireland to do an Erasmus exchange, and there we had a module called “Universal Design”, and our mentor took the design brief from the competition and he gave it to us as our main assignment for the module. We were put into groups and we worked together with another student from Austria.

The brief was called “The hygienic home”, and the main objective was to find a solution for the elderly, a floor-cleaning product to prolong their independence.

The brief specifically said that it’s not advisable to go with robot vacuum cleaners because they are too complicated, but it presented an interesting challenge for us, so we decided to do exactly that. We had to design it from the ground up, with an older person in mind, how to make it easy for them, because they do find conventional robot cleaners difficult to use.

J: At the end, the product came out pretty well and our mentor said we can enter the competition with it, a couple months went by and I almost forgot about it, but then I remembered to do that just in time. And about 2 months later they got back to us, telling us we got shortlisted as the top 6 and that they wanted us to come to London for an interview, which was great news for us, and at that point the project really started for us, before that it was a nice concept, but we really wanted to develop it further.

We really wanted to have an answer for each question. When we got there we did pretty well, and then 3 weeks later they got back to us again.

T: I was sitting at home on the couch, doing nothing, and I though “hm, maybe I should check my email”, and all of a sudden I see one from the RSA saying “Congratulations…” and I thought we were just commanded, but the I saw that it said “you’re the winners” and I was like “Ooohh sh!#, I gotta call Jon!”

J: I had no idea, at that moment I was abroad and I didn’t expect the winners to be announced for at least 2 more weeks, and it was quite a surprise to receive the news.

You won this award as a team, how was it to work together and how did you handle disagreements, if you had any? Are you going to continue working together on future projects as well?
Erasmus brought us many group projects, we had to get used to it quite fast. There was a lot of planning and organising because people weren’t there during the weekends. We’ve worked together on past projects before, so we knew we get along well working together, and it was even better because we lived together, so that was really easy. The difficult part was then meeting up with our colleagues and splitting up the work.

Sometimes we had disagreements, but we talked about the issues and put different concepts and ideas to the test and discussed them with our mentor. That’s why we came to the solutions pretty fast.

Designing a winning product is an impressive achievement, what did it mean to you as designers and as individuals?
T: It actually meant a lot because you’re studying something, and you can get good grades and everything, but it maybe isn’t a true portrayal of your work, sometimes you’re unsure of some things and you don’t know how it’ll be like when you actually get to work. I was really happy; it was sort of a confirmation that I’m doing something right. And, as a designer, it will be a good reference for the time when I’ll be seeking employment and getting my name out there.

J: When I started college, I didn’t really know if I was going to be good at it, so getting positive feedback from professionals meant a lot to me. I now know that with the right approach I can do good projects in the future as well, and that this profession is the right fit for me. Individually it meant a lot as well.

How do you get around to naming the project? What are the legal boundaries that you encounter doing that?
The project was called SmartBot. If we were to go on with it we would definitely change the name. At the time we didn’t really put much thought into it, because when it all started we had no idea it would actually go this far. It’s a thing that as a designer mentors or professors sort of demand that you name everything you’re working on, and sometimes it’s kind of odd, and personally I’m really bad at it, so basically that’s how the name came about.

There was so much other work on our hands as well, so we did something that’s still catchy, but, a bit silly to be honest. But yeah, if we decided to go on further with this project, we would definitely have changed the name.

What will happen to SmartBot now? Are you planning on starting a company and putting it on the market, or does a partner of the RSA now own the rights to it?
They don’t really own the rights to it. We sort of wanted to get more feedback from professionals, because we actually want to know if the project is worth continuing. It is a good product and we would maybe like to take it a step further.

In our opinion, the function and the user experience are thought out quite well. However, the thing is still miles away from production. There’s a lot of different steps in-between now and the actual launch of the product. Right now, we would need to get more people, like some electrical engineers and programmers to develop it a bit further, and we could try and do a working prototype and then we could come up to a company and ask for a collaboration.

Speaking of legal rights and corporations, what are your thoughts on mass-production and the ways that it affects the designer? Why do you think that a lot of designers initially sell their design?
An industrial designer wants to reach as many people as he can with his design, and the only way he can really do that is through companies that have the resources and can actually manufacture that.

When we’re designing something, we have to keep in mind that it has to be mass-produced. We must consider the manufacturing processes, the resources available and we also have to keep in mind the cost of it all.

The point of industrial design is of course to give the users the best product and experience, but in the end, you usually have to work with a company that has to sell those products. Mass production is an essential thing to consider during the design process.

Recently, theres been a plastic-free”, “zero-waste, reducing-impact on the environment movement going on in all areas of consumerism. Do you also think about that when youre designing a product, and how do you face the issue of packaging?
When you’re designing you must look at all aspects of the product, such as the materials that are going into production, the way the product is going to be used, packaged, and of course the way it’s going to be disposed of or reused. You have to consider the whole life cycle and each step is important. Every designer would like to make products that have a low impact on the environment, that is in everyone’s interest, the problems were usually the companies, but now that’s not the case, people want to buy ecological, “green” products. New materials expand our options, which is good for us, and we’re also glad that things are better for the environment at the same time.

And finally, what are your aspirations as designers, what do you want to achieve, and are there any projects are you looking forward to in the future?
T: Like we discussed earlier, I’d like to have an impact on people’s lives to make them easier and more pleasant, and any way I could do that I would be extremely happy. A project that I’m looking forward to is my diploma thesis, it’s going to be a big one and I’m really excited to get started on that.

J: I don’t really know yet, first I’d like to finish this educational process, I also look forward to my diploma thesis as well, we both took another year off because of the competition. It all comes down to the projects that stand out, like this one did. I’d like to do as many quality projects as I can, to build up my portfolio. That way I can later get out there and join a company or a team of people that I’d really like to work with, that is the end goal. My biggest aspiration is to see my products reach production so that way I could actually influence people’s lives.


/ Text: Mia Janezic

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