Behind the Design: Morten Bo Jensen

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Morten Bo Jensen is Chief Designer at family-owned Vipp. Vipp’s story began in 1939, when Danish metalsmith Holger Nielsen (1915-1990) designed a functional and handsome pedal bin for his wife Marie’s hairdressing salon. Intended as a one-off, the bin attracted the attention of many of Marie’s salon clients, who were the wives of doctors and dentists. Believing it would be ideal for their husbands’ clinics, a pedal bin star was then born. Holger would often say that ‘good design never goes out of fashion’, and it’s a philosophy that Vipp has honoured to this day.

Until Holger’s sudden death in 1990, Vipp was a small concern, its focus directed at the professional market. Not wishing to see her father’s work disappear, Holger’s youngest daughter Jette Egelund, a social worker, adopted the business; with a Vipp bin under her arm, she hit the road. Jette believed the bin would appeal to design enthusiasts and with much determination, she convinced a number of leading design stores to stock Holger’s creation. From that point, Vipp has continually grown and is a third generation family business: Jette’s son Kasper Egelund is Vipp’s CEO.

In 2006, Morten Bo Jensen joined Vipp as its Chief Designer. An industrial designer, Morten Bo was entrusted with the task of taking Vipp’s design principles and DNA—based on everyday, well-made, lasting and functional tools—into the future. Working with the Egelunds, Morten Bo began to create and narrate the next big chapter of Vipp’s story, adding to the brand’s product range and building its international reputation. In the past ten years, both Morten Bo and Vipp have achieved many product milestones, including the Vipp kitchen and shelter.

Gessato gets behind the design with Morten Bo Jensen.

What are five words that best describe you?

Well, perhaps it’s better to ask someone who knows me well. But, I hope those close to me would describe me as persistent, detail-oriented, unpretentious, honest and quite straightforward.

I got my first Vipp bin in 2005 and have been hooked on Vipp’s design philosophy ever since. What does the Vipp bin represent to you?

To me, the bin represents the very essence of great design. It has stayed relevant for almost eighty years, simply because it’s a joy to use every single day and its quality is long-lasting—not least on the eye.

One reason I admire Vipp is because of how it started: the story of a young Holger Nielsen designing and making a bin for his wife Marie’s hair salon back in 1939. Nearly eighty years later, what do you think Holger would say about Vipp today?

I hope he would be amazed to see how we have translated the design of his pedal bin into a complete range of products, with lamps, kitchens and even an entire house. These are products that share the same core philosophy that Holger founded back in 1939.

Vipp’s product portfolio has diversified greatly in the past ten years, incorporating numerous kitchen, bathroom and living tools, not to mention the Vipp shelter. With this in mind, how would you summarise the essence of Vipp?

Every new Vipp product is born from the philosophy of creating functional, timeless tools, designed for everyday use. With this philosophy we deliberately steer clear of contemporary and passing trends, because we have an ambition to create lifetime product relationships for our customers. Our products are not cheap: for example, when you buy a Vipp kitchen, we believe it’s important to ensure you can keep it for the rest of your life, instead of it becoming ‘so last year’ very quickly. That is the brand value we strive to uphold for every single Vipp product.

The Vipp shelter is something of a Vipp mega product. But where do you begin when conceiving such a project?

We actually began in exactly the same way as with any other Vipp product. We basically see the shelter as a tool for getting out in nature. Even though its scale is very different from the rest of our product line, our design process always aims to bring the product to life, employing the design principles we have used since 1939.

Vipp designs everything in-house. What are the benefits of this approach?

Design is often seen as the final destination of a product, but it’s actually my strong belief that design should be seen as a mindset that guides the process from initial idea to final product. And that’s a process that can take years and follow many potential routes. Thus at Vipp, the very close and daily teamwork between designers, engineers, salespeople and communication’s team, is absolutely essential in developing a new Vipp product. In fact, I think that’s the only way to organize design competences, if you want to build a strong brand with a distinct and coherent design DNA.

What makes a good designer?

I think it really depends on the kind of design you want to offer, but a thorough understanding of the entire operation behind a product is key: from the initial idea to the final customer desire. That’s something I personally strive to be better at every single day. There’s something beautiful in experiencing a truly happy customer, while at the same time growing a business that allows you to offer even more products.

You’ve previously asserted: ‘once you have captured the essence of a product and done your utmost in its conception, what else is there to achieve?’ With this in mind, how do you decide on what the next Vipp product (tool) will be?

We are constantly exploring new and potential product categories, but will only venture into a new product area if we feel that our design philosophy can contribute something better than what already exists. In a world where the market is flooded with products that aim to satisfy every contemporary trend and push instant purchasing power, we often feel we can push in a better direction: one that embraces longevity. Having decided on a new category, for example lamps, our strategy is always to do the best we can, coming up with just one of each product: the best one.

How does it feel to live with your own designs?

Apart from it being an excellent way to test out new product ideas, it is of course a great pleasure and one that makes me feel very privileged. But, having the chance to meet customers who are extremely happy with their new Vipp lamp, their new Vipp kitchen, or who are touched to tears by visiting the Vipp shelter—it actually happened—is truly the most rewarding experience you can imagine.

When do you feel most inspired?

When I’m surrounded by people who are very passionate and talented in what they do. I’m always inspired to do my best to keep up with them, and that is super inspiring. It’s kind of the same feeling I got when I visited Milan in all of its Fuorisalone design splendour—it always makes me want to create something in an almost itchy way.

Photos © Vipp.

Gerard McGuickin

Gerard

I’m a design writer, lover and aficionado, living in a modish neighbourhood in south Belfast. My writing is studied and yet uninhibited, and my perspective on design is typically punctilious and urbane. My thinking is often guided by Dieter Rams’ ten principles for good design. I have an educational background in psychology (MSc + BSc) and believe in the potential for design to improve our daily quality of life. And without affectation, I value that which is aesthetically pleasing and inspiring (great design excites my imagination). Find out more at Walnut Grey Design.

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