August 12, 2008

The Magic at Sun Rise – Shahar Peleg

Shahar Peleg (b. 1976) is a multi-disciplined designer who develops and produces a wide selection of commercial items in limited quantities. His creations are highly sought after in design stores and via on-line distributors based in Israel and other countries or areas including Japan, Singapore, Australia, Europe and the United States.

Shahar’s interesting take on design is that he creates every-day objects with additional values giving them a fresh character and great sense of fun. His experimentations with optical illusions often result in smart and surprising designs that challenge the spectator to take a closer, more detailed look. His products are typically made with ordinary materials and are characterized by their minimalist forms.

Ziggy Nixon recently caught up with this talented young Israeli artist to ask more about how he manages to conjure up so many wonderfully magical designs:

Shahar, thanks so much for your time.

To start off, how would you describe yourself – or let's say your professional "title" – best? I've seen you described as a "multi-disciplined-" or "industrial-" designer or even a "stylist". What do you think best fits your own vision of your work?

I think that "products designer" comes closest. However, to be honest, even then I usually think of product designers as professionals who work with clients or design for companies. The key difference for me is that I work on only my own ideas and products under my own brand.

In fact, I rarely accept an offer to design something for another brand or company. I like working where no one from outside is dictating any part of the design process to me. Also, for me its very important that only the "general public" – that is the people who buy or receive my products – ultimately judge how good my work is or how successful a piece turns out to be.

Your designs seem to have a special flair but also a sense of simplicity to them. Do you see your design processes or designed objects becoming more complicated in the future?

In terms of my work changing, my products continue to technically improve (materials, production processes, packaging, etc.). But I still like to focus on everyday products that are "simple", or which come from simple needs and lead then to creating a simple design.

I'm not interested in designing products like phones, cars or any other complicated or progressive products. I want to stay with "low-tech" items that make you smile and then continue growing by doing these even better.

Looking at your collection, there is an obvious need for some know-how in terms of material engineering, including metal behavior, heat or water resistance properties, etc.. How do you bring into your design process the needed "operational" details, for example, making sure that a wine bottle holder stays strong, or that a pot holder does not melt?

For me a lot of the needed technical knowledge is acquired during the design and creation process. Each time I start to work with a material or process that I'm not familiar with, I study it very thoroughly.

In some cases, I’ll consult with experts and other colleagues for support. In other cases, there is a LOT of "trial and error" involved.

For example, with the "Crime Scene trivet", we tried around 10 different materials (wood, rubber, silicone, cork, felt, etc.) before we decided to work with metal. Then in our studio, we test all new products extensively to avoid possible faults that might occur from normal usage. We also try to think a few steps ahead as well.

This is for me very important because I feel the function is more important than the form.

A little further into this topic, the "Reflective Menorah" you are so well-known for is not only beautiful in its design and color, but displays an amazing use of reflectivity and playful utilization of light (10 out of 10, I love it!). Can you describe the design process used for creating this elegant piece?

I also love this product and am proud of the success its enjoyed.

You see, some of my products actually start from an idea or technique and then afterwards I think about how to use these in a product, versus the other way around.

In the case of the Menorah, the principle of twisted optics is known since the Middle Ages. Looking at this ancient technique, I then decided to use it in my design. (To be accurate – this Menorah is actually an Hannukia. See more about it

In terms of how I designed this piece, I first took the familiar shape of the Menorah and distorted it. Then I placed the mirror in front of it to "correct" the image and reflect the original shape back to the viewer. Again, this was a good example of how sometimes designs can be long "trial and error" processes, as it wasn’t so easy to get the shape just right and keep the aesthetics in place.

Do you have a favorite media with which you work? You seem to have several items made not only from metal but also even glass and/or mirror, as seen below with your "tic-tac-toe" board? Do you have any media that you haven't tried yet but would like to experiment (more) with?

Again, my products grow from ideas that I have in my head. Once I have an idea and a product to fit or let’s say "contain" it, I start thinking of possible suitable materials.

For example, I still don’t have any plastic products in the market, but I'm working on one right now, noting that colleagues who have seen the prototype think it's going to be a hit. Here was again a case where I knew nothing about plastic but because this product as I saw it in my mind had to be made out of plastic, I learned about the material and worked from there. And I think I did a good job with it.

What would you describe as your main target for something you design?

I think that with the kind of products I design, that are typically then bought as a present for someone or even for personal use, should "make" you do something.

What I mean is I want my work to "make you smile", or "make you go ‘WOW’!" or make you wonder or think about how an effect is achieved. For me, in order to achieve this, the design has to be out of the ordinary. It has to have some "magic" in it.

Describe a little bit more the importance of including this sense of magic that you bring into your work?

I was always fascinated with optical illusions and illusions in general. In fact, when I was about 15 years old I trained to be a magician. I loved magic and I also thought it will be a good way to earn some money. So, I took a short course and started to perform at birthday parties and other events. I even made enough money for my first television, an audio system and a trip to Greece.

But very importantly, my love for magic is still strong today, and I think it shows in most of my products.

You apparently like to keep your works "affordable" (whatever that means these days!!). Why is this important to you, noting you’ve commented before that this aspect is your "cardinal rule of design"?

I like to reach as many people as I can. I want my products to be accessible to people like me and my friends who like design but don’t think that you have to take out a second mortgage to buy cool stuff.

I think that the price in the store where that first impression is made with the customer is very important. Sometimes I will even change something in the product so it can fit the "right price" (as long as it's not harming or compromising the design).

I really enjoy hearing from stores or distributors who tell me that they have some customers that always come back to buy the same product of mine over and over. For example, one store told they had a customer who has purchased dozens of sets of the magnetic vases this past year as presents for her friends and family.

I guess that not only she liked the product but so did those who received the presents. Still, this example says to me as well that the price has to be "right" and plays a big part of the success of my products.

One only has to search for your name on the Internet to see that your materials are sold in several countries and regions. Still, do you see any particular challenges or other barriers facing an Israeli designer or artist in the world today?

No ;-)

One on-line mention of your work described the following:
"When product designer Shahar Peleg got married ... he and his bride were both seeking appealing but unobtrusive center-pieces for their tables. They couldn’t find a thing, so engaging that typical Israeli creativity, Shahar developed magnetic vases..."

For someone who doesn't have too much experience with the local culture, how would you describe to me what "typical Israeli creativity" means?

I don't think that these days there can be a "typical" description assigned to different artists working in any country. We live in a smaller and smaller world, we all read the same blogs on the Internet and we all go to the same fairs (or see reports about them on-line). So it's hard to indicate any sort of "standard" characteristic of any country in today’s design world.

But if I had to put my finger on one thing that might be the Israeli designer "thing" I guess it is improvisation. Making things from junk. I guess we could be called the "MacGyver’s" of design.

By the way, I got this definition from Mel Byars, a design historian and author who recently published a book on Israeli design called "Improvisation, New Design in Israel" (see link

Looking ahead for the next years, do you see any particular design trends affecting your work?

I don’t follow trends. I really don’t even know what’s trendy these days. I do what I believe in and hope people will love it even if it's not trendy.

In the future, I guess that the kind of design I'm dealing with now will stay as it is: making things you really desire but usually don't really need…

I've seen you graduated with a first degree in Interior Architecture but that you’ve later said that you even didn't like it so much. Still, what influence did your education have on your work?

I think that the thing with interior design is that you have a client, who usually doesn't really understand design. Maybe they want things that they saw in a magazine or in a friend’s house. Then as the designer you have to make compromises and the final result can be very far from your vision.

In comparison, again in my "field" I have the luxury to do what I want, and only the people – the clients – will decide if its good or not, and if they'll buy it or not.

Still, I think that my interior design studies gave me a different point of view of products and life in general, which was very important for my development. In fact, when I lecture today to product design students and they ask me if I regret not learning product design, my answer is "no". I think this is part of my basic make-up as a designer.

If you could do any other kind of work in the world, what would it be and why? Maybe I should restrict you from answering magician, no?

Been there, done that… (:-)

I think I have the privilege – as I had when I was 15 and doing magic – to do what I love and make my living from it. If I could chose what I want to do – I would be the designer I am now.

What kind of job would you absolutely hate doing and why?

Paperwork. I hate it and I’m really not very well organized…

Finally, what does "Shahar" mean? I really think its a great name!

Shahar means "Dawn". Just before the sun rise…


Shahar Peleg of Peleg Design (based in Tel-Aviv) graduated from the Academic Institute of Technology Holon in 2004 with a first degree in Interior Architecture. He has exhibited his works in numerous shows in Israel and around the world.

Included among the honors he has received are Second Prize at the Tokyo International Gift Show (March 2007) and also First Prize at the GAPP Design Awards- Singapore Gift and Premiums Fair (July 2006). For more, please visit
Shahar’s web-site linked also to the right in this blog or just scan the dozens of web-sites that feature great gifts and beautiful objects from his design selection.

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