September 17, 2008

Meet enPieza! and Some of Their Friends –

or, How to Help Daily Objects Forget Their Initial Destiny for Fun and Profit
by Ziggy Nixon

I have to be honest: I could (should) have released this interview a lot earlier. The good folks at studio enPieza! very kindly got back to me within just a few short days after we began our correspondence together. But since that time, it just seemed to me that our sunny friends from Spain (or is that our friends from sunny Spain?) – not just the studio but the whole darn country – had received enough publicity.

First, there was the not-entirely-unexpected victory of Rafael Nadal in Roland Garros. Or was that after Carlos Sastre of Spain won the Tour de France? Anyways, afterwards there was naturally the spectacular victory of the Spanish soccer side in the European Cup (which my friend Alberto can attest I even predicted! Well, kind of… I did say they had a good chance…). From there, of course, Senõr Nadal – arguably one of the most amazing athletes to break onto the global scene in ANY sport for many years – went on to win Wimbledon, much to the chagrin of the local Swiss faithful. So there I sat, wondering if the Spanish would continue to conquer all takers (it was about this time as well that via the AP Photo section I learned that Spanish people can in fact fly!).

But alas, a few short weeks ago, despite a very strong overall team showing in many different events, Spain shockingly “only” won the silver medal in men’s basketball at the Beijing Olympics. And so as the American press were quick to proclaim, order was restored to the USA-niverse and the Spanish had to deal with a little less global notoriety (yeah, sure). In addition, despite getting a bad break from the weather and a surprising loss to – of all people – a Scotsman, Brother Rafael in fact failed to win the US Open (for those that don’t remember, he only made it to the half-finals. Geez, what a loser!).

It’s just I mean, really! Even the Spanish Royal Family is comprised of very attractive people with good teeth, average-sized ears and no discernible traces of insanity or interest in dating ponies at all! What’s up with that? But alas, and with all kidding aside, it is indeed a pleasure to bring you these enjoyable few pearls of wisdom from this talented and fun-loving team from the magnificent city of Madrid:

Welcome amigos. Can you describe a little more about your "team", please?
For a long time after we started in 2005, it was just the two of us. Last year we started to work together with two other designers, who were more focused on graphics and also web design.

But since then our project team has grown: first, we have acquired a huge space for our studio which is about to officially open. We’ve also opened it up to new collaborators such as illustrators, industrial designers, architects, and more.

Today studio enPieza! is composed of 5 teams comprised of 2 persons each. We have 3 product or industrial design teams, 1 graphics and communication focused team and 1 then looking primarily at web-based projects.

Do you do all your own design and "modeling", as well as production of the first actual pieces after a design is completed?
We not only do the prototyping and/or modeling of every first piece, but so far all our products are handmade by us in our workshop, from the first piece to the last. Everything we do now is also produced in a limited quantity and numbered.

Because we do have our wonderful workshop, we can afford to labor on our dreams, give them shape and see them grow solid.

How do you balance the responsibilities, including management, for different projects? Is anyone the boss or even "specialist" for different projects?
As mentioned before, we have a very good team with many specialists and collaborators involved. So, somehow, each project finds the designer it needs.

The coordination of every project is the responsibility of the two enPieza! founders.

You offer different services including graphic design, photography, and illustrations, as well as of course your unique products, ranging from your catalogue works, different projects, furniture and jewelry just to name a few. What description do you think best fits your own vision of your work and your company?
Our philosophy is that creativity is a free bird! It’s not healthy to limit its flight. So we try not to limit anything with descriptions or titles.

What we do is what we want to do, what we like to do and what we enjoy doing. Business comes after that.

How does your business model work, that is, how do you generate sales and your income?
We are just people trying to make our ideas come true, executing projects and letting them – and us – live. When something gets into our minds or bites into our insides we just have to let it out. We make our creations real and come to life by working on them in our minds and with our hands, giving them form and identity.

To be honest, some of our most interesting projects and pieces do not bring us “big money”. But we find that “press” or exposure is assured, which helps our studio to grow.

We have produced some objects where we’ve worked with private clients to create unique pieces that fit their needs. Of course, along with these, our “common products” and also then contract graphic or web design projects help generate income.

Is there a particular balance in terms of how you go about designing for different types of projects?
Each component of the studio has its own particular balance and criteria for creating. What we try then is to mix up the best of each, using the best range of abilities and talents we have to best fit each particular project.

Can you describe how your design process has evolved over time?
The design process evolves for us every day. We are still growing and learning.

We find it very positive that we are able to always re-design our company’s methods and work patterns to keep things fresh, original and more.

Your designs are very artistic but there is still an obvious need for at least some know-how in terms of engineering, metal behavior, electronics, plastics, etc. How do you bring into your design process the needed "operational" details? Examples that spring to my mind include:
  • How you make sure that a lamp doesn't "shock" the customer or burn up a plant that you want to grow?
  • Or how can you ensure that a pair of cool sunglasses doesn't break when someone is fixing their skateboard wheels?
We have our professional set-up that provides us already with some of the needed know-how skills. Working with collaborators and also carrying out more research as required by a given project covers the rest.

Obviously, some experimental projects, like the Lamplanta or the (which shows how common objects can lead “secret lives”!) require a period of testing to make sure they meet their designed function. Once this is completed and we are sure the product works, then it is ready for the world.

A little further into this topic, your team is well known indeed for the playful Volivik lamps made out of BIC pens (10 out of 10, I love it!). Can you describe the design process used for creating these pieces and why you chose of all things these pens as your "media"?
These were created using a very straightforward concept: you see, classic chandeliers have always had something “hanging” down from a central support. The overall universally known shape of such lamps has changed along the years, but most of them always had specifically something clear and shiny dangling down, typically what we call “crystals”.

We have respected this pattern, but changed the main character of the lamp, its soul.

The way it happened is that we realized the following “coincidence”: With classic chandeliers, the crystal pieces are typically long, slim, multi-faceted, transparent prisms. We translated this to the Bic pens which are by design also long, slim, multi-faceted, transparent prisms, even if made with simple plastics and meant to be discarded after use.

For us this is not just about re-styling; it also changes (re-cycles) the use of something that everybody knows very well, in this case, the Bic ball-point pen. This is an obviously massively popular everyday object, and really an icon of 20th Century design that most people just take for granted.

As we mention before, this piece was one that did bring lots of exposure, with mention even in such magazines as
Newsweek and many others around the world.

The use of light seems to play an important role in many of your works. Is this intentional?
It just happened this way. Maybe light seduces us in some special way.

But a lot of our most recent and also current projects do not have a light theme.

Obviously, in terms of "objects" per se, you use a lot of different materials, ranging from plastic, wood, metal, etc. Do you have a favorite media or material with which you work?
We are focused on making objects of a special sort, with our unique pieces being developed through any number of trials, experiments, transformations or even recycling processes.

We use then whatever arts and craft techniques that might seem suitable, combining then any “prime” or manufactured materials. We may also start from scratch, or even use objects from the trash or even start with established market products. In terms of special skills, we are professionals with metal works; also wood is a good friend.

Working with man-made materials is also interesting, and when their properties are ideal for a piece, we do not hesitate to learn as much as we can about them and how to use them. I would say that common plastics, resins and silicones are now also good friends to our team.

Materials based on newer technologies are interesting, too, but often are not very accessible.

Do you have any media or combinations of media that you haven't tried yet but with which you would like to experiment (more)?
It is important to us that we do whatever is necessary in order to realize the sort of work process that can unify the project and its manufacture, as well as the concept phase and the resulting object. We seek to create a unique and untouchable link between designer and creation, one that will remain no matter what happens to the latter in the future.

Our curiosity never gets tired, so we would be open to any idea. Again if a design needs something, we will use it.

Maybe we suffer a bit from
Diogenes syndrome because it seems we never throw something away. If that’s the case, no problem! We think there’s always a value to everything. At enPieza!, daily objects have to often forget their initial destiny.

I really like your
Graphic Design selections, your use of skateboards and even a "depressed" hanging lamp-man (my favorite in a very morbid way) and find them all to be quite enjoyable and funny in addition to being interesting designs!! What motivated you to produce such “playful” items?
We really don’t care or let’s say worry about whatever it is that moves our creativity – it could be fun, or for pleasure or even based on market forces.

The feeling we get when we’re able to finally sort out any challenges a project or design gives us, when we can make what we set out to do and our ideas become tangible, well, this gives us the greatest kick of all. I guess you could say this is our dope.

Every piece we make is a new friend. It has personality and presence – so we like it.

Have you ever had a project that you thought just didn't work out – for any reason, including lack of ideas, problems with the customer or just general bad "feelings" – and if yes, what did you learn from that experience?
Every studio has a project that at some point does not work out. Even in every project there are always times we something isn’t working. So at that point, we need to learn how to solve it. For us this is always good for learning new skills and gaining valuable experience.

Our attitude is that if some conceptual project is not possible in terms of being able to be realized today, it probably will be someday.

This comes in large part from our origins. You see, enPieza! began as a hobby project. We had kind of a “need to do” feeling that made us join together and start creating just for the need of self realization.

Then the requirements that came as the studio developed pushed us to make our first catalogue and web site without having studied for it. So we improved our skills to make them possible.

Especially for the web, we had to learn quite a lot from scratch to make it happen: how to set up domains and work within web “space”, how to program basic html, etc. Fortunately, the Internet has always been a good friend to us to help get the information we need.

Do you see any particular design trends in your field(s) in the coming years?
For us this is very much alive. We will just have to wait and see as today no one can know for sure.

For design in general, well, this is conditioned by market forces. Again, we don’t let this worry us. Our influences include anything we find nice, funny, useful, interesting, you name it.

How do you see your own business evolving?
When we first started, we tried to keep our design and manufacturing process, at least in the first stages, far from industrial, commercial or other limiting considerations. Now we do have an interest in finding a manufacturer to produce a specific line of products on a larger scale than what we can do ourselves today. So we’d like to try this out to see how it goes.

We would also like to continue to push designing for special clients, with whom we can express more freely our creativity by making a few, very unique pieces in our workshop. But of course, we will definitely continue to develop and produce our own hand-made limited products series.

We’d also like to focus on some more interior design projects and be involved in even more exhibitions and special events.

Anything special coming up for the team?
Si! Between September and October we will be “officially” opening enPieza!’s new space in Madrid together with the widely anticipated introduction to our new collection. If you can’t visit us in person, then please visit our website for more!


After what they themselves described as a necessary period of search and definition, enPieza! exhibited its “Duosys” wheel-chair at the XXXIII Geneva International Show (Inventions and New Techniques – April 2005), winning the silver medal in its class. That event marked the beginning of their activities as an organized, coherent group and provided many valuable lessons in not only dealing with the aesthetics of a project but also needed practical steps that would support them in taking their first work proposals.

In 2006 enPieza! had three of their creations selected for exhibition at the prestigious “NUDE” (New Spanish Design) section of the “Feria Internacional del Mueble de Valencia”, a much sought out showcase for new designers. Their two lamps (“Volivik” and “Lamplanta”), and table set (“El Toque Maestro”) were widely covered by the media present, and they quickly gained a reputation as exciting and talented newcomers with a fresh touch.

In March 2007, London’s Science Museum acquired one of the largest versions of their well-known lamp series – “
Volivik 347” – for its permanent collection, and as a special exhibit piece for its “Plasticity” show that began in May 2007, a very popular event that has had its run extended through January 2009. Different units of the “Volivik” series in varied sizes are also presently alight in the US (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver), UK (London, Oxford), France (Clichy, Nimes), Italy (Rome, Perugia), South Korea (Gwangju), as well as in several Spanish locales.

Noting ZN can not verify the owners of the shoes shown above, enPieza! is in part comprised of the following talents: Lucas Muñoz, David Tamame, Beatriz Fidalgo, Juan Francisco Barrero and Luis Moral.

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