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Cordula Kehrer – not dying to please everyone and to be noticed

May 14, 2010

When I sent German designer Cordula Kehrer an email blushing with infatuation with her Bow bins – damaged old plastic bins that are given a second chance just as they were ready for the tip; holes mended and plastic pieces are woven together with wicker, rattan and weed – she replied:

“You are right, it is about using damaged and old plastic buckets, and repairing them, resampling them and give a second life to them. This might be a topic lots of designers find interesting at the moment, but I think it’s a good direction that design could take, especially for designers who like to think not only design but also about resources, people, politics, and a lot more…”

She also said: What is it you are desillusioned about? (In explaining my love for her work I’d admitted to being obsessed with weaving at the moment as well as a being desillusioned product designer).

Me: To answer your question…I am desillusioned because I feel design could be so much more, so much better than what is currently being celebrated and therefore aspired to…I think designers are missing the whole point of design, actually, as a problem-solving activity, rather than engaging in just producing more stuff. I am worried about the obsession with newness which takes resources and time away from dealing with all the critical issues of our time – if designers could be freed up from trying to produce more glitzy bullshit in order to be seen and be the next darling in the design-world, and instead focus on, say, homelessness, obesity, social isolation…imagine what a better world we could make.

I believe that designers/makers/problem solvers traditionally have been a HUGE resource to any society, and I guess I feel like we’ve  stalled a bit in that capacity, and kind of lost direction. Of course there are still pockets of our profession working like that, but imagine if there was an event like the design-week that celebrated socially responsible problem-solving? What do you think? Does being a designer come with a certain responsibility?

Cordula: Thanks for answering my question about the desillusion – this is something that I really think a lot about these days, it’s something which arises even more questions for me: about Design itself and what it is or what it should be. I think the whole Design thing constantly spins around itself, like a contraption out of control  producing ever new stuff, as you said. One thing even more over the top than the last thing, dying to please everyone and to be noticed.

Sometimes it comes to my mind that Designers constantly worry about their right to do what they do. As Design is something in between art, architecture, but also industry, marketing and economy. We are trying to fill the gap between those really different areas, and maybe miss the point sometimes. There is so much Design around and in most cases, we don’t really know what it wants to tell us or what it is good for.

For me, one thing is sure: we don’t do art, and this quite new thing of expensive gallery one-offs seems strange and somehow pointless to me. When I think about this, the time comes to my mind when I was doing an internship at Marc Newson when he was preparing a limited edition for the Gargosian gallery in NY – he cut a shelf, chair and table of a big block of carrara marble. This seemed so inappropriate to me – using expensive material, producing lots of waste and shipping it around the world for no reason other than to impress some rich guys in a museum.

On the other hand, I don’t think that we should do the complete opposite and go back to traditional craft again, like weaving baskets – it’s important to use new techniques and try out new materials and production methods. It’s even ok to design another chair (on top of the million chairs that already exist…), if you manage to bring something new to it like using less material, using less costly manufacturing methods or making it stable so your children’s children still can use it (and still like it!). I personally like the last idea, that’s also sustainability to me: to be able to use a product for a long time and to use material that ages nicely. It’s not only about using eco-friendly material.

Me: Looking at the bow bins it doesn’t feel so much like a clash of materials but more like some kind of beautiful quirky marriage between an embracing plant and a stiff injection-molded being…what were your ideas behind them? Is there anything political about them?

Cordula: Regarding the bins, I didn’t want to make a political statement – I am not sure if Design is a good platform for that, or is powerful enough to really change things – the idea rather came naturally to me. The project was part of my diploma, and I designed dustbins for different companies. The topic itself is not very sexy, so i thought it was interesting to chose a company which is not very sexy either: a fair trade company. There have been lots of fair trade shops in Germany for a long time now, but the things you get there have got that Birkenstock/ Hippie/ Grandma image. Why not trying to change that and create something that fits the fair-trade idea and looks good and is useful at the same time? That’s one part of the idea.

The other part is the production: What kind of resources can be used when doing such a project? The bins were supposed to be made in non-industrialised countries, like african, asian or latin american countries. Some of the most valuable resources those countries have is time and cheap manpower, which is not available in western countries anymore: you just can’t afford someone weaving a basket for 4 hours and resell it at a reasonable price.

Another resource easily available is traditional handicraft such as basket making that uses cheap natural material growing locally. I would prefer the idea to produce them not too far from where it is finally sold, but this is not possible – cost is too high for handicraft in (Western) Europe. Basket weaving and lots of other traditional crafts are about to die out here, or will survive only if they can find a way to get into the high-end market. On one hand, it’s a shame that we forget about our traditions and don’t find a way to keep them alive. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s a way to save the crafts in Europe and other developed countries unless you don’t find a way to deploy them in a reasonable application. Designers shouldn’t stick to it if it doesn’t make sense to our whole style of living nowadays.

But still in other countries, it completely makes sense to use whatever resource is available now to help people make their living. And I hope that the bins make at least some few people think about one or two things I mentioned when they see the bins and wonder what it’s all about.

Me: When I look around, I see that you have shown your bow bins in Milan last year and again this year, and that they got a mention on most of the big design sites who have all got images of your baskets, but i haven’t found a single in-depth discussion of you ideas or concepts anywhere…

Cordula: It’s true that so far nobody really was interested to learn more about the bins. Yet if you want to create a good product, there always is a story behind it; if not, it’s not worthy of being produced. So even if people don’t ask, I think they feel that there’s more to it than that they just look nice.


To check out the bowbins ( hopefully in production before the end of the year) and other work by the talented Miss Kehrer, go to her website,

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2010 8:04 am

    loved this blog posting, and the really great creative recycling ideas. I appreciate your personal attitude towards societal pressure to trash things. In truth, old stuff should be cherished and reused, refashioned and treated with respect. Its not just about stuff, its about attitude. Thanks for posting this, hope to see more like it.

    • May 19, 2010 9:35 am

      thank you so much for your comment – i hope to write more like it! I absolutely agree that it is about attitude. We’re good at skimming the surface, now it’s time to go deeper.

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