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Interview with Harry Strouzas

Home > Designer Interviews > Harry Strouzas

Editor Frank Scott (FS) from DesignPRWire has interviewed designer Harry Strouzas (HS) for A’ Design Award and Competition. You can access the full profile of Harry Strouzas by clicking here.

Interview with Harry Strouzas at Sunday 21st of October 2018
Harry Strouzas
FS: Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
HS: I began my working life in the finance sector after studying commerce at university. But my true calling has always been in design. I always did want to become a designer. I love to solve problems, and always have. Drawing comes very naturally to me and I am an extremely visual person. I think that I view the world in a somewhat unique manner – which can be both a blessing and a curse. I am never short of inspiration as the problems out there are in constant supply! I am also a fully qualified bespoke furniture maker. I think that this gives me the unique position of thinking about the construction issues and techniques that the craftsperson will have to grapple with in order to realise the completed piece. There's nothing that a maker hates more than receiving pretty pictures with no real technical details or no real concept of the most efficient or effective way to actually make the piece in question. You also receive instant respect from the craftspeople when you give them the detailed drawings they actually need and also because they can really talk to you in detail regarding certain aspects of the vision and the best way to achieve it. It really is a win/win situation.

FS: Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
HS: Fiona Mckenzie and I started PodMaket™ about 18 months ago. Out focus is to design and facilitate the manufacture of interior products (especially furniture) which are minimalist in theme in terms of material input, manufacturing process and design aesthetic. Our products are always designed with an ecological focus and we always try to marry the aesthetics with supreme functionality. We always design with the manufacturing process in mind and try to ensure that all our products are scaleable and versatile. 


FS: What is "design" for you?
HS: For me design means solving a particular problem (or problems) in the most effective and elegant manner possible. The design problem may be profound or quite narrows, it doesn't matter. What matters is the detailed process that you as the designer must undertake in order to make the necessary improvements and eventually propose an elegant solution to the original problem. Design also relates to this "process" that you go through in order to develop your solution.

FS: What kinds of works do you like designing most?
HS: Furniture. There is something very primal about furniture to me, which I think stems from the fact that we interact with it so closely and so often. We sit on it, lean on it, eat on it, work on it, put things on it, look at it, touch and feel it and are surrounded by it. It is just so important to our lives and so personal to us, whether we acknowledge it or not.
 I also design entire passive houses, but when you get right down to it, it is the junctions within the building structure that essentially make or break it. Either way, I like to resolve my junctions, regardless of the scale involved, in the simplest, most elegant manner possible, and do away with all the superfluous (often covering up) details.

FS: What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
HS: When I was studying furniture design in England, one of my favourite professors (Hugh Scriven) showed me a small swivelling mirror that he designed back in 1983. He said that it was one of his most treasured designs. It is a thing of genius. He gave me one and my wife always uses it when putting on her makeup. When I set up my company I contacted Hugh and asked him if he would allow me to make these small, swivelling, makeup mirrors and sell them here in Australia. He agreed and I have been making them ever since. The design still blows me away. The piece comprises of only 3 parts. First there's the central mirror section and then there are 2 separate legs. That's it. By simply grabbing the legs and twisting them, the mirror rotates through an arc of 180 degrees. It's truly incredible, and just so clever. When I finished the degree I spent some time with Hugh at his country home. One day he told me that he has had 3 truly original ideas throughout his decorated and extensive career. This small swivelling mirror was his first one. Notable, he also told me that most “designers” never really get to experience this level of originality. The more designs I see and designers and experts I meet, the more these words ring true to me. These are words of wisdom by a highly accomplished designer and maker whose career exceeded 40 years.

FS: What was the first thing you designed for a company?
HS: I wouldn’t really call it original design, but I initially began making furniture that was very high-end and custom made. The first piece where the client wanted me to control the entire process revolved around a desk and storage cabinet for a medical professional’s home office. 
It had a number of nice details, but nothing that anyone could really claim was original or really special. Sometimes clients don't want you to push boundaries too much. They are often more conservative than you'd ideally like.

FS: What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
HS: I love working with hardwood, but I love designing for wood coming together with other materials, especially various types of metal. Fiona loves working with fabrics, and we both love integrating leather and semi translucent papers.

FS: When do you feel the most creative?
HS: Really early in the morning. Some days the light is just on and the flow is just continuous. These days often blend together for a few days at a time.

FS: Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
HS: The functionality of the piece is always paramount in my mind. I always ask these types of questions: How will people engage with it; When will they use it and What purpose does it really have? This is because the overall design question is always: What problem does item actually have to solve or improve? I try not to worry about how the physical object will actually get made at this design stage. I try to keep the ideas fluid and constant whilst I evaluate these types of questions. I’ve found that the construction side of things can always be solved – somehow. If you worry too much about the construction methodology 
too early, you will hinder your creativity and limit your experiences and knowledge gathering.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
HS: It really depends on the piece itself and what it means to me personally. The full range of emotions are experienced when you look at things as a whole. Some designs just go smoothly from beginning to end, like a beautiful drive on a scenic road. Others can be more frustrating and feel like more hard-work depending on a whole range of factors. I’m a person after all, so all sorts of emotions come into play when I spend so long designing things every day.
 I often get sleepy too when things get going and the ideas keep coming. I've started taking 10-15 minute power naps during the day when things get too crazy.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
HS: I really do feel that it’s those around me, who experience a more positive sense of accomplishment when the item first comes to fruition. By the time we get to the realisation stage of one piece I’m well and truly into the next piece or two. When I know it’s going to work though (even though it hasn’t been realised yet), that’s when I experience my personal high. It fills me with a sense of accomplishment and acts as a type of confirmation and reward I suppose. I'm not sure how else to describe it. 


FS: What makes a design successful?
HS: This is a loaded question which could be answered in many different ways. For me, it’s successful if I’m happy with it. I know that sounds a bit funny, but I am being honest. Does it meet my personal criteria and is it an elegant and resolved solution to a particular problem? If the answer to these questions is Yes, then I deem it a success.
 If I like it, I deem it a success. If it sells really well, is popular and even if I get external congratulations for it, that's really nice, but this doesn't mean too much if deep down I don't really like the finished result myself. It's easy to get lost in the external responses sometimes, but it's really important to internalise it and sort out your own feelings and opinions first in my opinion, and not be swayed by the external retoric.

FS: When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
HS: Initially I ask myself two key things. Firstly does the resolved design actually solve the problem effectively and efficiently that it was designed to solve? And secondly, I consider what I call "the scanning test". Does my eye track around the piece well in a continuous and smooth (non-disjointed) manner? Everything else really comes secondary to this personal appraisal of the design. I also naturally consider whether things are included in the finished piece which need not (or should not) really be there. These "no real purpose" elements often degrade a completed design in my opinion.

FS: From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
HS: Designers must always adhere to the one overriding tenet: The design must - Do No Harm. Keep this in the forefront of your mind, and apply it to all aspects of the design, including the materials used, where they are sourced from and the finishes employed and this will always keep you on the right track.

FS: Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
HS: Inspiration can come from anywhere. The problem is finding enough time to design things to cater for all of these ideas that come to you. Funnily enough my two young children provide an infinite source of inspiration, as too does talking with my 93 year old Grandmother. Fiona's parents are also very articulate and love to talk about why certain things are good and why others are not so good and why they should be improved. It really is quite interesting where the concepts and inspiration comes from. Just watching my children play with certain things and how they often use particular items in ways they were not originally designed for is the most interesting and creative thing in the world. Of course you also have the more structured briefs that come directly from the client.

FS: How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
HS: I once heard a prominent interior designer here in Melbourne answer a similar question in an interview and their answer was the biggest load of rubbish I've ever heard. I always promised myself to be much more direct and totally honest when answering this type of question. I have a problem solving and visually interesting focus with a minimalist core. I no longer like superfluous details that serve no purpose. I think that being a furniture maker has helped develop this stye over the years, as too often, there are completely unnecessary elements thrown onto a design in an attempt to try and elevate that piece's status of sense of purpose. I believe that reducing a design to its essential elements in a visually interesting and cohesive way is what true design is all about. Hence when I design I take great pride in removing elements until there are none left that can be removed without compromising the overall structure or purpose of the piece.

FS: Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
HS: I live in Melbourne, Australia. I learnt furniture making here, however I studied design for a number of years in England and travelled around Europe extensively during that time. That was my choice, and I’m so glad I followed this route. In my opinion, Europeans value furniture design much more than Australians. I think it is a cultural thing and related to the one immoveable force - time. Australia is in comparative terms, still an very young country. We are still developing our design ethos, style and culture in my opinion. Europeans place much more relevance and importance on furniture design. I believe this to be the case because they have a significantly longer tradition and heritage in this field. It's a generational thing in part. I can see that things are changing here in Australia, and that Melbourne and Sydney are really driving this development. However, we still have a long way to go. It’s hard to explain this to Australians who haven’t lived overseas for a number of years and haven't been immersed in the design focussed culture. We are also fighting our location and trying to deal with the bombardment of cheap, replica style furniture or unknown (and often unethical) origins. But the big positive about being a furniture designer in Australia is that you have the freedom to truly do whatever it is you want. No one tries to tie you down to how things were done in the past. This is an enormous bonus and one that I think will pay dividends in the long term.

FS: Can you talk a little about your design process?
HS: I equate it to a funnel. First the problem must be identified. Then the investigation towards the solution begins. Anything and everything is open to investigation at the beginning. The funnel opening is very wide. I try not to even think about what the final outcome will look like, what it will be made of, or how it would be made at these early stages. I like to use ink and paper whilst I’m throwing concepts and ideas around at the beginning, as it’s the quickest and most intimate way for my mind to get really into the design. Then naturally certain concepts and ideas begin to come to the fore and outrank others. I start to develop these more promising ones more as they begin jumping off the page. Hence to continue with the analogy, we are now beginning to move down the funnel. I then talk to Fiona in depth and get her input and suggestions. She always adds her input at the beginning but she really gets involved once I have a few concepts developing. This fresh perspective and her special analysis always helps a lot. Hence, further down the funnel we move. Then I sketch a little more before jumping on the computer where I start getting a bit more technical and focussed on proportions and scale. Mock ups and prototyping then follow.In order to get to the pointy end of the funnel and further resolve the design, it then becomes a constant back and forth between the drawings and physical prototypes.Then hopefully this back and forth between the drawing side and the physical side doesn't have to go on too long before a final, resolved design occurs.


FS: What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
HS: These are listed in no particular order. I love all of these pieces.1. My wife’s small swivel mirror from Hugh Scriven (see answer 5)2. We have a dark brown, original Eames recliner in our lounge room that I sit on when reading or watching a movie.3. We have a hall table that I designed and made in England which received great feedback and commendation. I steam bent the legs and laminated the top. It shows real hand skill and technique and has special memories for me.4. My two children love playing with Lego, and I’m more and more amazed by it (the concept, the company, the product, the options, the scalability) nearly every day. I'm proud to say that I love Lego too.5. I have an original Anglepoise Lamp on my bedside table. I love that thing. and it serves me perfectly nearly every evening.

FS: Can you describe a day in your life?
HS: Each day differs which is really nice. The only constant is that the day will always be very busy, and also (hopefully) mostly enjoyable. I’m essentially either working, being a family man or trying to de-clutter and clear my head by exercising (typically swimming or cycling). I work really hard and for long periods of time. I'm very lucky that my wife is super understanding and efficient and keeps the household running smoothly. We are also both very lucky that we have two great kids. Throw in a little bit of exercise and mix the ratios spent on each aspect from day to day, and there you have it - any day in my life. Given I love what I do and also given the fact that I'm always surrounded by amazing people all day long, I realise that I am a very lucky person. Weekday or weekend, it's irrelevant to me. The main aspects of my life remain constant.

FS: Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
HS: You don’t know it all, despite what you might believe or are being told.Drop the ego. You have lots to learn. So surround yourself with great people.You will certainly need them from time to time. Show some humility.

FS: What is your "golden rule" in design?
HS: Designers must always adhere to the one overriding tenet: The design must - Do No Harm. Keep this in the forefront of your mind, and apply it to all aspects of the design, including the materials used, where they are sourced from and the finishes employed and this will always keep you on the right track.

FS: What skills are most important for a designer?
HS: The ability to continue adding to your skill set and to continue evolving with regards to your design ethos and philosophies.You have to be able to draw and get pen to paper quickly and efficiently.Learn the technical things. Being able to talk with your makers, engineers and craftspeople using their language will be paramount in further resolving your ideas.Never stop learning and observing things in detail.

FS: Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
HS: This is always evolving and I'm getting better at it. However the reality is that I spend a really long time each week working/designing. This is primarily due to the fact that I genuinely love it. The rest of my time is dedicated to my family. I also try and spend some time each day doing a bit of exercise, in an attempt to de-clutter and clear my head. But there's no way around the hard work required to be really good at what you do. I'm just very lucky that my wife is super understanding and efficient and keeps the household running smoothly. We are also both very lucky that we have two great kids. Given I love what I do and also given the fact that I'm always surrounded by amazing people all day long, I realise that I am a very lucky person, and the hours just seem to fly by.

FS: How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
HS: It depends on the item, it depends on the client, it depends on the time frame allowed, it depends on my personal interest in the piece, it depends on the quality of the original ideas generated at the very beginning of the process. It literally depends on many factors that make this question almost impossible to answer.

FS: What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
HS: It's always something along these lines: Where did you get the idea for that? How did you come up with that?

FS: What was your most important job experience?
HS: Being a high end maker. There’s the rough sawn timber, here’s the design. Make it in x hours and make it to this high quality. Begin now. Good luck.
Talk about being thrown in the deep end. But what it teaches you about good design and not so good design is invaluable.

FS: What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
HS: Speculative furniture pieces. There is something very primal about furniture to me, which I think stems from the fact that we interact with it so closely and so often. We sit on it, lean on it, eat on it, work on it, put things on it, look at it, touch and feel it and are surrounded by it. It is just so important to our lives and so personal to us, whether we acknowledge it or not.
 And if it's a speculative piece, it means that I'm driving it from beginning to end. I set the problems that need addressing, I set the time frame and I make the final decision on what the end result looks like. These are the most personal and intimate pieces that really get me excited and involved.

FS: Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
HS: From a furniture point of view, Fiona get's involved early during the idea generation stage, and them more heavily once I have produced a few "short-list" items. Her involvement is the key to our success, but I do more of the development work on the furniture side of things. Regarding the passive house designing, we tend to work closer together throughout the entire "funnelling" process. To explain this funnelling process in more detail....... First the problem must be identified. Then the investigation towards the solution begins. Anything and everything is open to investigation at the beginning. The funnel opening is very wide. I try not to even think about what the final outcome will look like, what it will be made of, or how it would be made at these early stages. I like to use ink and paper whilst I’m throwing concepts and ideas around at the beginning, as it’s the quickest and most intimate way for my mind to get really into the design. Then naturally certain concepts and ideas begin to come to the fore and outrank others. I start to develop these more promising ones more as they begin jumping off the page. Hence to continue with the analogy, we are now beginning to move down the funnel. I then talk to Fiona in depth and get her input and suggestions. She always adds her input at the beginning but she really gets involved once I have a few concepts developing. This fresh perspective and her special analysis always helps a lot. Hence, further down the funnel we move. Then I sketch a little more before jumping on the computer where I start getting a bit more technical and focussed on proportions and scale. Mock ups and prototyping then follow.In order to get to the pointy end of the funnel and further resolve the design, it then becomes a constant back and forth between the drawings and physical prototypes.Then hopefully this back and forth between the drawing side and the physical side doesn't have to go on too long before a final, resolved design occurs.


FS: How can people contact you?
HS: Email me: harry@superpodhome.com or info@podmarket.com.au



FS: Thank you for providing us with this opportunity to interview you.

A’ Design Award and Competitions grants rights to press members and bloggers to use parts of this interview. This interview is provided as it is; DesignPRWire and A' Design Award and Competitions cannot be held responsible for the answers given by participating designers.


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