Jasper Morrison at the London Design Festival: A Conversation

By Steve Kroeter October 14, 2014

As part of last month’s London Design Festival, British product designer Jasper Morrison’s Shop—which sells a variety of products from around the world in “a modern interpretation of the classic hardware store”—featured an exhibition of Morrison’s photographs along with his reflections on the seemingly ordinary situations contained in them.

Morrison, who has designed everything from chairs and tables to tableware, toasters and telephones, to bus stops and a tram for the city of Hanover, Germany, collected these images and thoughts into his new book, The Good Life: Perceptions of the Ordinary (Summer 2014, Lars Müller Publishers).

Designers & Books caught up with Morrison to talk about the book, what he reads (at last year’s London Design Festival he turned the Shop into a Library of Design), and why and what he photographs.

Designers & Books: Are you always able to find something interesting in the ordinary? Or are there some things that are indeed “just ordinary” and not worth one’s focused attention? And what is it about a situation that attracts your attention to photograph it?
Jasper Morrison: Let’s say that within the category of ordinary there are some exceptionally beautiful and noteworthy situations.

D&B: Is the title of your book meant to imply that the way we perceive the world around us contributes to “the good life”?
JM: Yes, that in taking notice of the ordinary aspects of the world, there are opportunities to enjoy life as it should be enjoyed.

D&B: Some people feel that “walking around with a camera” means you miss actually seeing what’s around you and the meaning of it. You obviously disagree?
JM: Walking around with a camera teaches you to be aware of your surroundings, it’s a discipline, not a handicap.

D&B: In the introduction to The Good Life you mention that George Perec’s book Life: A User’s Manual played a part in your decision to write “imaginings” to accompany the images in the book. Also, you included Life: A User’s Manual in the book list you sent Designers & Books last year—saying it was: “Essential reading for those in the object business.” Can you explain?

Image from The Good Life: Perceptions of the Ordinary by Jasper Morrison, 2014 (Lars Müller Publishers)

JM: I don’t remember how, where or when I picked up my first copy of Perec’s masterpiece, but after a few paragraphs I was hooked, and even though I’ve never read the book straight through, I still love to open it and read a passage or two. In describing the contents of a series of rooms in a series of apartments in a Parisian condominium, he manages to describe ordinary life in all its richness and splendor.

Jasper Morrison, product deisgner and author of The Good Life: Perceptions of the Ordinary, 2014 (Lars Müller Publishers)

D&B: Have any of your photos ever contributed directly to an idea in your design work? Or is there no direct connection?
JM: There is a strong connection but it’s rarely direct. I take photos for many different reasons, to remember a scene, an atmosphere, or an object, and above all to back up the visual encyclopedia (memory) that I rely on to design new things.

D&B: You have offices in London, Paris, and Tokyo. Do you find that the “ordinary” in one of those cities is more interesting than in the others?
JM: There’s a lot to absorb in a different culture and I get a lot from being in different places, probably more from Japan because the culture is so different, but even in Paris I enjoy the differences. London is the yardstick.

D&B: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami appears on your Designers & Books list. You characterized Murakami as a “Japanese genius storyteller.” Have you ever met him? Can you elaborate a little on what about his writing specifically appeals to you?
JM: No, I’ve never met Murakami and wouldn't need to—his books are quite enough! If the goal of literature is to conjure scenes and events in our minds with words alone then Murakami is a modern master.

D&B: You have written or co-authored seven books, so writing is obviously a priority for you. Why is that? What is it about writing and being an author that attracts you?
JM: After design, writing and photography are my preferred methods of communicating and I love books, the way in which they contain their information physically.

Interior spread from The Good Life: Perceptions of the Ordinary

D&B: Is the process of writing for you in any way similar to the process of designing?
JM: No, it’s much more difficult! I’m not able to write anything much longer than a paragraph.

D&B: Do you currently have another book in the works?
JM: Yes, I’m working on a new monograph, which will be out in time for a big exhibition at the art, architecture, and design center in Belgium called Grand Hornu, next May. Another that is in the pipeline is a book on the collection of the Ethnological Museum in Lisbon. The museum has an outstanding number of beautiful items of Portuguese rural everyday life. The book’s going to be called The Hard Life.

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