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Industrial Facility has lots of experience of working with big clients, but is the group really ready for a Design Museum retrospective? Hannah Booth probes co-founder Sam Hecht about its upcoming exhibition


The UK credit crunch isn’t worrying Sam Hecht, co-founder of design studio Industrial Facility. Not only is its biggest client, Muji, based in Japan but the studio, with its pared-down Minimalist aesthetic, ‘performs well in a recession’. Economic gloom, he says, ‘takes style out of the equation. People think harder about what they’re buying, and whether it’s self-indulgent. For the past few years, design has been increasingly about celebrity and entertainment.’ More of which later.

For now, Hecht and his partner, Kim Colin, who founded Industrial Facility in 2002 (Japanese designer Ippei Matsumoto joined them a year later), are focusing on their forthcoming Design Museum show, which opens tomorrow. They are feeling slightly uncomfortable about it for two reasons/ one, they aren’t ready yet; and two, they insist they’re too young to have a retrospective. Hence the show’s sub-title, Some Recent Projects. They are only showing work from the past two years. ‘Our work is very uncelebratory,’ says Hecht. ‘We’re trying to make things better on a smaller level – but with huge ideas behind them.’

Industrial Facility started working with Muji in 2002 – it is now creative advisor, Muji Europe – but the majority of its products aren’t seen in the UK. Its output is broad, ranging from furniture and appliances to food and stationery, and it designs about a dozen new products a year. ‘I found myself in Tokyo in 1997 and I immediately wanted to know more about this company,’ says Hecht. ‘I firmly believed in its philosophy – if it was a religion, I would have been a convert. We’re aware that we’re not Japanese, but I think that’s an advantage – we offer a different viewpoint.’ Six years on, he says, it’s an easier relationship. ‘There’s more trust, less convincing on our part.’ Their latest work is a watch collection, called Circumference.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Hecht and Colin have been working with Established & Sons for two years. Their second piece, unveiled last month in Milan, is Two-Timer – a clock with two dials on one face, showing different times, designed to help jet-setters adjust. It’s an idea so simple, I suggest, you can’t believe it’s not been done before. ‘Maybe it has,’ says Hecht. ‘It’s simple intuition.’ Two-Timer follows Beam metal and glass pendant and floor lights.

How does it feel to be part of Established’s glizty roster of big names, from Barber Osgerby to Zaha Hadid? ‘It surprises people that we work with them, as it’s a strange contradiction,’ says Hecht. ‘We’re a counterweight to the showiness, but I think they are curious about our critical thinking on the nature of consumption.’

In the past two years, the studio has taken on new clients, including French company LaCie, Japan-based Idea, Yamaha and Hitachi, and US furniture giant Herman Miller. For LaCie, it designed the award-winning Little Disk Program, an exquisitely simple portable digital storage device. For Idea, it created an emergency torch called Liteplug, for when earthquakes and power cuts strike. It unveiled its first prototype for Yamaha in Milan last month – a white digital piano with a cantilevered sliding top and a removable key which is actually a remote control. Its first piece for Herman Miller, an elegant, functional home office desk with two surfaces, is unveiled next week in New York. What binds all these products is usefulness and simplicity.

Do Hecht and Colin target clients they want to work with? ‘No, we’re very unproactive, and not terribly aggressive about acquiring new business,’ says Hecht. Luckily, the work comes to them. Their process with clients is not ‘consultancy’, says Colin. ‘We are designers, not consultants. The difference is, we’re not in service to the client. We question their conclusions.’ The trio share all aspects of their work rather than splitting it, she says. ‘And we work quickly – we know a good idea when we see it, and there are no egos about to dispute things for the sake of it.’ The simple cloth bag they have just designed for retailer Twentytwentyone, featuring designers’ first names, is an example of this, she says.

Running parallel to the main exhibition is Hecht’s collection of items Under a Fiver. ‘I pick objects up wherever I go,’ he says. ‘The collection has a pair of fluffy gloves from Mexico with three finger holes, designed for painting pipes. It’s fascinating.’

Industrial Facility: Some Recent Projects is at the Design Museum from 9 May until 7 September

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