In Conversation With

In Conversation With… Markus Jehs and Jürgen Laub


4 Dec , 2018  

Few designers represent the true spirit of German design as well as Markus Jehs and Jürgen Laub. Since setting up their own firm in 1994, this designer duo’s talent has been sought after by world-renowned brands, from Mercedes-Benz to Fritz-Hansen. We were lucky enough to catch up with them at Orgatec 2018, and spent some quality time chatting about their initial years, design styles, inspirations and influences.

 


 

Jehs and Laub’s work ranges from furniture and products to lighting and interior design, and is underlined with a firm belief in the ethos of form following function. Which is why their portfolio includes some of the best products the contract furniture industry has to offer. This includes the Herman Miller’s Striad Chair from, Fritz Hansen’s Space Lounge chair and the JL Collection for Knoll.

Ginko Wire family of chairs, designed for Davis in 2018

Tell us the story of how Jehs+Laub came to be…

Jehs: We met during our undergraduate years studying industrial design at the University of Schwäbisch Gmünd. Coincidentally, we were seated beside each other during the university entrance test. But we never envisioned working together back then. A professor of ours teamed us up on a project because we had similar thoughts and ideas. Even then, our working styles were different and lacked synergy, so we decided that working separately on that project was probably for the best.

It was only during an internship in New York that we bonded and became friends. Four years later, we decided to wholeheartedly pursue what we love and do best – furniture design. Together we started Jehs+Laub in Stuttgart. But even before that, we had spoken to a few companies and showed our work. They were impressed and asked us to design for them. So starting our own practice was the next logical step. We were sure then, and there have been no regrets since.

 


“We’re constantly questioning ourselves and refining our design. But essentially, we believe that design must be as useful as it is aesthetically pleasing”

– Markus Jehs


 

The brands we worked with enjoyed working with us and were pleased with the speed with which we performed. There was a special moment where we had designed a lighting product for a brand that eventually went on to be bought by Cassina. We got the chance to meet with the owner, Umberto, and asked if we could show him our portfolio. He in turn, asked for references, which we didn’t have. To that he replied, “Better no references than bad references”. That conversation led to our first product for Cassina under the Jehs+Laub brand.

From left: Pill designed for Authentics and Stelton Time for Stelton in 2012

What defines a Jehs+Laub design. And what is your design methodology?

Jehs: Form follows function. That’s one of our core methodologies. We always start with an idea, and our design follows it. We ask ourselves, what do we want our product to do, where do we want it to perform, and for whom? We’re constantly questioning ourselves and refining our design. But essentially, we believe that design must be as useful as it is aesthetically pleasing

Laub: An additional component of our design is the collaborative thought that goes into it. We involve our team and clients at several points during the design process, and incorporate the useful feedback we get into the design. That, and Bauhaus; we’re both immersed in the Bauhaus school of thought and design thinking.

From left: Muse lounge chair for Davis in 2018, Elm and Mell lounge for Cor

Every designer has a go-to source of inspiration for a design process. Where do you draw it from?

Jehs: When I think about this, I think about our native language, German. It’s a modular language, and because it’s a fundamental part of our personality and culture, our thinking is also shaped that way. Our internships in New York, and then our work in Italy has further shaped our design methodology. Technology is important, but in Italy, they place emphasis on the materials used – the touch and feel.

But more importantly, we try and make our products fun. We try and learn from each client we work with, and embrace the culture of their company and place. We’ve been fortunate to have been able to travel and experience new places and meet new and interesting people, in the process.

Clockwise from top left: JL Collection for Knoll (2019), Tango for Davis (2018), Brunner’s Ray (2015), Occo for Wilkhahn (2016), Shrimp Lounge for COR (2010), Halm/Reed for Brunner (2016), Herman Miller’s Striad Chair (2016), and Wilkhahn’s Graph (2010)

Have there been any mentors or influences through your design journey?

Jehs: We didn’t have mentors in the traditional sense, but we did have people who truly believed in us. Umberto Cassina was one of them. He was willing to invest in us, and give us the facilities and tools to design. It’s always a risk, not just for us but also for people like him – you expect some return on your investment. Thankfully we’ve managed to deliver every time.

There was something George Nelson of Herman Miller said many years ago that I always bear in mind. He referred to the workplace as simply being your living room from 9 to 5. If you think about it, that’s a dominant trend in furniture design today.

 


We want each product to be unique and crafted for a purpose. While it has to incorporate the spirit of technology and the innovation of the time, it must also reflect a personalised touch

– Jürgen Laub


 

How have your designs changed over the years, with changes in technology and trends?

Laub: We’ve had clients who have approached us with new ideas based on any trends that they have noticed. And not just in technology, but on the cost angle as well. We’ve been asked to modify our design, or certain parts of it, to incorporate less metal and more plastic, in order to save on costs.

What we try and do is design a product that can incorporate the latest in manufacturing and industrial design methodologies, yet exude that special handmade feel. We want each product to be unique and crafted for a purpose. While it has to incorporate the spirit of technology and the innovation of the time, it must also reflect a personalised touch.

What sector of design do you enjoy the most, and why?

Laub: Definitely furniture. But we do want to venture into lighting as well. We’ve worked with lighting company Nemo in the past, and those products are still bestsellers.

Jehs: Also, today, lighting is different. You can have a sort of invisible lighting that makes for a great room, which poses an interesting design challenge. On the other end of the spectrum, we could possibly venture into sculpture design, which could be really exciting.

 

Are you working on anything exciting at the moment?

Laub: We are working with Davis and Herman Miller at the moment, but that’s the most I can tell you, for our lips are sealed… Watch out for IMM Cologne as that is where the new designs will be launched.

Any advice for aspiring product designers?

Jehs: Never give up. And make sure you have a good partner to work with, else it can get lonely and frustrating. Also an important contributor to our success is that our products have stood the test of time in terms of trends – they’re still being sold around the world! Make sure your product is useful and is able to deliver value for a long period of time.

Laub: Keep asking questions. And maintain a positive outlook to your problems. Question why something went wrong, and seek to improve it the next time. Keep things simple, it helps you focus on designing a great product, both in terms of aesthetics, quality, and price.

Above: Markus Jehs, Right: Jürgen Laub


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