What was your big break? "Our first product was a series of concrete lights, which we designed for Decode London [a furniture and lighting manufacturer] in 2009. They got a lot of media attention, sold OK, won some awards and allowed us to speak to more companies."
What made you change the name of your studio from Benjamin Hubert to Layer? "When you have your name above the door it's very difficult to do projects that are about more than just your personal taste or style. We wanted to express the layers of value and research that we put into projects and a more multi-disciplinary approach. The work we are doing now is more strategic and for larger companies. It's about using design as a tool for change and creating more accessible, necessary and commercially powerful products, something a little more in-depth than another nice chair."
You have called your studio's approach "human-centred". Is a chair not a human-centred product? "It can be. If you do a seating system for an office where you are really thinking about how people use the space, ergonomics and approaching it from a research-led point of view, then sure. But there are too many pieces of furniture that are just 'me too' products, and are trend driven. Often you will see one brand invest a lot in the R&D of a chair or a material and then you will see 10 other brands and designers launch similar products. It's a saturated market and, unless you are talking about something new, it is difficult to add value."
Tell us about your new product for Australian textile design firm Woven Image. "A couple of years ago we started talking about acoustics and dividers. We realised that all the products on the market rely on the existing structures and architectures of the space; they hang from the ceiling, attach to a wall or fix to a desk. 'Scale' is a completely modular standalone divider that absorbs noise and is intended for an age when offices are shrinking and growing and the size and shape of teams are fluctuating constantly. It is mounted on recycled aluminium bases and has a skeleton structure of recycled plastic connectors to which you clip on pressed recycled hemp tiles. You can build it up to a height of four metres, change the colours and create straight or curved walls. It's a flexible system."
What's the thinking behind the collection box you designed for British cancer charity Maggie's? "Everyone just sources these off the shelf from China and whacks their logo on it. They have become so ubiquitous that you dismiss them entirely. The whole idea was to make something much more identifiable that engages you and makes you smile but also raises more money. It's all about using form, and the way it leans towards you suggests and encourages donation."
What are you working on now? "We are launching a seating system for [Danish furniture design company] Fritz Hansen next year that embraces its heritage but also, from a technological point of view, moves it forward. And we are working on everything from domestic appliances to mobility and consumer electronics products for the likes of Samsung, Oral-B, Braun, Aesop and Nike. I've also got ambitions to do work for not-for-profit organisations in developing countries. That's where my next focus will be."
Scale, for Woven Image, will debut at Hong Kong Indesign (November 19 and 20). For more information, visit www.hongkongindesign.com.