Jasper Morrison and Oplight
Jasper Morrison’s latest lamp for Flos is an exercise in simplicity; a wall lamp at the service of architecture and space. The embodiment of Super Normal (a recurring theme in Morrison’s work since early on in his career), Oplight looks like a musical note on a pentagram, or, as the designer describes it, ‘the most obvious, definitive shape a wall light could be.’ As Oplight makes its debut, we take this opportunity to ask the designer a few questions about light, designing objects of all scales and how he conceives his supernormal objects
Designer Jasper Morrison
Photography Antonia Adomako
Interview Rosa Bertoli
Text Flos for Planet Paolo Brambilla
From Flos Stories Issue 4
ROSA BERTOLI Your early works featured mundane objects and everyday materials assembled into furniture. Describing this experimental design process, you said it mirrored the world of production. What have you learned from this way of designing, and how did you apply these findings to your career later on?
JASPER MORRISON Yes, at the time as a young designer I didn’t have any connections to industrial ways of producing things but I was enthusiastic to find a parallel system that would simulate production, so I looked for components I could buy to assemble into finished products. It taught me quite a bit about the economics of production and the need to reduce complexity in objects.
ROSA BERTOLI How did you come to define the concept of Super Normal? How would you describe it?
JASPER MORRISON I had been wondering why anonymously designed objects were often superior to named designers’ products, and I came to the conclusion it had something to do with loading a design with too much creative ego. I noticed a stool designed by Naoto Fukasawa for Magis at the Milan Fair and it caught my eye. I was designing some cutlery for Muji around that time and looking for a similarly discrete design presence. I was explaining all this to Okutani san, a Muji employee and who commented ‘Ah, Super Normal!’ So when I got back to Tokyo I met Naoto and discussed the idea of an exhibition to explore and try to define Super Normal. The first show of it was in 2006 at the Axis Gallery in Tokyo.
ROSA BERTOLI Where do you find ideas for your work?
JASPER MORRISON Ideally they just emerge, sometimes it’s more difficult and the design is usually less good. You might say the less I have to do with the project the better it is.
ROSA BERTOLI When you design an object, a piece of furniture or a lamp, how do you know when your design is complete?
JASPER MORRISON It kind of just tells me it’s complete when I can’t think of anything that looks unnatural or awkward about it, when all the proportions are as good as they can be and the object has an aura of being complete.
ROSA BERTOLI The theme of balance is an important aspect in industrial and domestic design. What elements do you find important to balance in your design work?
JASPER MORRISON Balance is similar to naturalness, objects need balance in all sorts of ways: expressively of course, but the balance of noticeability and discretion, and the balance of elements within an object, the balance a certain finish(es) has with an object, the balance of the atmospheric effect an object has on its surroundings and not least the balance of cost with perceived value in an object. There are probably more things that need to be balanced…
ROSA BERTOLI What is your approach to designing lighting?
JASPER MORRISON I wouldn’t say I have a particular approach, at least nothing different to the way I design anything else. I am open to opportunities, so when asked to design a wall light I start thinking about all the wall lights I’ve seen and which ones worked the best and what the new technology can bring to the design and what shapes would be most suitable and it starts to take form in my mind as a general concept. Then there’s a lot of work after that to draw it up in 3d and find out what shape the lighting unit can be and how to send the light out away from the wall.
ROSA BERTOLI What were your first experiences with lighting design?
JASPER MORRISON The first light I tried to design was a complete failure. I designed a truncated cone which aimed light down towards a wider base, and had one side of it cut away to reveal a coloured disc in the base which the light landed on. When I went to see the prototype it lit up the disc very nicely but it didn’t provide hardly any light in the room! After that came Glo-ball, the flattened globe of white glass. I remember being rather ashamed of its basic nature compared with the perfect engineered concepts I had seen at the Fiera. Fortunately when we came out with the hanging version of Glo-ball it started to sell very well, otherwise I might have given up.
ROSA BERTOLI Your latest piece for Flos is Oplight, a wall-mounted uplighter. What are its most distinctive design features? And what did you want to achieve with the design of Oplight?
JASPER MORRISON The shape of the head is probably the most noticeable feature. It ‘s like an even more flattened outline of Glo-ball. Hopefully it looks like the most obvious, definitive shape a wall light could be. The light source is a board of LED’s which are covered with a clear but ridged panel which deflects the light out at an angle away from the wall. We’ve chosen four finishes which fit as many types of different architectural atmospheres as possible.
ROSA BERTOLI The concept of creating an atmosphere where your designs can exist has been important throughout your work in design. What is the role of light in creating the atmosphere for a space?
JASPER MORRISON It’s essential that all designs contribute positively to the atmosphere of the space they’re in. It sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how many products have a negative effect. Whether the light is on or off it needs to seem natural in the context of the space it’s in. The quality of the light is also very important. Fortunately uplighting is one the best applications for the type of light LED provide.
ROSA BERTOLI In particular, how do you imagine Oplight contributing to the atmosphere of a space?
JASPER MORRISON I like the idea that you could use the smaller Oplight in an old country cottage and the larger one in a high ceilinged apartment or house as well as in the corridor of an office. I think it will contribute well to the atmosphere of a wide range of spaces and situations. Hopefully it will prove to be Super Normal in the sense that it makes good atmosphere without being obtrusive or even noticeable.
ROSA BERTOLI You have now created a full range of lighting pieces for Flos, covering different types of illuminations. What have you learned through this process so far?
JASPER MORRISON I’ve learned how difficult lighting design is. As the physical presence of the design is only part of the quality of a lighting product and the other part is something intangible and quite unpredictable, it makes it very hard to focus on the end result, whereas while designing a chair the shape relates automatically to the performance of the product.
ROSA BERTOLI What is the next light you’d like to experiment with?
JASPER MORRISON I think a good table light would be next on my list, or a reading light.
How do you distinguish a sustainable object from a non-sustainable one? It is not always easy to tell at first glance, especially when we have a lamp with a reduced size and impeccable lines.
Oplight shows that technologically advanced products can be made with respect for the environment. Although the thicknesses are minimal, no glue was used to assemble the different parts. They can therefore be separated, replaced individually, and recycled separately depending on the material.
First, the shell is made of die-cast aluminium, a lightweight, long-lasting material that is easy to recycle. The colour consists of powder coating, which does not require solvents in the painting process, because even the production methods are considered in the overall environmental impact.
The LED source within Oplight is highly efficient, that is, it emits a large amount of light compared to the power consumed, with a lifetime of more than 50,000 hours. Should a malfunction occur, or later when more efficient light sources are available, the card can be replaced without having to discard the rest of the lamp, with significant savings in terms of resources.
This is possible because the LED card is not glued to the heat sink as usual, and its replacement does not require sophisticated equipment. Rather, it can be done by a regular electrician without bringing the lamp to the shop for upgrading.
The diffusor, that is, the transparent cover that also acts as a lens, is made of injection-moulded polycarbonate. Due to its flexibility, it snaps on, so it can be removed to access the LED source and installed again without compromising the elasticity. If it should break, it can obviously be recycled and replaced.
For all these reasons, Oplight is a future-proof lamp destined to last a long time, and at the end, nothing
— Paolo Brambilla