Seven Questions for Design Miami Director Marianne Goebl

(Photo: Richard Patterson for Design Miami)

The countdown to Basel is on, and this year Design Miami/Basel moves to a Herzog & de Meuron-designed home in the new permanent exhibition hall. The eighth edition of the Basel fair is also shaping up to be the biggest yet. “We’ll have about fifty percent more galleries than last year,” Design Miami director Marianne Goebl told us during a recent trip to New York. “And we’re expanding our geographical reach. For the first time in Basel we’ll have a gallery from South Africa, Southern Guild. We’ll also have a first-time participant from Beirut, Carwan Gallery, which will present the work of India Mahdavi.”

A Vitra veteran who took over from founding director Ambra Medda in February 2011, Goebl has succeeded in freshening up Design Miami for an audience that ranges from die-hard design fans to newcomers who strolled over from the neighboring art megafair. “I have this very naïve mission of wanting to communicate to a large audience that design matters,” she says. “Everybody lives with design, whether they want to or not. Not everyone can make choices, but to a certain degree a lot of people can make choices and I think that not enough people do it…until now.” We asked Goebl about how she became interested in design, what’s in store for Basel, and if she believes the 3D printing hype.

How did you become interested in design?
I thought I would end up in the arts, so growing up in Vienna and already when I was a teenager and during my studies [in economics], I always worked in galleries and museums. I interned at the Museum for Applied Arts, worked for an art gallery for three years, and really felt like I wanted this to be part of my life, but then designer friends of mine took me to Milan [Salone Internazionale del Mobile] when I was maybe 22. This whole new world opened up and I realized that in design I could find…conceptual thinking, but also something beyond that, which is tangible and really part of everyday life. And I felt that this is what I wanted to be part of.

Since taking over as director in 2011, what have you found particularly surprising about your job or the fair itself?
What I’ve really learned over the last two years–and what I hope to continue in the future–is that Design Miami can speak to different types of people. First there’s an audience of general enthusiasts, people who are just really interested in design. They may not be interested in buying something, but it doesn’t matter. They can just come [to the fair], get all of the information, ask all of their questions, see the material, interact, use it as a forum. And on the other end of the spectrum, we can reach an audience that can actually help fuel the market and help designers to continue their research and to tell their stories. I don’t want to call it two levels, because it’s not necessarily two different levels, but it’s a broad spectrum of audience, and that wasn’t clear to me before I joined Design Miami.

Tell us about Design Miami’s new location for Basel in June.
In Basel this will be Design Miami’s fourth location. It’s like an itinerant fair! It brings a lot of opportunities, because first, it’s a brand new hall with great architecture. It’s part of the fairground of the Basel convention center. They built a bridge across two buildings on a public plaza. There’s a skylight. It’s in the middle of activities. And then the fair will unfold in the bridge. And there’s moments when you can overlook the square, so it’s nice to communicate with the outside world. I would say it is sophisticated, industrial, not at like a sleek, carpeted convention center.

And Design Miami will also have another space, in addition to the main fair?
We’ll have an additional space that we did not have before in Basel, on the ground floor, where we’ll be able to stage a design performance. We’re working with a German designer who collaborates with dancers. It will be about the relationship between the maker and the object. It will be an ongoing thing, so that every time you come something else will be happening.

You do a lot of studio visits with both emerging and established designers around the world. Are you seeing any interesting changes in how designers are working today?
I see a lot of designers taking a more collaborative approach. Not necessarily in the work itself but for the infrastructure—saying “let’s set up this together.” And these design collaboratives often involve different types of creative people, such as furniture designers, architects, graphic designers, or photographers. They create these home bases where they share the infrastructure and they can also then collaborate on projects, because often a project asks for more than one specialization. I think this is because the designer, more and more, has to take over the development process that was once taken care of by companies.

What do you think about all of the buzz that 3D printing is getting these days?
It’s my personal opinion, but I have a feeling that it’s largely overrated. And it’s not a particularly new technology. I think the idea is really amazing, but if you look at the application, it’s much more interesting in maybe the medical field, in situations where you would need highly individualized shapes, one-of-a-kind things. Maybe I’m not enough of a visionary, but I don’t see how 3D printing should really transform material culture. Yes, now everybody can print his or her own design—congratulations.

And speaking of trends, are you seeing any particular design trend—shapes, materials, methods, colors—come to the fore?
I think what makes today’s design culture so rich is that you have everything happening at the same time. Designers are pushing industrial production to new limits and at the same time, they’re looking at nearly extinct production methods and making sure that, in many cases, the last masters of a particular trade or craft can hand down their knowledge.