Barber & Osgerby's Puzzle tiles for Mutina let buyers play while they lay
During the launch of Mutina's latest ceramic collections at Salone del Mobile, designers Jay Osgerby and Edward Barber took a break from the trade-fair flurry for a chat about the pattern playing pieces of the Puzzle series.
Tell me a bit about Puzzle. What was the starting point for the series?
JAY OSGERBY: We started off with the concept of flexibility. It’s a pattern that’s not really a pattern; it allows you to make your own design, meaning that every wall or floor will be different. It’s nearly impossible to do exactly the same thing twice with Puzzle. The idea was to encourage customers to get creative and play.
You did a range for Mutina a little while back called Muse. What makes Puzzle different?
JO: Muse was about colour. Every box of tiles comes with 15 shades of a single colour. The idea for that project was to give an overall, tonal variation. Otherwise you’d have a flat, single-hued tile, which for us is a little bit boring. Muse was a colour thing, whereas Puzzle is more of a pattern thing. There’s still variation, but it comes from a pattern.
Puzzle gives a lot of creative freedom to the user. The customer becomes the designer in a way. This seems to be a popular approach to product design these days. What do you think that says about the design industry and what people value today?
EDWARD BARBER: I think people are looking for something which is unique, or that gives them the opportunity to create something that is theirs rather than something that’s just from the shelf. I think that applies to furniture too. Most people don’t just buy new furniture from a single place, they find a mixture of different things because they want their individuality to come across.
Where do you think this desire for more bespoke design comes from?
JO: I think it comes from a desire for uniqueness. Things today are so mass produced. In the past people would buy locally, so they’d buy tiles from the nearest place that made tiles, and their wooden dining table from the nearest woodworker. On a national scale, each local area had its particular producers and their specialties. Today you can get the same tiles in New York, Sydney, London, or wherever. Somehow you need to create some differentiation. These tiles are a really good example of how you can achieve that.
How did you come up with the different patterns for Puzzle?
JO: We started with drawings and then quickly went into cutting out shapes. We printed one tile and cut it out and started playing around with it. We just threw some designs together. Within the catalogue we’ve described a few scenarios, but we don’t honestly know what all the options are. We’re looking forward to seeing what people do with it.
Were there any particular challenges you faced during the design process?
EB: Many. Mutina had to completely re-engineer the way they make the colours because the current technology didn’t enable the colours that we’d chosen to be used in this way, to be flat colours. Normally when they print tiles, it’s to produce patterns or textures, or a variation of them. But we were working with flat colour, like a screen print on a texture, which had never been done before so the machines had to be completely redesigned. We weren’t sure if it was going to be possible.
How did you arrive at the final colour palette?
EB: We made a long list of our preferences and Mutina made many hundreds of samples and we chose the colours together from there. Some colours worked better than others, some colours got quite close to others we were trying to achieve. Other times the chemicals and the process didn’t allow that to happen. It was a huge experiment.
JO: And it’s not over yet. We’ve seen all the colours at the Mutina showroom, which has lots of natural light. But after seeing it in artificial light at the Salone del Mobile, there are some colours we’d like to adjust slightly.
Will you introduce the line in a gloss finish?
JO: No, it’s really about the pattern and not having a glossy surface finish. We were trying to find a really durable and matte finish, something that works both inside and out. You can use the tile in so many ways, and put it almost anywhere. Actually, we’re hoping that someone will do a whole building with it. That would be really amazing.
Photos courtesy of Mutina