On 21 October, prolific German industrial designer Ingo Maurer – known best for his lighting – passed away at age 87, at home in Munich. He illuminated the design world with his work, which spans decades: to honour his life and legacy, we publish an interview held between Maurer and Tim Groen included our 2018 book, What I’ve Learned.

‘I spent my childhood on an island in Lake Constance, near the Swiss border, where I went through difficult years during the war. I consider myself blessed growing up on an island, because you’re surrounded by light. My father was a fisherman, and I spent a lot of time with him on the lake. I saw things dancing in the light, an experience that I applied to my work years later.’

I think of myself as a weed. I just grew, and a weed always comes back up. I went to school for only six years because of the war. That was it. I studied typography for three years and then commercial art in Munich. In 1960 I escaped to the US where – during that first stint – I remained for three years, working for a small advertising agency as graphic designer and art director.’

‘In 1966 I designed my first commercial object, Bulb. I was in Venicefor a project involving glass. I stayed at a very cheap penzione. One day, after having lunch by myself, I went back to my tiny room, a little drunk, and noticed this fantastic 15-watt light bulb. I completely fell in love with it. All I could think was: I have to do something with this. Later I took my sketches to Murano, where they created the glass element, and that was more or less the start.’

‘I think the design that’s closest to my soul is Don Quixote, a lamp I made in 1989. It combines a lot of different techniques and elements. Commercially, it hasn’t been extremely successful, but I think it’s one of the most daring lamps I’ve done. It represents my freedom.’

‘On an average working day in Munich, I’ll come in, say a big hello to everyone and have my espresso – with a splash of Fernet Branca, just to ‘kick’ my brain. Then we get to work on some 30 different projects, which are running simultaneously. They range from big public projects, like entire subway stations, to unique lights and collection pieces.’

I like it when people doubt themselves and don’t mind admitting it

‘My development department consists of about 15 people, but the total staff numbers around 70. So that’s what we do: come up with pay cheques every month. I feel like I’m playing Risk! [Laughs.] My daughter, Claude, joined me nine years ago. The two of us face the same problems in our work, but she is very precise, whereas I’m a dreamer. Munich is a super place to produce; it’s very well connected. But the city has become extremely rich and has no provocative qualities. In Munich I just work; I have almost no social life there.’

‘In New York, I have my place in Tribeca. I’ve had it since 1997. It was – we were – very wild, but things have calmed down. Still,New York is where I get my inspiration. It’s also where I have my store [inSoHo], and it’s where my best friends live.’

‘The younger generation of designers includes some really courageous guys, and I appreciate a number of them. I love their freshness, boldness and naivety. But I’m also confused by their need to start from point zero, when they have so much information at their fingertips and can see how older designers have already been where they are going. I find that ignorant, but maybe it’s because when you’re young, you’re not always certain of what you’re doing. Although I must say that the younger generation tends to have a pretty inflated sense of self-esteem, often without reason. [Smiles.] I like it when people doubt themselves and don’t mind admitting it. When I do something new, I still feel insecure.’

‘A good designer needs to have a lot of passion. It’s important to enjoy the entire process, from concept to final product. It’s like going on a little trip, with ups and downs, and meeting a lot of people, from technicians to photographers, along the way.’


This piece was originally featured in What I've Learned. You can purchase a copy here.