smow blog Interview: Gunnar Søren Petersen – I believe that the design schools need to work much more closely with industry and with producers

In our recent review of contemporary Berlin creativity we noted that one of the problems increasingly being faced by Berlin is that of holding on to the ever increasing number of graduates from the city’s many design institutions.

Thus it seemed apposite to talk to a recent Berlin design graduate about the reality of life as a recent Berlin design graduate.

A recent Berlin design graduate such as Gunnar Søren Petersen.

Born and raised in Bonn Gunnar Søren Petersen studied Industrial Design at the Universität der Künste, UdK, Berlin, a course of studies which included an exchange year in Copenhagen studying furniture design at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture, Design and Conservation.

We first came across Gunnar Søren Petersen when we saw his lamp gren light at the UdK Berlin Rundgang 2014. When we first saw gren light we were initially very impressed. Then less sure. Then impressed. Then …….. In the course of that Friday afternoon we must have visited the room in which gren light was hanging at least twelve times, before finally deciding that, yes, it was that good. Less a modular lamp and more a freely configurable system based around a small number of standard components, gren light, as we noted in our 2014 post “combines a refined, dulcet charm with an understated beauty in an extremely elegant object. An extremely elegant object constructed on the basis of a very simple, easily reproducible, infinitely variable construction principle.” And a work which takes a little time to adjust to. Unless that is you’re prepared to simply follow you’re gut reaction.

Appreciating Gunnar’s most recent work – snak – requires a lot less time. An eminently accessible object snak is a collapsible picnic and/or camping table crafted from wood and polypropylene integral foam and effortlessly combines a classic feel with a contemporary form language. And a table tennis net.

Having spoken to Gunnar Søren Petersen about snak in the wake of his success in the 2015 Garden Unique Youngstars competition we went on to discuss the reality as a recent design graduate in Berlin and the pros and cons of Berlin vs. Copenhagen, but started, as is our want in such interviews, by asking, why design?

Gunnar Søren Petersen: For as long as I can remember I have been interested in designing things and creating, later came an interest in constructive thinking and in exploring questions about space, objects and the relationships between people, space and objects, and so in a way it was a fairly logical, and easy, conclusion to decide to follow a design career.

smow blog: The first step on that path was then Industrial Design at UdK Berlin. Why the decision for the UdK?

Gunnar Søren Petersen: After finishing secondary school I had moved to Berlin, largely because it was Berlin, and so in a way it was natural to also study here. To be completely honest, because I was doing my Zivildienst I had missed the application deadlines for the Kunsthochschule Weissensee and FH Potsdam, the UdK’s deadline was a little later and so I threw everything into that application and was lucky enough to be accepted.

smow blog: And despite the somewhat, let’s say, non-targeted nature to your application, the course at the UdK was subsequently to your liking, or…….?

Gunnar Søren Petersen: Very much so. What I particularly liked about the course at the UdK is that it is very practical and that you are given the freedom within the programme to develop in the direction you wish to, and to either concentrate on those areas and skills that particularly interest you or to use the variety of workshops and courses to gain experience in a wide range of disciplines. And regardless what you do there is always someone to support and advise you.

smow blog: But, and because we know the world isn’t always rosy, was there anything missing, or perhaps better put anything you would change about the course?

Gunnar Søren Petersen: In general in design education I believe that the design schools need to work much more closely with industry and with producers. At the UdK, for example, there were cooperations, but only infrequently and only very rarely were they of a scale and scope which meant that anything truly positive resulted for the students. I for example was fortunate enough to be part of a project organised by Professor Axel Kufus in conjunction with the Italian textile manufacturer Alcantara and that was an excellent project in the course of which numerous guest lecturers were invited to lead workshops in Berlin, we had a trip to the Alcantara factory in Italy where we could learn first hand about the development and production processes and then at the end of the course we had a stand at the Qubique trade fair with all the organisation and planning such involves. Which is a lot of input from a relatively short course: but relevant and interesting input and something only possible through the cooperation. And more such cooperations would I believe be of very real benefit, not least because through such you learn about the reality of the future you’re training for.

smow blog: Which is a nice bridge, you’re now finished, have entered that reality, and are still in Berlin, can one deduce that for you Berlin is a good base as a designer?

Gunnar Søren Petersen: I believe so, yes. In my case I had pretty much decided before studying that I wanted to be based in Berlin, but as a city Berlin offers lots of possibilities, is a good size, and is a good location in which to develop personally

smow blog: But as a young freelance designer is there also work?

Gunnar Søren Petersen: Yes, there is work in Berlin, but it is helpful if you have a good network. In my case it was so that three or four years ago I had a few excellent contacts and through them I was able to organise fairly regular work and commissions. But then having spent time in Copenhagen and subsequently having concentrated more on my studies that network isn’t, let’s say, as fresh as it once was. However my current focus is not exclusively establishing my own studio but additionally looking for an employed position in an established studio, principally so that I can gain more experience, for all in those aspects of the industry that one doesn’t learn at Uni.

smow blog: We presume you mean all the business elements that design students famously aren’t taught….

Gunnar Søren Petersen: Exactly! In terms of the technical skills, practical thinking and artistic, creative aspects of the profession you are as a design graduate very well prepared, but the business aspects aren’t taught enough, nor for example the communications and publicity aspects, so how to present yourself and to ensure a degree of visibility.

smow blog: And you hope to learn them in an established agency….

Gunnar Søren Petersen: That at least is the plan! I am currently applying both here in Berlin and also in Copenhagen, and in Berlin I have had a lot of positive feedback but the majority of the studios simply don’t have vacancies, or at least not paid vacancies, but rather when they have a vacancy it is an internship, and my aim is a job, not least because I don’t believe that after having completed your studies, including undertaking internships, that you should then have to undertake further unpaid internships. However in design that is how you are expected to proceed, which is a shame, not least because in other branches that isn’t the case. In most other professions it is understood that you finish your studies and enter paid employment.

smow blog: Interesting that you say there is only very rarely paid opportunities in Berlin, one would have thought that given the number of design studios in Berlin one would find an equivalent number of vacancies……

Gunnar Søren Petersen: The principle reason is that the design studios in Berlin are generally very small and don’t need the extra staff. Which isn’t to say they aren’t successful, there are a lot of very successful studios in Berlin but they operate at a size at which they are comfortable and above which they don’t necessarily want to grow or at least not until they are certain that they have sufficient work to justify such.

smow blog: And in Copenhagen, has one more chances there? Are there more, larger agencies?

Gunnar Søren Petersen: Specifically in term of furniture, which is my principle focus, there are, in my opinion, more, larger, agencies than in Berlin and also more agencies who are better established in the international market than is the case in Berlin. And so in theory there are probably currently more opportunities for me in Copenhagen than Berlin. I have however only recently started applying in Copenhagen and so I may yet be proved wrong….

smow blog: And generally speaking can one compare Berlin and Copenhagen, or is such not possible…..?

Gunnar Søren Petersen: In general I think one can say that Copenhagen is a little more professional, which isn’t to say better, just the attitude is different. Both function as they are very well, but very differently. Although having said that one can also say that if Berlin was smaller it would in many ways be very similar to Copenhagen, not exactly the same but very similar.

smow blog: You mentioned earlier that you originally moved to Berlin because it was Berlin, and that it still works for you as a location, but we sense that it the needn’t necessarily be your future?

Gunnar Søren Petersen: No not necessarily, I would also quite happily move to Copenhagen, I have a great social circle there and feel very much at home in Copenhagen and so if I was offered a good job I’d have no hesitations about moving. But at the same time Berlin still has a very strong appeal and fascination for me and so I am open to both. And not that I’m ruling out other locations, Amsterdam, Hamburg or London all have their advantages, but for the time being my focus is Copenhagen and Berlin.

More information on Gunnar Søren Petersen can be found at

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