Between simplicity and chaos — Interview with Friederike Girst (Munich)

This power woman managing her career, teaching, and family, shares her thoughts about the need for perfection, the role of the creative world, and the importance of constant movement.

Friederike - how would you describe your relationship to perfection?

My relationship to perfection is to strive for perfection, and that perfection is almost impossible to reach. The difference of what you have achieved and what you consider being perfect is exactly what keeps you going. There‘s certainly perfection all around us and it inspires us. Nature for example is perfect by definition, but can also be immense and cruel. And for me being a mother - what I love about my children is that they are not perfect. And one could argue that imperfection is also a state of perfection.

Did your view of perfection ever change?

Being a mother, maybe that has changed my view a bit, but in general the creative world is always on the move. One is never satisfied and is looking for more perfection. So in that field my point of view has never changed. And I think, for example the simplicity of a Brancusi sculpture, I don’t know whether you know the one, ‚Bird in Space‘, is perfect in its simplicity. But the universe is also perfect in its chaos. And many shapes and forms that I see daily, seem to be perfect because I don’t want to add anything on them, or take anything away, like the egg in the refrigerator or the “On” switch on my computer are for me just perfect. But of course, most of the things I encounter every day are far from being perfect, and are asking to be improved, or made better, and that is exactly what the creative world is there for. That is what I am longing for and I’m actually hoping that my students are longing for. Even by making them simpler or by making them more exuberant.

Would you consider yourself a perfectionist?

I would consider myself a perfectionist but I also know I‘m never perfect. And I‘m always longing for more perfection. If we talk about teaching, which is also fun for me, I’m never doing the same things because I think you can always improve it and change it. Even if one semester is perfect, it can be more perfect in a different way the next semester.

Could you see perfection in improvement, or is it rather in the completeness?

Regarding my children, it always matters if they improve, but they are perfect in their imperfection for me. If you ask me design wise, one should always rethink and never be too satisfied. The moment you are satisfied, I think it is over for you as a good designer.

Do you see any dark sides to the strive for perfection?

No, because once you have achieved something, got a job done, and you have experimented with all the different ways, I think there is a moment where you think it‘s perfect. And that‘s the moment when you‘re relieved and satisfied, but then you think about the next task, or the next project and you‘re seeking for a new perfection. And working then on the new project, you think that the former project could have been done differently. But I think that keeps you moving, keeps you going. At the same time you‘re always on the constant move in our field. Our tools, the technical skills are moving always, so you‘re always seeking for a new perfection. I don‘t see it as a problem that we are constantly moving. I think if you always want to do the same thing, maybe the profession of a designer is not the right one; maybe another field is better.

So, for you perfection is reachable if we just work hard enough?

Yes. I would say for me it‘s perfect if there‘s a vibrant atmosphere in the class and I see there‘s a constant move, and maybe at one point a lot of great projects come out. But then it’s also perfect for me if some projects go down the hill because during one’s studies I think it’s also important to have the experience where things don‘t turn out that well. In a way that kind of imperfection is then in the long run, perfect for me. I think perfection can be reached as long as one is not sleeping on it as if it had been reached.

Would you say that as a designer you need to learn to fail?

It certainly helps you as a professional to have had that experience during your studies, what the feeling is like when you fail. And I‘m sure as a professional you have to know what to do to come out of that situation whole, and I think you only know how to work around it if you had that experience before. It might be that during your diploma you‘re sitting on one design for a very long time with 20 different approaches to it, but it might be that later on in your career, a slightly different project comes up and you come with an idea within 2 min because you have to present it within 10 min. And that is perfect in a way. But one should never forget the fun and the joy in it. I think when we talk about it, it sounds really tense but one should never forget the joy.

Can you visualise your concept of perfection somehow?

For me the iPhone is perfect (showing hers). It has a great feel and touch to it. Even when its switched off. And the key symbols, originally designed for a calculator by Dieter Rams, are perfect. It has changed the creative world quite a bit. The iPad is now following - which is not perfect yet. The iPads so far are made for the huge crowd. You don‘t have to explain a lot. In that way it‘s perfect. But it will also be improved a lot and keep us moving.

A Brancusi sculpture is perfect in its simplicity. But the universe is also perfect in its chaos

Skype call from 09/2010
Edited by Gabriel Tamez

Suvi Häring