Swyft is an online furniture brand that launched in 2020. They are known for their modular, design-led sofas that are delivered within 24 hours. The design, which is all done by Design Director John O’Leary, clips together without the need for any tools at all. The sofa arrives flat packed so that it is simple to navigate up and down stairs or through small doorways, something which can pose a problem for urban flats. Here, John O’Leary, talks about the people and objects that inspired his sofa designs. John designs all of Swyft’s products in-house, and was recently nominated for the Institute of Designers in Ireland Awards.
I drew inspiration from the iconic Victorinox Swiss Army Knife when I first designed the Swyft-Lok fastener. This is purely functional, as it’s the component that holds each of our modular sections together securely, and as such is only seen by customers for a matter of minutes. Despite this, it is integral to our products and has been rigorously designed as such. I love the way Victorinox uses consistent colour and nods to provenance to give an otherwise purely utilitarian item a character. By using our brand colours on the Swyft-Lok, and adding the logo and place of origin, it does just that and becomes a symbol for what we do at Swyft.
German industrial designer, Dieter Rams, is a proponent of the ‘less, but better’ philosophy. Most known for his long career at Braun, Rams’ designs are minimal, yet have just enough detail to ensure perfect useability. He is famous for his Ten Principles for Good Design which champions innovation, honesty, sustainability, and thoroughness down to the last detail. He believes good design is simple and unobtrusive, and these are principles I always keep in mind when designing new products.
I was once lucky enough to meet and interview Norwegian furniture designer (and jazz musician), Peter Opsvik, at his design studio in Oslo. I studied design at the Oslo School of Architecture and was writing my thesis on ‘Norwegian Design and National Identity’ at the time when I appeared – uninvited – at his door. Opsvik is best known for designing innovative and ergonomic chairs, like the Tripp Trapp chair for children, which I now have for my own child. His groundbreaking research and development in the ergonomics field have been instrumental in teaching me to question the norm and think outside the box. By doing so, you can arrive at unconventional results that solve real problems and this, fundamentally, is what makes great design. I will always be curious and challenge convention when designing.
A great inspiration to me is the book Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change by Victor Papanek (first published in 1972). This was compulsory reading in first year of design school. It has stayed with me and is still relevant to this day. It taught me early on the moral and environmental responsibilities we have as designers. It is not just about the design, but the profound impact that our work has on the world, from the start of its life to the end.
I saw a retrospective of the work of Danish furniture designer, Hans Wegner, in Copenhagen many years ago. His attention to detail and deep understanding of materials and production techniques are second to none. It is this understanding of your craft that allows you to experiment and push the boundaries, and from him I learned the importance of this at an early age. At Swyft, we design everything from the overall aesthetics and functionality, to the foam construction and packaging. We agonise over the smallest details; like zips, piping thicknesses, leg glides. This attention to detail is ultimately what will set us apart from the others.
Creativity and Art
My passion for art and painting teaches me that sometimes you must embrace the chaos, and go with your gut feel. Not everything can be mapped in a spreadsheet or pre-planned in advance. There should be some room for spontaneity to allow the creative process to develop and evolve. Be flexible and open to questioning, critique and change. I am fortunate at Swyft to work with master craftspeople and highly skilled upholsterers. It’s my duty as a designer to listen to, and take on board their knowledge and experience, and where possible show the hand of the maker. Often this can lead to the most interesting, engaging and desirable product designs.