Design duo Dokter and Misses about the importance of the aesthetic function of products they create

“Aesthetic fuction is more important. How we designed what you don’t see,” on their wildly popular LALA Surma drinks cabinet.

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For their Design Indaba conference talk, Johannesburg-based design duo Dokter and Misses decided to switch things up a little bit. Not unexpected if you consider that the duo have constantly taken on product design and given us a new, refreshing twist.

For the conference, the award-winning duo collaborated with artists and musicians including Dear Ribane (on conceptual performance), Joap Renato Orechia Zuniga on sound and music design and all these elements came together, on stage, under expert directing from artist Lindiwe Matshikiza.

What resulted was a performance art piece that is as pleasing to the eye and ear as the bold designs that husband and wife duo, Adriaan Hugo and Katy Taplin are known for.

The brand was started in 2007 in the back of Hugo's house in Brixton, Johannesburg. After getting some money from Hugo's dad they opened their studio in the heart of Braamfontein. They're popularly known for their mordenist take on furniture, lighting and interior objects that always feature bold graphic shapes. The work features contemporary reinterpretations of traditional African patterns like the Basotho patterns and those of the Kassena people of Burkina Faso. But the two say that Johannesburg, the famed city of gold, is as much an inspiration for their work as the people they meet.

 "Joburg was the first step and I think another thing is people that we’ve kind of just worked with and who’ve supported us, inspired us and shared our experiences with us,” says graphic designer Taplin.

She said that Hugo, an industrial designer, was making lights and all sorts of cool things and eventually people started noticing. They said it was a fun time and they made everything from lights, tables, cardboard handbags to weird ceramics.

The 2008 xenophobic attacks in South Africa were also a turning point for the duo as it inspired them to slow down.

“I think it was the xenophobia uprising... think the first major one... It just felt like there was too much violence in the world. It was weird. And we made like a peace rug… The idea with Easy Now [their range produced during that time] was for us to take it slower, take it easy.”

The duo say that creating beautiful work is really important to them especially when looking at pieces like the LALA Surma drinks cabinet.

“Aesthetic function is more important. How we designed what you don’t see ... Almost a beautiful mechanic pattern that is inside”.

Hugo said it was an opportunity to create a piece of art that was mass produced: “It was a little bit indulgent. If you can do a bit of that, it makes you feel alive again.” The LALA Surma drinks cabinet for example was hand painted and hand constructed, which made it feel heavier and more grounded. 

The duo say that they are now thinking more continentally about design and breaking away from what they were taught at university. The LALA Surma cabinet is an example of how they have begun to look to African inspiration as it was inspired by the Surma people who reside in the Omo Valley. It was nominated for the ELLE DECORATION International Design Awards 2014, and part of their showcase at Design Miami fair in 2015.

Watch the Interview with Dokter and Misses