A collection of products designed by Daniel To and Emma Aiston created from subtle, simple shapes.
Daniel To and Emma Aiston aim to design things that are “just nice.” By this they mean that the designs don’t represent anything, they are not layered with meaning, there is no big story behind them. Their latest product range is called Basics: a pendant lamp, a mirror, a shelf, a desk magnet and some paperweights. “The work doesn’t need to have a story behind it to have its place,” says Emma. However, the story behind Basics is their previous collection, Solids, and before Solids came Shapes, the collection they designed in London.
After graduating from industrial design in Adelaide in 2007, Daniel and Emma set off to London to work for Marc Newson, Thorsten van Elten and Committee. “We learnt a lot of really valuable lessons in the UK,” says Emma. Each product in Shapes has a square, a circle, a triangle and a pentagon combined in different ways to produce four functional devices – a fan, a radio, a dinner set and a table. They exhibited Shapes in London and Japan. “We had an OK response, but we learnt a lot about the level of quality that work has to have, and how competitive the marketplace is,” says Emma.
Returning to Adelaide, they received a grant from the South Australian Government to design a new collection, Solids. This time, all the products were designed to create a unified “scene,” as Daniel puts it. Exhibiting in London, “we were blown away by the reaction,” says Emma. “People started saying ‘I want to stock that in my store,’” adds Daniel. “It got more real. We started it for fun, but now people wanted to invest money.” Solids is now in the process of being manufactured in China, a somewhat frustrating procedure because of the lack of face-to-face contact. While waiting, they decided to design a range that could be manufactured in Australia – Basics. “We tried to reduce the amount of labour per object,” explains Daniel, “and in some ways this dictated the forms of the objects.”
The “ledge” is so called because it is made from two pieces of pine glued together and is only ninety millimetres wide. The cone-shaped lamp is turned from a solid pine block and it’s a surprise to discover it is so hefty and thick. The brass weights are precision-cut from standard extrusions and are extraordinarily heavy, even surprising Daniel and Emma. Their first prototypes were about four times the size. “The rectangular prism was like a brick,” says Emma. “You could have killed someone with it.” The circular mirror has a bumpy aluminium surface, whose soft reflection reminds Daniel of early mirrors in Europe.
“We design around the way things look,” says Daniel. “We just like very clean, simple things,” adds Emma. They are enjoying the slower pace of Adelaide. It suits them. “It’s not too fancy,” drawls Daniel. “Not too fancy,” echoes Emma with a laugh.