Summer Talk #2: mischer’traxler

Summer Talk #2: mischer’traxler


Katharina Mischer (1982) and Thomas Traxler (1981) form mischer‘traxler studio. Based in Vienna, they develop and design objects, furniture, processes, and installations. They focus on experimentation and conceptual thinking within given contexts. Balancing between handcraft and technology, they envision whole systems, new production methods and kinetic or interactive installations that question topics, tell stories or simply open up new ways of doing things.

Over the last five summers Katharina and Thomas have been tutors here at Boisbuchet, providing workshops. This year we are happy to have them back with: "Motion Made - Objects Created by Human Movement."

"Designing an encyclopedia of unique objects" 2016 © Domaine de Boisbuchet
What in life brought you to design?

Thomas: I did an engineering high school with the focus on automatisation techniques. One of the main questions they asked during our processes was: how can we make it as cheap and fast as possible? I found this very restricted and needed more freedom, but I liked working with materials and processes, so that's how I decided to study design.

Katharina: I come from a semi artistic family. My mum is a tailor and my dad is a teacher, but he painted a lot when I was a kid. When it came to my decision on what to study, I thought: ‘I like art, but it is too free for me, I need more restrictions.’ That's why I turned to design.

How did you meet and did you share the same interests concerning design right away?

Katharina: We met at the Design University St. Pölten in Austria (NDU) and shared an interest in exploring materials by experimenting. In the beginning we didn't know what we were doing. [laughs] We just came up with ideas and did it. It was later on that we found out that we like the mixture of concepts and experiments and not only the shaping of forms.

Thomas: In the first summer we did some projects together just for fun. We were both very motivated and got along well. I think we have been influencing each other from the start.

Ampelmann (2004) © studio mischer’traxler
The idea of a tree - recorder one (2008) © studio mischer’traxler
Which questions are the most interesting and challenging in today’s design discourse?

Katharina: I don't think we can reduce these questions to one or two, it is more a general feeling. One of the things we think about is how production processes can be used in the future and how they can be developed into different scenarios. We believe that design is not only about the final piece, but also about the making of things.

Thomas: Another important question is what the outcome communicates. For us a product is about functionality or aesthetics as well as about the questions it raises, the way it triggers people's imagination, or how it can change people's way of thinking.

"For us a product is about functionality or aesthetics as well as the questions it raises, the way it triggers people's imagination, or how it can change people's way of thinking."

What other expressions or other discussions interest you besides your pure design profession?

Thomas: We are curious people, and are interested in many things such as nature, art, media art, and lectures or talks. We really like TED-talks. They are very inspiring, even when they are not about design but about economics, social issues, or networks in general for example. They are condensed and filtered, so you get a sneak-peak into various disciplines. And in the end, if you heard something interesting regarding your own projects or interests, you can dive deeper and extract what is useful for you.

Flying gardens - fern yard - Kinetic installation with Martin Robitsch for KAV Vienna. © studio mischer’traxler.
Do you feel it is necessary for you as designers to have a certain identity or style that people or potential clients can recognise?

Katharina: We don’t really define ourselves. We rather let ourselves be influenced by the circumstances. For us the dialog with the clients is very important. We try to understand what and why they want something and analyse their hidden agendas – if they've got some.

Thomas: Of course it also makes a difference if you are working for a cultural institution such as a museum or for a company – they all have their own needs. I don’t think we have a specific style, but other people do say so. So if I had to describe it, it would probably not be a visual style but more the way we approach a project, a certain conceptual style.

"I think the common thread through all our projects can be found in the way they come together."

So how would you describe this conceptual method?

Katharina: We are quite strict and when we develop something we push it until we can really say: Yes! It needs to be honest in the execution and feel right. Aesthetically our work is very diverse, take ‘Reversed volumes’ and ‘Rumkugelbahn’, for example. I think the thread through all our projects can be found in the way they come together. Visually however, we've got some projects that I would never put together in the same room - never…

Reversed volumes (2013) for PCM design © studio mischer’traxler
Rumkugelbahn (2010) © studio mischer’traxler
Your operation is a two person show, or are there others involved?

Thomas: At the moment we are with 4 people. The two of us, our assistant Elisa and usually one intern. Depending on the project we are also working with more people – for example with the great programmer Simon Laburda or other people who are helping us to develop or produce the objects and installations.

How are you organising the work in between the two of you?

Thomas: We usually work side by side, so we both know each other's steps. Especially when we are in the process of developing the concept, we discuss a lot. But as soon as we know which direction we are heading, we separate the tasks.

Katharina: Thomas’ focus lies more on the technical side of things and everything with numbers and mine on the graphics, colours and texts, because that's what we are better at. Unfortunately, this does sound gender cliché, though. Nevertheless, sometimes it can happen that we change roles when we are not agreeing completely with whatever the other did.

Equilumen (2015) © studio mischer’traxler
LeveL The fragile balance of perfect systems (2016) © studio mischer’traxler
Are you pro-actively trying to find clients or do clients need to find you?

Katharina: So far we have been very lucky; most clients have come to us. Let's knock on wood! [laughs] It has been super good because we are actually not very good in promoting ourselves, unfortunately. We probably still need to learn that. But when talking to our friends it seems that many designers, our age, are not really good sales-people – probably because we are all in very personal businesses.

Curiosity cloud (2015): an interactive installation that reacts to each visitor © studio mischer’traxler.
Have you ever thought of starting your own production line?

Katharina: We have produced products/pieces in our studio, but not as a big serial production – more as editions with galleries. I think we are afraid that if we would concentrate on one production line we would lose our capacity to explore other ideas.

Maybe that is something where you would want to partner up with somebody external?

Katharina: Only if we would have a process that can easily be handed over, with somebody who manages the process close enough to us. At the moment we are not working in this direction.

Thomas: Once one is starting their own production, one very quickly has a big economic cloud over their head as well, that might restrict you. Today when producing for a client, exhibition or gallery it is only for an overseeable period of time with a certain budget, and that defined frame helps a lot.

Katharina: Yes, I think that if we would concentrate on the production of one thing we would lose our freedom – and so far we want to stay universal.

Are you interested in mischer’traxler's workshop "Motion Made - Objects Created by Human Movement” this summer? Have a look!

Workshop "Designing an encyclopedia of unique objects" 2016 © Domaine de Boisbuchet