Design Knowledge Intermediary
Ayse Birsel
Bibi Seck
MAfrique Collection for Moroso
MAfrique Collection for Moroso
MAfrique Collection for Moroso
MAfrique Collection for Moroso
MAfrique Collection for Moroso
Ayse Birsel
(By Hazal Gumus)

In the beginning of their careers; most of the designers has an idol or mentor. For many designers, especially in Turkey, one of the inspirations is absolutely Ayse Birsel. She is an empathy driven designer who loves to solve problems and create innovation. Although she has been called "Queen of Toilets" for her work for TOTO, right now it is not too much to say that she is "Queen of the Design", for her user-centered, dichotomy-shifting, humanitarian designs.

Currently, Ayse Birsel is the Co-Founder of Birsel + Seck, a design studio based in New York, where she continues to design for a huge range of clients from all over the world. She is also one of the most recognized designers in public; not the least because she is the designer of Tom Cruise’s desk in the movie Minority Report.

Could you please tell us briefly how your interest in design started?

I loved to draw, paint and play with playdough since I was five and I was lucky to find a profession where I could continue to draw, paint and sculpt as a grown-up.

How would you define Ayse Birsel as a designer?
Systems designer, human-centered, loves to resolve dichotomies and break old paradigms, intuitive, holistic and pragmatic.

What does design mean to you? Is it a profession; a lifestyle, or both?
I try to design the life I want to live.

Which one drives you at most when designing: knowledge, observations or the instincts driven by your feelings?
Constraints and how to turn them into advantages.

In the last few years you and Bibi Seck founded Birsel+Seck, so the two of you are working as a team now. Considering that, what are the key aspects of team work at Birsel+Seck?
When I met Bibi my idea of myself as a designer changed from “me” to “we”. We are independent yet we are one.

When working as a team, did you ever face any significant differences among team members? If so how did this reflect to your designs?
Our team can be a handful of people or 130 people depending on the project. We have learned that envisioning the end result and agreeing on our measure-of-success for the project allows us to work together in harmony and constructively.

Where does the inspiration come from?
You know inspiration is everywhere but it is being receptive and attuned to it that makes the difference. Your brain makes these connections unconsciously and much of design is making them conscious and meaningful.

You had the chance to work in several industries so far. Which industry do you think is the most interesting one to be working in?
Every industry where we can have a client who shares our values, with a great group of smart, ethical people to work with, is extremely interesting.

What is the most remarkable project at early phases of your career? And why?
I will say the Zoë washlet for TOTO. For years I was called the queen of toilets, a title I cherish.

What do you think has remarkably changed in the design world in the last decades, especially when comparing today to your first years?
The world went from purely physical to physical and virtual, in the space of a mere decade or so. Physical and virtual, and the pace of change are probably the most remarkable changes that shape design today.

You have designed Madame Dakar with your partner Bibi Seck and produced it in Senegal for a different market. Do you have other products that support the local production which are specifically for the local use in Senegal?
Bibi just designed Taboo, a stool that is 75% recycled plastic, using plastic garbage bags and bottles, ubiquitous polluters of the Senegalese landscape, and giving plastic a new life. Taboo is mass-manufactured in Senegal using local materials and work force.

Once you have mentioned that a good design must have four bridges between the user and the design such as spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual relations. How do you define the successful design?
Successful design is something that a person falls in love with it, takes home and lives with, and in some cases, stays faithful to.

Do art and design have to support each other?

Of course, they’re like branches of the same tree.

Form follows function?
Form is a language. It expresses a point of view.

On which side do designers have to stand? Manufacturer or user?
Wonderful question. Designer and manufacturer, together, stand on the side of the user.

Do you conduct any projects in collaboration with design universities?

We recently participated in Headspace, a symposium on Scent as Design, organized by Parsons Design School’, MoMA and IFF to explore scent as a design element. You can find more information on it at http://www.headspace2010.com/

What should the priorities of design education be?
Instill confidence. Instill a point of view. Instill the ability to answer this question: “why?”.

What are your advices for novice designers?
Learn to communicate your ideas in multiple languages: design language, business language, marketing language, engineering language.

How do you imagine the world of future?
 I spend most of my time imagining the world of today.

...culture that inspires you?

...country that you want to live?
New York.

 ...cuisine that you like most?

....drink that you prefer?

...painter that had influence on you most?

 ...writer that you like most?
Tom Ford.

 ...kind of book that you prefer?
I oscillate between fiction and non-fiction.

...movie you like most?
Right now, Samurai Rebellion.

 ...director you like most?


 ...style of music you listen to?
Jazz + Opera + Senegalese

 ...your own design you like most?

The ones I haven’t designed yet.

 ...design you like most?
Lego blocks.

 ...designer that you respect most?
Isamu Noguchi, sculptor. Renzo Piano, architect.


Ayse Birsel was interviewed by Hazal Gumus in July 2010. Designophy ©

- www.birselplusseck.com