The spontaneous storyteller – Kay Humelt

For Kay, it would be more suitable to say that she is a storyteller rather than strictly a product designer. The purpose of her design is always the same: to emphasize on the story that comes across through every project.

“I always had many passions and probably the biggest of them were stories. I enjoy creative writing, illustration, graphic and 3D design – all these disciplines I am good at can be put together into something that has much more impact. I realised that combining media into bigger projects is a way of creating more complete narratives. It simply makes people understand more, and when you are a storyteller, this is what means most to you.”

But really, by definition product design is intended to solve the every day problems that we encounter, to improve quality of life. Kay uses her imagination, instinct and work ethic to give it new meaning.

“One thing is almost always there is research and inspiration, so that there is a solid ground for your work. Then come ideas and practical work – this is the stage that is the most irregular. At the end, I always take a break and get back to the outcomes so that I can verify if the communication is coherent and well executed.”

“I don’t think this ever is a completely conscious decision – more often it works as a sort of a gut feeling. Now, when I think about it, it just seems to be an instinct that tells you what to do next. Fortunately, this instinct is most often right.”

The Untold Grimm tales

Moving away from design, Kay used her imagination to recreate the well-known Grimm’s fairy tales. She conducted a photography project, where she created the masks of the characters herself. The series took place in a snowy forest, where one character wore a deer and the other a wolf mask, to compose a new tale.

“At first I was a bit worried to over-define something that lives in the mind – like spoiling the intangible beauty of a book by turning it into a film. I almost didn’t feel the need to shoot or film anything – just the fact of having the masks around made my imagination boil with narratives and scenarios. But I knew the stories had to be mediated somehow. So I organised my own photo shoot and then a friend or mine, a photographer, asked me to use the masks in her own scenario. It was great to see that what I created inspired other artists as well.”

Kay enjoys taking in-depth look into the subjects and projects that she works on. She said that research is probably the most important part of every single project.

“I target various subjects – some of them are light but some are serious and difficult to tackle. In some cases it is enough to rely on a gut feeling. But often you need to read, talk to people and test your concepts and ideas for many times. I think that no matter what kind of a project you are working on, it is always about gaining enough knowledge on the subject so that you at least realise where you are lacking.”

Wa

Wa, yet another, completely different project that Kay worked on, was one of her favorite ones to research. The visual satisfaction enriched her with inspiration and more cultural understanding.

Wa is Japanese for ‘ring’. The name refers to the subtle circular rim on the bottom of each piece in the family, which is also a very distinctive feature of traditional Asian drinking vessels.”

Kay went to the Victoria and Albert Museum to do research, where she became fascinated with a lacquered picnic set.

“The description mentioned sake bottles, cups and plates, but I could not tell the difference between the cups and the plates – they seemed identical. Only when I bent down and lowered my eye level I realised what the difference was. All the plates rested flat on the table surface and the cups were subtly elevated on these delicate rims. I decided it was something I had to include in my design.”

Aetas

Combining the “functions” of a pet and music to enhance human beings’ music experience, Aetas is Kay’s final graduation project.

For me this was a very conceptual, thinking-based project, although the results are pretty tangible. Music has always been an integral part of my life. At some stage in my life I realised that the sounds that we love so much and have such an emotional load in them most of the time live in a plastic box.”

Noticing the paradox, she hoped to make emotional sounds more durable than a plastic box. That was when the idea of a pet came in.

“I was trying to find a model of the kind of user-product relationship I wanted to trigger. And I though ‘Hey! What if electronics were like pets?’ I can’t imagine you would throw away a dog like you do with a pair of headphones. So I decided to combine people’s passion for music with the love they have for their pets.”

As the interview came to an end, we asked Kay if there was anything planned for the future.

“At the moment I am combining a personal publishing project with freelance work. I don’t have a very clear one yet. I would like to continue my own work but also to find a job that really satisfies me.”

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