Daniel Kamp was born in rural Rotorua and raised working on farms, skating in cities, and snowboarding on mountains around New Zealand's North Island. The son of an eccentric, entrepreneurial, bio farming father and a convention challenging, business strategist mother, Daniel had a rebellious streak that often landed him in conflict with authoritative figures. This defiance was rooted in a discontent with the status quo - a quality that led to his expulsion from boarding school at age 17.
After just surviving high school, Kamp went on to study Design Innovation majoring in Industrial Design, at Victoria University of Wellington. While studying he learned to use his dislike of 'what is' and foresight for 'what could be' as powerful tools for creativity. He graduated at the top of his class with awards for outstanding achievement but resisted pressure to continue on to a Master's degree.
Not long into working in the professional world, Daniel co-founded his first design business - contemporary furniture and lighting design brand Y.S Collective. Working out of a cold warehouse on the city fringe of Tauranga, Daniel and his two partners designed a collection of furniture and lighting that went on to retail at high end stores around New Zealand and Australia, exhibit at Maison & Object Asia, receive multiple design award nominations and feature in international media.
Whilst designing products for Y.S Collective, Kamp also began to undertake design contract work for clients, eventually leading to his co-founding of product and spatial design studio Think & Shift. Under the Think & Shift brand, he designed award winning products, spaces and experiences for companies such as Microsoft, Auckland Transport, I Love Ugly, BoConcept, and many more.
In 2015 Kamp became increasingly frustrated by the unsustainable practices, technological restrictions and monotonous outputs of industrial design. He sold his shares in Think & Shift and left the company to build KAMP.studio; a practice that would allow him to transition from industrial design toward the emerging field of post-industrial design, to focus on his creative energy on the exploration of more expressive alternatives to conventional product and interior design.
Harnessing “the poetic potential of new technologies”, Daniel Kamp hopes his new studio can bring technology and nature closer together.
Having once been a part of renowned design trios Y.S. Collective and later Think & Shift, Daniel Kamp is no stranger to the ins-and-outs of the commercial design world. Now, he’s taken another step by setting up his own brand and focusing on experimental design with KAMP.studio. Kamp discusses his hopes for change in the industrial design world, the rise of efficiency with 3D printing, as well as some of his recent designs in the form of bespoke cutlery.
How did you first get into design and when did you know this was the career for you?
I wasn't particularly studious at high school so I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do afterwards. My older brother went through industrial design a couple years before me and I eventually decided to follow in his footsteps. I studied industrial design at Victoria University, not really knowing if it was something I was going to be passionate about. At first, it didn't excite me and I didn't really excel. But eventually something clicked and I realised that design was something that I really loved. Once I started to apply myself, I also realised I was good at it and the love grew from there.
After that, I went straight into my first job as a designer/innovator for Design Mobel, a bedroom furniture producer. Not long after that, I got started in YS Collective with Sam Griffin and James McNab. We all went through university together and we were good friends. We realised we had similar aesthetics and philosophies that aligned in terms of design.
Afterwards came Think & Shift which evolved out of YS Collective, but you left T&S late last year to start up your own studio. What have you been up to since then?
When I left, T&S was officially alive for around two years and the studio was flourishing. We had landed ourselves a couple of really good awards and started getting some nice clients and projects. In retrospect, it was always going to be at that point that I left. Once the studio became a successful, self-sustaining thing, it started to lose its appeal for me a bit. I didn't exactly know why, but I left T&S just on a feeling that it wasn't aligned with exactly where I wanted to be headed, and a feeling that I could actually offer more to the world by going out on my own and focusing on my own passions. I didn't know exactly what that meant yet, so I went through a bit of a quarter life crisis. I jumped on a plane and traveled around Northern Europe in a sort of a design and art tour, spending time in galleries and meeting creatives that I admired. I also spent a bit of time in Singapore and hung out in India for a month with some friends.
When I got back, everything accumulated into a clearer picture of what I wanted to do. In particular, when I was in Stockholm for the Swedish Design Fair, I began to understand what my frustrations were with the commercial design world. I expected to see inspiring design from all over the world there. But instead, I felt like the whole industry was a bit confused about its place in the modern world. Hundreds of young and even established designers seemed to be struggling because it felt like they were doing things that weren't that different from what was happening 50 years ago, and this is in an age when we can 3D print organs and make reusable rockets.
I came away from that feeling like there was a real opportunity to bring some life back into our products, and that some of the new technologies available to us could actually be used to undo the monotony that’s been created in product design through this mass production era. As much as this might sound like a contradiction, I felt like there was an opportunity for me to bring design a bit closer to nature using new technologies.
Thus, KAMP.studio was born, an experimental design practice focusing on identifying poetic potential of new technologies and their intersection with nature. It's not so much about solving practical problems or about the pragmatic solutions afforded to us by digital technologies, but rather, what things like 3D printing offer us from an artistic perspective. How can we use these technologies to tell new stories and create beauty that perhaps wasn't so easy or even possible to do without these technologies? That's something I'm absolutely passionately about. I think I've finally found the thing that will be my vehicle for achieving my ambitions in the design industry.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Ultimately, what inspires me the most is evolution, and that's in its widest of definition. Whether that means evolution of natural organisms through natural selection, evolution of technologies, or even the evolution of the design industry. I'm really interested in the way things grow and change over time.
Also a lot of my ideas have recently been coming to me in my dreams. Since I left T&S and allowed myself more freedom creatively, I've had this insanely productive period of inspiration. I'm running to keep up and refine those ideas into pieces that I can make available to people.
As you’ve already mentioned, a lot of your recent work has employed 3D printing which is something that is really on the rise at the moment. Can you tell us about how that's factored into your work?
When I studied design innovation at Victoria University, we did a lot of work with 3D printing. I feel like just in the last year or so, a lot of that has really come of age. It's not absolutely ridiculous in terms of cost anymore and we're now able to print in high quality, long-lasting materials. To me, it was obvious 3D printing was going to be my main focus and its totally changed the way that I design. I'm exploring not only new forms, but also the ways we think about additive manufacturing. I've recently been exploring how we can integrate 3D printing with more natural objects or processes of decay so we can get away from this perception of 3D printing as plastic, shiny, and breakable.
It’s also totally liberated my design process. In comparison to when we were having things conventionally fabricated at YS Collective, the prototyping and production model is so much more simple and fast that I can spend a great deal more time actually creating and refining ideas, rather than managing prototypes, production, and manufacturing. It's simplified my business model in a way that allows me more artistic freedom.
As someone who's designed a variety of things, how do you balance between function and aesthetics?
That's a very interesting question because it's something that's kind of changing for me. The pieces I'm working on now are less functionally driven than they have been in the past. They're more concept-driven, so form follows concept rather than form follows function. That could come down to a variety of things, such as my adverse reaction to the functionalist approach, which I think has stripped our objects of a bit of their soul and the things that really allow us to connect to them emotionally. My focus is more on story now.
So I guess in setting up KAMP.studios, it's allowed you to be a bit more experimental by looking at things beyond functionality?
Absolutely, even to the point where I spent a long time questioning whether this was really design or rather it was art. Was it neither, or was it both? I'm not so worried about that question anymore, but it's quite a different approach than the way I've designed things in the past. It’s naturally less commercially driven and more passion-driven.
Looking back, what would you say has been your favourite project so far?
It's a tough question because the one I want to choose is not actually finished yet. Poise is a set of 3D printed titanium cutlery and it was the first project I started working on after I left T&S. Cutlery is something I've wanted to create for as long I've been designing things, but the opportunity never really presented itself. It’s quite a beautiful thing that it was the first project I started working on with my own brand - it kind of speaks to the freedom that I'm now allowing myself.
Also, I just really fucking love cutlery.
Are you hoping to maybe roll it out to a wider market once it's finished?
Yes. Pretty much all of the projects that I'm doing will result in saleable objects. Poise is probably one round of prototypes off being at that stage. It's quite an expensive thing to prototype and cutlery is an incredibly complex thing to design. But once that's refined to a point where I'm happy with it, I'll make that available to purchase.
Any predictions on what you think will be the next up-and-coming design trends?
What I've identified, particularly with these 3D printing technologies, is that there's just this huge amount of efficiency in the new design process. I'm using that efficiency to give myself more artistic freedom, but I suspect that we'll start to see a lot of small design studios use that same efficiency to build lightweight, agile business models that will allow them to make money without having to go through the big manufacturers.
Long term, and it's a huge one, I'd really us to rethink the whole beast that is the industrial production system. We live in a post-industrial society, but a lot of the things we do in design are still based on principles that were defined for the Industrial Revolution. They're ideas that were relevant in the last century, but not so relevant now. I'd really like to think we can move away from mass production of these homogenous, lifeless objects and spaces and get to a place where things are more bespoke, more loveable, and cherished for a longer period of time.