Dabi Robert

Professional in Lighting Design.

About Dabi Robert

My name is Robert and I am based in Nuremberg, Germany. My story in a nutshell: Coming from a Graphic Design background, I set foot into product design self-taught while co-founding two watch brands in 2010. With friends in Hong Kong, we are still active world-wide. I have also worked for a Tech Startup Incubator, but for about 2-3 years my very passion is lighting design. In my new studio called unform, I design & build creative lighting.

  • Winner of Lighting Design Award.
  • Specialized in Lighting Design.
  • Original Design.
  • Highly Creative, Diligent and Innovative.
  • All Designs
  • Lighting
Poise Adjustable Table Lamp

Poise Adjustable Table Lamp

Lighting Design

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Interview with Dabi Robert

Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
When I was a kid, I drew a lot. My mum always loved painting and drawing, so she supported me. Pretty early already I knew that I wanted to be a Designer growing up. My interest for drawing extended gradually and became an interest for anything creative like illustration, 3d visualisation, music, dancing, interaction design, photography, graphic- and product design. I never studied industrial design in particular, so that’s something that evolved out of self motivation.
Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
I've been working as a freelancer since 2012 after co-founding the watch brand ZIIIRO. The studio founded in 2020 called "unform" is solely dedicated to lighting design, which has become my main passion during the past 3 years. I've accumulated a nice palette of tools in my small workshop for working on prototypes and expanded my knowledge around this subject.
What is "design" for you?
For me, Design is an intersection of functionality and aesthetics. It isn't always 50/50, sometimes something can be more useful than beautiful and the other way round. So I think that design isn't necessarily functionalism. When design leans more towards the artistic way, it can have a psychological influence on the individual, for example to inspire him.
What kinds of works do you like designing most?
At the moment, product design is what I like the most, especially lighting. But I'm also working on other things, for example I just designed a simple nose clip for securing a bandana to the nose in times of Corona.
What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
Not sure wether it should be my own or something I admire.. if it's my own one, maybe the Horizon watch I designed for ZIIIRO, because I think it is a timeless design. If it's something I admire, for example the Guise lamp Stefan Diez designed for Vibia.
What was the first thing you designed for a company?
Before I started with product design, I designed lots of print products for different companies. But the first thing that really made an impact to my life and the life of other people was the first watch for ziiiro (ziiiro gravity) back in 2010.
What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
I don't really have one favourite tool, I think it depends on what you want to make. Sometimes I spend hours on creating something in CAD, and sometimes I spend hours getting my hands dirty working with metal pieces. I love both!
When do you feel the most creative?
When a plan works out! That really motivates and makes me feel i can achieve everything. In contrary to when something doesn't work out – which is actually most of the times. I guess every designer knows this.
Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
I tend to focus on aesthetics and interactivity. Also I'm trying to create things where it's not always obvious what they can do or how they work. This should encourage the curiosity and playfulness of the user.
What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
When I'm focused on a project I feel like in a tunnel, but in a positive way. I often let myself guide by intuition, things I've learned over the years influence what I do on a subconscious level. Sometimes I feel like there are pieces coming together, from things I thought about earlier for a different project. Then I always need to step back, that helps getting out of the tunnel and see the whole picture.
What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
It makes me feel happy that I'm not the only one who likes what I do.
What makes a design successful?
Well, a pragmatic answer would be that good marketing can make a design successful. That doesn't always mean that the design is really as good as the revenue it generates. So if success isn't only measured financially, it could be timelessness. In the end, the things that have the most value to me are the things I often use or can't take my eyes away even after years.
When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
Does it bring any additional value to my life or the life of others?
From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
Not to harm both of them. As a designer you can always refuse to design something that is harmful for either society or environment. But then the client can look for another designer that does the job. So the responsibility is to solve problems in ways that are harmless and in a best case scenario even better than the harmful solutions.
How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
The future of design in general leans towards life preservation, the corona crises shows it again, everybody designs masks. But the biggest challenge of our time is to fight climate change, so I think that's a field with many opportunities for designers, for example in traffic and energy transformation.
When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
The last exhibitions where a while ago, at Berlin fashion week in 2014, that was for my watch brand. For Lighting, I planned to attend Light & Building in March 2020, my lamp was supposed to be exhibited at their Trend Forum. Unfortunately, the whole event was cancelled along the crisis.
Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
I get my inspiration from many things, I can’t even point out anything in particular. The web is certainly the most important source of inspiration. Being responsive to the world you’re living in is the essential part. When I look around, I often analyse things and automatically start thinking about what could be done with them, or what could be done differently. Every new design is a remix. Sometimes it can even be exhausting that my mind keeps drifting off.
How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
I would describe it as somehow minimal, but not in a super rational, pragmatic way. More like in a playful way. Maybe I try to bring these two styles together. So what I'm striving for is to create fun, but also timeless things because I noticed that the more details there are to an object, the quicker it gets boring.
Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
I was born in Romania and am living in Germany since 86. The heritage of German design is very functional and effective. Especially the city i live in (Nuremberg) is full of engineers and one of the cities with the highest density of IT related jobs in Europe. I was never very interested in coding or engineering myself, but I admire what can be done with it and consider myself a geek. So maybe these two worlds can be complementary here. Actually when I think about it, I'm not especially focused on the city or even country I live in.
How do you work with companies?
During the last 10 years I mostly worked with the 2 other co-founders of our watch brands from Hong Kong. So remote work is normal to me. Back then, we even founded the company just by by text chat, we didn't even call each other. For one year in 2018, I was also part-time working as a designer for the fastest growing Tech Incubator in my city.
What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
First of all, it is important who in the company is involved in decisions like that. It would be good if there's someone who understands the value of the design and works with the designer afterwards. If you narrowed it down to a small number of designers of choice, it might help to do a little commissioned test project to see if the designer fits into your environment.
Can you talk a little about your design process?
For me, the most important thing in creative work is taking notes. I do that digitally so that I can access them any time. It's like thinking about different things, taking notes, making a scribble eventually, and when I feel like I’m onto something I start making more precise scribbles followed by CAD drawings, or I try to build it right away, depending on the complexity. In graphic design it's similar, but it's more like a rough rock that gets chiseled into a finished sculpture, metaphorically.
What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
iPhone, Airpods, Mac, the Aeon Rocket P3 lamp, ... and I just notice that I'm not very attached to any specific objects around.
Can you describe a day in your life?
Right now, my days are different than 2 -3 months ago. I'm used to work from home where my studio is, but normally my wife and 5-year old son aren't at home as well. So now me and my wife have to switch working and taking care of our son because nursery schools are closed. My regular day would be to drive my son to daycare and then go back up into my studio / workshop and just work on different projects there, as well as having a meeting with my colleagues from time to time. I have an adequate amount tools and materials to try some basic stuff, so I can do many things in-house and switch between screen and workbench.
Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
Whenever possible, try to work on things that you really care about. Often times, the best works are the ones you would want to have for yourself. If you work with others, try to find places where your work is appreciated, because this is what makes you happy.
From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
The pros and cons are pretty close to each other. It is great being able to create something from scratch which can potentially influence others. But at the same time, when you are really enthusiastic about what you do, you'll have to learn how to stop thinking about it and enjoy other things in life.
What is your "golden rule" in design?
The principles of design are more important than the tools, because they won't change over time.
What skills are most important for a designer?
To think outside the box, to question why things are done the way they are. Then, being able to observe these things and to alter them in a way that they open a new perspective for the observer.
Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
A stationary computer, my smartphone, notebooks - those are my tools for creating intellectual information. In the workshop I have tools like a lathe, a milling machine, vacuum chamber, different tools to cut and sand. My sources of inspiration are mostly online, I also have many helpful books, but I couldn't pick any specific one.
Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
When you have to work where you also live, you really have to be disciplined and organised, not to be distracted. So (in other times than during the corona crisis) I have pretty strict working hours from nine to six. Sometimes I also add an evening here and there if I have to get something finished. If there's a deadline, I consider myself focused and solution-oriented.
How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
That's very dependant on the object. For watches, there were models that took over a year because we wanted to try really unusual things which oftentimes turned out not to be feasible.
What was your most important job experience?
The most recent one was working for the tech incubator, because of the great team there and the things I learned. I got to know what makes a great and effective working environment.
Who are some of your clients?
During the last years I more or less worked on the brands I co-founded, ZIIIRO and Cronometrics.
What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
At the moment it's lighting design. Sometimes I feel like a fly that is attracted by light because i can't stop thinking and researching about lighting objects.
What are your future plans? What is next for you?
I really want to work on lighting objects, but I'm not sure yet how. Whether to create an own brand or try to offer commissioned work to existing brands. The Poise lamp is only one of many lamps I created over the last months and years, so I wish it could be the entry ticket into this world.
Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
Yes, I have some more prototypes of lamps, and even more unfinished ideas after that. I am looking for an outlet to let them grow.
How can people contact you?
On my website www.dabi.me, you can find multiple ways to contact me.

Extended Interview with Dabi Robert

Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?
After art oriented technical secondary school, I was working as a media designer for about 10 years. After that I co-founded an international watch brand, and a second one after that. Mostly working on those, i did a couple of side projects, worked for a tech incubator for a year and also catched up on studying design at the university. That was unusually late after having worked in that field for years.
What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?
When I was a kid, I drew a lot. My mum always loved painting and drawing, so she supported me. I knew that I wanted to be a Designer when I grew up, it was never a question to do anything else than a creative job.
What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?
At the moment I do a lot of product design, most of all related to watches and lighting. Lighting is what I'd like to do more of. However industrial design isn't something I studied, I'm just really enthusiastic about it and try to teach myself.
What should young designers do to become a design legend like you?
Focus on learning the basic principles of design, not so much the tools for creating it. The principles will stay the same for decades while the tools are rapidly changing. And you can always quickly learn the tool you need. Whenever possible, try to work on things that you really care about. Often the best works are the ones you would want for yourself. If you work in a team, try to find places where your work is appreciated, because this is what makes you happy and keeps you going. And just try out as much as possible, because most ideas turn out not to work like you imagined.
What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?
A good designer does the job, a great designer doesn't stop there.
What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?
Design is somehow the communication between objects and humans, and there are multiple factors that define this communication. I think the more of these factors the design carves out at the same time, the better it gets. It depends on the product, which of these factors are more important.
What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?
Design is part of the backbone of our society. It has the power to steer our society. Cavemen designed their axes, which allowed them to hunt better, now we have smartphones which make the world more connected. If we invest in good design, we can change the world.
What would you design and who would you design for if you had the time?
Realistically I would like to work for Flos, Vibia or Artemide and design lighting. In a space of infinite time I would probably try to create some art instead of design. I have a couple of ideas for illustrative and figurative artworks but never get to work on them.
What is the dream project you haven’t yet had time to realize?
Probably +12 years ago, I wanted to make an illustrated book about our oceans to raise awareness about our environment. It should have been entertaining and informative at the same time.
What is your secret recipe of success in design, what is your secret ingredient?
My secret recipe is to follow my passion, it sounds cheesy but I believe in it. The secret ingredient would probably be: every time I think I have finished something, add a breeze of insanity to it.
Who are some other design masters and legends you get inspired from?
For example Phillipe Starck, Ives Bahar, Steve Jobs (even if he wasn't a designer he understood more of it than many others)
What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?
For example the Guise lamp Stefan Diez designed for Vibia, because I was experimenting with something similar at the same time it was released... his design just was much better than what I had in mind.
What is your greatest design, which aspects of that design makes you think it is great?
Well, I think my poise lamp is not bad :) What I like about it is that even after months of working on it, I still keep playing around and changing its' pose. From my watch-related projects, I still like the ZIIIRO Lunar watch very much, it was also sold in the MoMa shop. I think a design is great when it's still interesting after a long time, when you still want to interact with it or look at it without getting bored. Those are the things you end up getting attached to.
How could people improve themselves to be better designers, what did you do?
Constantly keep learning. New tools, new disciplines, new sources of inspiration, new people to work with, projects that are not in your comfort zone. Eventually, you will end up doing one thing in the end and that's ok, but if you tried many different things before, you know your strengths and weaknesses, so the one thing will have even more value to you and others.
If you hadn’t become a designer, what would you have done?
Maybe an artist or photographer, but at least something creative.
How do you define design, what is design for you?
It defines how we interact with something and it's an intersection of functionality and aesthetics. It isn't always a 50/50 intersect, something can be more useful than beautiful or the other way round. So I think that design isn't necessarily functionalism. When design leans more towards the artistic way, it can have a psychological influence on the individual, for example to inspire.
Who helped you to reach these heights, who was your biggest supporter?
When I was younger, my mother supported me, but in the times when I was a teenager my family slowly drifted apart and everybody had their own problems. For a long time I didn't have any mentor or special supporter, until I met my wife.
What helped you to become a great designer?
First of all, thanks! I am constantly driven by ideas, in fact there are far more than I can handle. Often that's a problem and I have to force myself to focus on something. That might be one of the keys to success, being able to focus on something until it's done. This argument is backed by the fact that I experienced drawbacks when I wasn't focused. Working with people who could give me constructive criticism was also important.
What were the obstacles you faced before becoming a design master?
I don't feel like I mastered design, In my opinion, there are only few people that did. Anyway, when I was younger, I often had the black page syndrome. i couldn't draw things that I have in mind, because my drawing skills hadn't been evolved enough. Looking back to that time, what I would do different is to just literally draw all kinds of basic things and just forget about the "perfect" picture for now. Now I'm still constantly facing obstacles, whenever something doesn't work out as expected. That can be demotivating, but the more often it happens, the better I learned to deal with it, and to expect ideas not to work out at first.
How do you think designers should present their work?
I think presentation is very important, even the best work can be disregarded when presented in the wrong context, or place or manner. It is important to think about a concept of how to present your work, and put as much effort into it as into the work itself. Think about what makes your work, and then translate that into the presentation.
What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?
I'm working on an apple watch strap, on different lamps and there is a new ZIIIRO watch coming soon. A quick little side project I just finished is www.clingclip.com, a nose clip for bandanas and face masks.
What’s your ultimate goal as a designer?
Happiness. What makes me happy is a good working environment, when my work is appreciated, and when I can make a living from all that.
What people expect from an esteemed designer such as yourself?
I don't know, maybe they expect that I can find a creative solution to a problem.
How does design help create a better society?
Design can define how we interact with each other and our environment. Through design, we can change these interactions and for example improve our ecologic environment by creating new ways of transportation. In my opinion, another call for action would be in the field of online communication, I think we need to think about how to contain misinformation.
Which design projects gave you the most satisfaction, why?
When we had the first international success with ZIIIRO watches, it was a really great time. We exhibited at the Berlin fashion week, where I talked to so many people who were excited about my designs.
What would you like to see changed in design industry in the coming years?
The most obviously needed change is towards being more eco-friendly. But not everything can be solved by design alone, for example not every eco-friendly material available is suitable for every product. I think the low hanging fruit is rather the packaging around the products.
Where do you think the design field is headed next?
With digitalisation many new opportunities came, like AI and machine learning, but also problems. I think design will have more overlaps with disciplines like psychology and politics.
How long does it take you to finalize a design project?
That's very dependant on the project. For watches, there were models that took over a year because we wanted to try really unusual things which oftentimes turned out not to be feasible.
When you have a new design project, where do you start?
I start with brainstorming and jotting ideas, which take me to scribbles, and so on.
Do you think design sets the trends or trends set the designs?
I'd say design sets a trend because there can be no trend without a first product.
What is the role of technology when you design?
Technology provides many versatile tools for designing, almost like a brain expander.
What kind of design software and equipment do you use in your work?
I use a stationary computer with 2 screens and software like the whole Adobe Suite, Fusion360 and other 3D apps, note taking apps, etc. Then there are also multiple tools like a lathe, milling machine etc.
What is the role of the color, materials and ambient in design?
They have a big influence on how we perceive a product, even the slightest details like the sound a hinge makes, can make a product appear cheap or valuable.
Who is your ideal design partner? Do you believe in co-design?
It's been a long time since I worked with a design partner, but yes sure, I think it works when two designers can complement each other and can give each other responsibility and appreciation.
Which people you interacted had the most influence on your design?
The two partners I work with in Hong Kong, and some professors at university.
How did you develop your skills as a master designer?
By trying to do things and getting help if it doesn't work out. I think most of the skill development happens autodidactically.
What is your favorite color, place, food, season, thing and brand?
Apart from brand, these are questions my son also asked me before. I don't really have the one favourite thing of each. Every of these things has its' own convenience. For food I like sushi and pizza, my favourite season is spring, brands I like are Apple and Sony, but there are many more options I could pick.
Please tell us a little memoir, a funny thing you had experienced as a designer?
In 2010, I co-founded a watch brand together with a guy from Hong Kong, whom I didn't know until shortly before. The funny part about it is that our whole communication happened by text-chat on skype, because at that time I was employed as a designer and couldn't communicate in the evenings because of the time zones. So the first time we actually met and talked to each other was about 2 years later when I invited him to my wedding in Germany. He also brought his mum, his friend, and a friend of hers I never heard of before.
What makes your day great as a designer, how do you motivate yourself?
Motivation and good vibes come when something I have in mind really works out.
When you were a little child, was it obvious that you would become a great designer?
It was obvious that I will become something like a designer, but not necessarily a great one (haha).
What do you think about future; what do you see will happen in thousand years from now?
I think that countries, languages and races will slowly become one.

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