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Poetic Technology for Better Living: Meet Lumio’s Max Gunawan

On Thursday 21st April at our Marylebone store, founder of Lumio Max Gunawan shared his journey in discussion with Elle Decoration’s Editor-in-Chief Ben Spriggs. To celebrate the event and the launch of Lumio’s new double Red Dot award-winning Teno Speaker, we sat down with Gunawan to explore his take on the art of poetic design.

1. Hello Max, and welcome to The Conran Shop! Please may you introduce yourself and Lumio to our readers.

Hi everyone! Thank you for letting me share my story. I started Lumio in 2012 as a little break from architecture, and as a small, fun project for myself -- something more artistic and less technical. That endeavour evolved into my first product, the Lito Book Lamp.

At first, Lumio was both the name of the product and the brand. As the business grew, so did my vision for the brand and its future. Watching people’s delight when they’d open that book light, I realized I wanted that joy to be central to all my creations. With that in mind, I began work on my second product in 2018, and now my third is underway.

Every Lumio product is distinct. What links them is a desire to connect us more with our senses – and by extension to help us feel a bit more human.  

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2. How does your background in architecture inform your design practice?

It's fundamental for me. The ingredients needed to design a building are also essential to product design. My architecture training made me comfortable playing with forms, materials, scale and ratio. Whether I’m designing a building or exploring different angles in the objects I'm creating, it’s the same tools. Those tools also help me contextualize the object within the space it will ultimately inhabit. 

3. Lumio creates objects that blend technology and craftsmanship; do you find that it is difficult to find the right balance, or do the two work in harmony?

Both are true. For tech and craftsmanship to work in harmony, the design has to be simple. But achieving that simplicity is one of my biggest challenges. The complexity of tech has to be translated into an elemental language, understood instinctively whenever someone picks up the product. That balance is what I’m always looking for.

4. Your brand has evolved from a one-person maker in a shared workshop to selling products in over 52 countries; what were some of the greatest challenges in achieving this level of growth?

The greatest challenges – and successes – invariably involve your team’s ability to collaborate harmoniously. It takes time and patience to find the right people to help realise and grow your vision. Once you find them, things start snapping into place nicely.

5. And in turn, is there any one particular moment of achievement that stands out?

I still remember back in 2013, when I saw my product on the cover of the New York Times Design section. Suddenly all the pain was worth it! It was also incredibly touching to see people on a busy Soho street, stopping and enjoying the display window I’d created for the MoMA store. 

As an architecture student, I've always loved the work of Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, so when the Centre Pompidou invited me to take over the store and do a full display for the product launch, I definitely geeked out a little.

6. Your approach to design is informed by beauty, function and joy; which designers have inspired you along the way?

Tadao Ando, Jasper Morrison, Naoto Fukusawa. Each of these designers is a master at capturing the essence of simplicity. I’ve always looked up to them and can only hope my body of work will one day be half as good.

7. How important has crowdfunding been to the success of Lumio?

The funding model certainly helps cover the upfront costs for tooling and setting up production. But its real value is in establishing people’s interest in the product before we launch it, thus reducing the risk of building too much inventory. This real-time feedback helps us to stay nimble; for a small company like ours, that’s crucial.

8. We are thrilled to have hosted you in our Marylebone store to discuss the sensory power of everyday objects; what do you hope our guests took away from the discussion?

I believe a great many of us aspire to own less, and to instead surround ourselves with well-designed objects that we truly appreciate – objects we’ll remain excited to use over the years. In this regard, the power of good design goes beyond aesthetics. It can really impact our well-being at a fundamental level.

As digital as the world gets, we are ultimately humans with core analogue needs. In creating objects that activate our basic senses, Lumio hopes to help us all connect more with ourselves at some level. If we can achieve that, I’ll be thrilled.

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9. Please can you tell us a little more about the award-winning Teno Speaker, which will be exclusively available for purchase throughout the event?

In Teno, we wanted to create a product with the soul and longevity of a beautiful, handcrafted object. A departure from both the sleek sameness and planned obsolescence so common in consumer technology. Something less perfect-yet-disposable, something more...human. 

But what does human look like? We found ourselves inspired by kintsugi, the Japanese art of piecing together broken parts rather than throwing them away. Could that embrace of imperfection be brought to the world of buttons and wires? Could it create a piece of functional technology that delights our senses and gradually patinas over time?

So I set out to make a unique speaker that would address our dissatisfaction with this trend in audio design.

10. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of Lumio?

Ultimately the plan is to create five separate objects under the Lumio brand, each focused on a different sense. Where the first centred around visual delight, the second became an exploration of how we experience sound and music – tactilely, in this case, through a handcrafted sculpture.

My third product will explore the sensation of touch, and of being touched. (It will also engage another aspect of modern life: how much of the day we spend seated.)

If I may quote the tagline of our brand: Poetic technology for better living. I believe that captures what we're trying to build here at Lumio.

Discover more about Max’s work and shop Lumio products, and watch his discussion with Ben Spriggs on Instagram.