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Interview with German Lighting Designer Tobias Grau: Form loves Function

On the evening of March 15th German time, the glamorous award ceremony of iF DESIGN AWARDs 2019 was held at BMW Welt in Munich. Tobias Grau’s Salt & Pepper dimmable portable light has won an iF gold award this year. Actually, this is the 15th time he has won an iF DESIGN AWARD, the newest of his over 80 international design awards. So who is Tobias Grau? What’s so special about his design? How come his works were able to win the favor of the jurors of iF DESIGN AWARDs and other international design awards? In 1987, Tobias Grau, who previously focused on interior design, created his first official lighting system, the LUJA spotlight system, which led to his early luminaire designs. Now Tobias Grau is an internationally famous high-end luminaire brand. After 30 years in business, Tobias Grau today employs an interdisciplinary and international team of 130 employees. All Tobias Grau lights are designed and produced in its headquarters near Hamburg, and the company also operates seven stores in Germany, while also selling through several hundred retailers worldwide. As a market leader for tailor-made lighting solutions, Tobias Grau has been working with prominent partners in the fields of commerce, culture, media and gastronomy.

“Function and emotion are inseparable. Together they form the door to innovation. Form, material and color are the elements with which one creates that function and emotion.”

Over the years Tobias Grau has been devoting his time to design, almost all the luminaire product designs of his brand have come from himself. He believes that light has a unique ability to create and transform emotional spaces. And he has always been practicing the key features of his design: advanced cutting-edge luminaires in smooth, sculptural, minimalist designs and functionality. That is why every luminaire he has created is a synergy of art and avant-garde technology. For this issue, Package & Design conducted an exclusive interview with Tobias Grau, who shared his unique insights on luminaire design. We also selected some of his exceptional luminaire designs to share with our readers.

Lighting Designs by Tobias Grau

Tobias Grau - Salt & Pepper
Tobias Grau - Love Focus
Tobias Grau - John 2
Tobias Grau - Standing Lamp
Tobias Grau - Standing Lamp
Tobias Grau - Standing Lamp
Tobias Grau - Standing Lamp
Tobias Grau - Office Lamps
Tobias Grau - Studio Quattro
Tobias Grau - Move Along
Tobias Grau - Louise
Tobias Grau - Studio Quattro
Tobias Grau - SAP
Tobias Grau - Office Lamp
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►Q: Package & Design ►A: Tobias Grau, German Designer, Founder of Tobias Grau GmbH

Q: Firstly, congratulations on your work Salt & Pepper's winning a 2019 iF gold award. Could you please talk about the creative inspiration and the key points of this project? It has a really interesting name, so did you take the inspiration from “salt & pepper”?

A: This was our first cable-free lamp and I wanted it to stand on the table very naturally, like salt and pepper. The form is very expressive, but it is primarily developed for a particular lighting effect. The slim waist along with the conical base creates a broad illumination across the table surface. The lamp lights figures around the table from below, similar to candlelight, only more intense and completely glare-free. The lighting effect becomes the product’s real innovation.

Q: Over the years, your works have won over 80 major design awards, including 15 iF DESIGN AWARDs. What does participating and winning an award mean to you? Do you have a certain “standard” in deciding a product “should be given a shot at the design awards”?

A: The quality of design has always been the substance of my work and the basis of the Tobias Grau brand. Design awards provide recognition and confirmation of that quality and of course also help orientate the buyer. Design awards and their jurors evaluate according to relevant criteria, in particular criteria that are supposedly discernible and quantifiable. The emotional aspects of a design are rather more problematic because they elude any objective evaluation, but for me they are at least as important to the design quality.

Q: In addition to personal luminaire products, Tobias Grau has also been creating luminaire products for office areas as well as for architectural projects. So what are the different emphases for different kinds of projects?

A: Sculptural and technical elements determine a product, whether for office or for home. In the former, the sculptural elements are less obvious, in the latter case, the technical ones.

Q: Tobias Grau has earned many patents for its luminaire innovations, such as the OSA (Open Structure Anti-Glare) technology. Could you talk about how, over the years, the new technologies have been affecting your creation?

A: The ongoing development of lighting technology – today, of course, LED technology – requires new design solutions. This pertains to shape, material, controls, the type of glare control, the wiring, and so on. Again, in my opinion, only a holistic approach can result in truly innovative products, and in this Tobias Grau always works as an interdisciplinary team. It’s often a lengthy, complex process but the deeper and more rigorous it is, the more opportunities emerge.

Q: As we know, your wife and your children have joined your team, so what are their positions and roles? What differences have they brought to the company and to you?

A: Franziska and I have built the company together over the past 30 years and we are delighted that our two eldest sons have been supporting us for the last two years. During this time, they have not only increasingly taken over the company’s art direction but also introduced their first lighting design – PARROT – to the collection. With wonderful new approaches and collaboration with a rich team of “creatives”, we are achieving a young, forward-looking expression for the Tobias Grau brand as a whole. As for me, I concentrate even more on design and product development.

Q: What do you think is the trend for future luminaire design?

A: I do not know about trends. For me, the implementation of cutting-edge technology in sophisticated, sensual designs remains the everlasting, exciting challenge.