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Katharina Ruhm “Qualities of Life”
Reimagining everyday objects
For aeyde’s “Qualities of Life” series, we sat down with six women who inspire us with their unique views on work, life, and finding balance. In Part Two, we caught up with Katharina Ruhm, 29, who likes to play with our understanding of everyday objects. A Berlin native, Katharina studied design in Denmark and Milan, but was eventually drawn back to her hometown where she could write her own rulebook on design. The product designer takes on everyday objects from vases and mirrors, reimagining how they should look and the place they should take up in our life. We spoke to Katharina about her design process, how being away from her hometown influenced her work, and why she thinks about the word ‘content’ so often. Meet Katharina Ruhm.
Images: Julia Sellmann
Words: Angela Waters
“When you design things that people use every day, for example, a cup, you get to think about how the shape of the cup can change the behavior of a person.”
aeyde: How would you describe yourself?

Katharina Ruhm: There are different parts to me but first and foremost I’m a designer. I work with the quality of different materials and most of my work is based on experiments and observations that allow me to explore the natural behavior, or ‘true’ quality, of a material. Working with these qualities means I’m not forcing the material into a form but letting the material itself become an ‘autark formgeber’ (or ‘autarchic mold,’ in English).


a: What drew you to product design?

KR: Creating things was a big part of my childhood, so I guess it started at a very young age. I remember a phase when I was in my room taping things together—I was very into tape. I even made myself weird scotch tape jewellery. When I finished school, it was natural for me to want to create things. I first studied architecture, which takes a very static and theoretical approach and is sort of out of my comfort zone, and then changed my major to product design. Product design enables you to actually build one-to-one models and that’s very important to me—that I can build things by myself, even when it’s just a model to get a feeling of how it looks and how it feels to use an object.

My objects aren’t created to optimize processes, but to question and, sometimes, even disrupt everyday behavior to create room to reflect on daily routines. The most interesting part of it is to create objects that people really use on a daily basis. When you design things that people use every day, for example, a cup, you get to think about how the shape of the cup can change the behavior of a person. Does the cup have a handle so you hold it with two fingers, or no handle so you hold it in the palm of your hand? If you hold it in the palm of your hand it becomes more of an extension of your own hands, kind of like the simple gesture you make when drinking water from a tap.
Katharina Ruhm in the LEANDRA
Katharina Ruhm in the LEANDRA
“I always thought about content as something you write and create, but ‘being content’ actually means ‘zufrieden sein’ in German. I think about that word often and like how it can be used in such different ways.”
a: What kind of aesthetics are you attracted to?

KR: When I’m speaking about design, it’s becoming harder to define the aesthetic that I like. I’m very much into classical forms and the classical idea of pure and clean design, but when you look at my work this may be a bit surprising because everything I do is not like that at all. My work doesn’t really have any straight edges or angles. It has to do with the limits of my capabilities. If I’m trying to create something very straight and very clean, it wouldn't work out because I’m someone who can be a bit messy. If I tried to force myself into working in very clean and controlled forms, it would always look a bit weird.


a: Do you have a motto that you try to live by?

KR: One of my best friends, Adam Jones, always used the word ‘content’ and I never really understood its meaning. I always thought about content as something you write and create, but ‘being content’ actually means ‘zufrieden sein’ in German. I think about that word often and like how it can be used in such different ways. It’s funny, sometimes you read the words ‘create content’ and you realize there could be another meaning to it: To create something to be content.


a: How has growing up in Berlin shaped your work?

KR: Actually, not being in Berlin helped me to develop the concept of work. When I studied in Denmark, I experienced that Scandinavians have a very strong culturally adapted aesthetic, so when you go to study there, of course, you’re also going to absorb some of that Scandinavian aesthetic. But since I didn’t grow up surrounded by these distinctive forms and this type of ‘Formsprache’ (or ‘design language,’ in English). it didn’t really feel natural to me. I also worked in Milan for Patricia Urquiola and, of course, Italians also have a distinct approach to design. And there, I also felt like it wasn’t the same as where I was coming from.

What you value as aesthetically interesting, or use later as a ‘design vocabulary,’ is usually what you grew up with. Everything you know, or everything you design, is based on something you have seen, to a certain extent. The interesting thing here in Germany, and Berlin, is that there isn’t a very defined aesthetic, which gives you some sort of ‘design freedom’.
Katharina Ruhm in the LEANDRA
Katharina Ruhm in the LEANDRA
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