Whether it’s working at an office or walking through a candy store, the way a space is illuminated is often taken for granted. And yet, lighting plays a notable part in influencing our mood and perception of an environment. For Karsten Reichel and Matthias Pinkert – co-founders of the German design house Holy Trinity – lighting isn’t only about serving a functional purpose, it’s also about evoking a pleasurable and sensory experience.
Since the company’s founding in 2011, the duo has collected a number of awards (including the Red Dot Design Award) for their lighting products which combine clever design and technology with creative craftsmanship. Recently, Reichel and Pinkert launched a Kickstarter campaign for their latest lighting design VARA, an intelligent lighting system that lets you control lighting effects through an app. We spoke to Reichel about Holy Trinity’s newest offering, the process of finding trusted production partners as a young company and what’s next for the design team.
CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT HOW HOLY TRINITY CAME ABOUT?
Matthias and I have been friends for more than 10 years. One day when we were having breakfast in Berlin after a friend’s birthday party, Matthias – who’s a product designer – told me about this idea of a tangible user interface, which is about analogue actions with digital effects. And this really caught my attention. We’re not light experts, which is good, because not being from the industry meant we were able to develop something totally new. We did this by combining three important things: design, technology and engineering.
RIMA, AN AWARD-WINNING LED LAMP THAT ALLOWS USERS TO ADJUST LIGHTING THROUGH A GESTURE THAT MIMICS OPENING A CURTAIN, WAS THE FIRST PRODUCT THAT CAME OUT OF HOLY TRINITY. WHY WERE YOU INTERESTED IN BRINGING A SENSORY EXPERIENCE TO LIGHTING?
LED lighting allows you to really get creative. It’s not just turning the light on and off like Edison did, it’s more about deciding when and how much light you want to have – and this is what we created. We used sensors to detect the movement of your hand when moving the rings across the metal rail of LEDs. Sensors are an important part of what we do, it makes the product a lot more fun and without them, they’d just be standard lights. It also makes it more than just a lamp – some people say it’s like a beautiful piece of art. We often hear from people, “Wow, I haven’t seen that before,” which is nice.
HOW LONG WAS THE PROCESS FROM SKETCHING UP DESIGNS FOR RIMA TO THE PRODUCTION OF THE PRODUCT?
The process was really long. It’s very different from writing code for a software, doing a beta and then testing with people. It’s more like having the idea, doing the sketches, thinking about how to develop the technologies and then thinking about how to set up production, which you need money for. That’s when fundraising comes in and also influences the duration of the whole process. Roughly, from the initial idea of RIMA to our first serial production – it took five years.
WAS IT DIFFICULT TO FIND HIGH-QUALITY SUPPLIERS AND MANUFACTURERS IN GERMANY FOR THE PRODUCT AS A YOUNG COMPANY STARTING OUT?
It wasn’t easy and it’s not just a matter of luck – you have to work to create your luck. What I mean is that I wasn’t just sitting and waiting around for someone to show up and ask me whether I needed a supplier or an investor. We created press releases, went to trade shows and showed the public what we did. By doing these things actually, our suppliers from Saxon learned about us and our needs. They came to us offering their help, which was really good, because often when we wanted to approach someone for help, we didn’t really know their situation – whether they had the capacity or financial resources to help a startup get off the ground. Two suppliers came to us and they both had the capacity and willingness to help, and money to support the first production, which was very helpful.
WHAT ARE THE LESSONS YOU’VE LEARNED FROM THE EXPERIENCE THAT YOU’D PASS ALONG TO FLEDGLING HARDWARE ENTREPRENEURS LOOKING FOR COMPATIBLE PRODUCTION PARTNERS?
One of the biggest pieces of advice would be to go to trade shows as early as you can – this is where the experts are. Forget about the people who try to tell you not to show your product too early. People always said to us, “Don’t go to trade shows, because the day you leave the trade show, people from other countries will copy what you do.” If we would have listened to them, we never would have made it. That’s one important thing. Another one is to ask for help – don’t try to do everything yourself. That’s what we did in the beginning, we started with two engineers for the first prototype of RIMA, which was also manufactured by engineers and was good, but when we went to serial production, we really needed experienced partners.
YOU RECENTLY RELEASED VARA, AN APP-CONTROLLED LIGHTING SYSTEM, ON KICKSTARTER. CAN YOU TALK A BIT ABOUT HOW THIS PRODUCT IS AN “INTELLIGENT LIGHTING SYSTEM” AND WHAT THAT MEANS FOR THE USER?
We learned a lot from our customers and potential customers, like architects, and they often asked for something that was modular. When you look at RIMA, there are not many applications for it – it can basically be on a desk or a sideboard, that’s it. So when we were thinking about VARA, we focused on a modular concept. What we wanted to do is to give the flexibility of lighting to the user so they can decide where to put the light and when to turn it on/off. In terms of hardware, of course you can place it and mount it wherever you like. As for software, you can control every single LED and this has to do with the interaction technology we developed. So we brought these two things together for VARA and we’re hoping to add more applications after the Kickstarter campaign is finished as well, so the range of applications is growing each year.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM HOLY TRINITY IN THE NEXT COUPLE OF YEARS?
The first priority is bringing VARA to production, but Holy Trinity is more than just lighting. As interaction designers, we want to develop new controls for other products as well. We’d also like to expand internationally. Today, we already have backers from all over the world spanning from Hong Kong to Canada.