By reconceptualising security cameras, alarms and other devices in the kitschly witty form of what he calls "socially critical objects", the German-born product designer MATTHIAS MEGYERI (1973-) forces us to confront a pervasive, yet often neglected aspect of contemporary life.
Of all the contradictions in the British character, but the one that struck Matthias Megyeri the most when he arrived in London from his native Germany was the ambiguity of the national attitude to security. Look at a London tower block and, amid the ostentatious fortifications of alarms, surveillance cameras and security railings, you will soon spot the kitsch of garden gnomes, plastic flowers, pottery poodles and lacey net curtains.
Megyeri decided to embody this contradiction within a collection of security products, which would function as efficiently as a conventional alarm or camera while embracing their owners’ taste for the cute. Born in Stuttgart in 1973, Megyeri studied visual communication in Karlsruhe before enrolling on the design products course at the Royal College of Art in London, where he applied his graphic sensibility to the customisation of security products.
Since graduating from the RCA in 2003, Matthias Megyeri has continued those experiments by developing new products under the Sweet Dreams SecurityTM marque including burglar alarms framed by daisy petals, surveillance cameras topped with cartoon character hoods and coils of barbed wire tipped with razor-sharp butterfly wings.
After participating in the Design Museum’s Design Mart exhibition of new British design in 2004, he was one of five designers to be awarded a ￡10,000 bursary by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and then to contribute to the Great Brits exhibition organised by the museum and the British Council at the Milan Furniture Fair in 2005. He has since founded a company, Megyeri & Partners, and has developed his Billy B Old English Padlock for production by the lockmakers H.Y. Squires & Son as well as participating in the Safe – Design Takes On Risks exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and a show curated by the droog? design group in Amsterdam.
Q. When did you first become aware of – and interested in – design?
A. I became more design conscious when I was 13 and started skateboarding. The shape and design of the board was very important to us as kids so I customised my generic all-in-one skateboard by cutting the edges into the shape of a Powell & Peralta board and added some grip-holes.
Q. What was the influence of your design education on your work, first in
Germany and then in the UK?
A. My college in Germany encouraged a multidisciplinary approach to design and theory. I was in Gunter Rambow’s Graphic Design class which was heavily influenced by his socially critical and often political take on poster design. Following on from this, Ron Arad’s Design Products course at the Royal College of Art was exceptional in introducing me to a broad mixture of teachers and design interests. This tolerance enabled people like me, who aren’t straightforward product designers, to find new approaches to their practice. Tony Dunne and Noam Toran were also great in supporting me as I tried to find a point of entry into the difficult but relevant contemporary issues that I wanted to tackle.
Q. When and why did you become interested in the design of security products?
A. I was never really interested in security products as objects. And I certainly don’t design them because I like them. But I was struck by their visual presence in everyday London life. I believe designers should offer solutions to real contemporary problems and needs. And with my background in visual communication, I consciously decided to use my skills to change the visual language of security products from depressing to seriously humorous.
Q. What were your objectives in designing the Sweet Dreams SecurityTM range?
A. Each product in the Sweet Dreams SecurityTM range is an answer to the most iconic security product in its field. I’m aiming to tackle the human habit of automatically absorbing our surroundings without consciously acknowledging them. The products encourage bystanders to question the social issues around our need for security without trying to dogmatically impose them.
Q. What do you consider to be the role and responsibilities of the designer today?
A. My theory is that there are three main directions that a designer can take –style, innovation-improvement or communication. For me, only the last two hold real value.
Q. What is the most important quality in your work?
A. Humanism, as defined by the philosophers of the Renaissance – the Hungarians’ favourite period.
Q. How important is function to your work?
Q. And narrative?
A. Even more.
Q. Do you consider your work to be part of a tradition?
A. Of course, my work is influenced by socially aware, critical design, more specifically perhaps poster design. I believe I have an unusual attitude towards design – I am a graphic designer, using products as vehicles to explore relevant social issues, and my critical approach tends to share more similarities with journalism than conventional product design.
Q. Which other designers, artists and writers – past or present – do you find inspiring and interesting?
A. As well as Gunter Rambow, Ron Arad and my other teachers at the RCA, I am also very interested in the work and characters of John Heartfield, Lex Drewinsky, Tibor Kalman, Jeff Koons, Viktor Sklovskij and Kurt Weidemann.
Visit Matthias Megyeri’s website at sweetdreamssecurity.com
For more information on British design and architecture go to Design in Britain, the online archive run in collaboration by the Design Museum and the British Council, at designmuseum.org/designinbritain