Absurd design: Katerina Kamprani

She unravels everyday utensils and gives them new looks, so that they are no longer mundane and unusable. The Greek designer Katerina Kamprani makes you look differently at objects that are so obvious. “My goal is to make people laugh.”

You grew up in Athens. What kind of childhood did you have?

“An ordinary childhood in an average middle-class family in the 1990s. Many summer holidays close to the sea! As a child I was creative and curious. As a teenager I did well in school, but I hated authority. I had a reputation among teachers for always asking questions and correcting them when they got it wrong.”

What did you dream of?

“I wanted to be an actress or singer, and I also loved dancing. Later, when I studied Architecture, I dreamed of becoming a graphic designer. But a future as a comedian or magician also seemed like something to me. I didn't have any real heroes, but I do have a soft spot for anyone with humor.”

Why did you choose to study Architecture?

“That was kind of a one-way street for me. I could learn very well, had a talent for mathematics and physics, and was creative and artistic. In the Greek study system of the late 1990s, there were only a handful of options for a career with a creative bent. The architecture program was part of the prestigious Polytechnio, the National Technical University of Athens, and everyone thought I should go for it. The School of Fine Arts also had an excellent reputation, but that was a 'no go' for my parents. I was much too smart for that and besides, they believe that artists die in poverty.”

You graduated in 2006, but you did not become an architect. What was the tipping point?

“In the third year of study, the feeling bubbled up that this was not the direction I wanted to go. Architecture feels far too concrete to me and comes with a level of responsibility that I have never aspired to. I didn't want to design homes and thereby organize someone's private life. And also no public buildings that take up a prominent place on a city map. I want to be creative and playful. Everything that is too defined and boxed scares me.”

During a presentation at TEDxPoznań in 2018, you described your career as “a path of failures, mistakes and disappointments.” Please highlight a few low points.

“My biggest mistake is that I started studying Architecture. I was young and didn't know any better. In 2008 I changed course and started postgraduate studies in Industrial Design. But that also turned out not to suit me at all. And why on earth would I want to become an industrial designer in a country that was experiencing a major economic crisis at the time? I quit after just one semester. I found work at one of the largest marketing companies in the country, but was fired after just a few months. I felt like a failure and didn't want to try anything else. And I still feel like a failure. Although my project The uncomfortable is a great success, I cannot make a living as an artist/designer.”

As a designer you specialize in failures. How did that happen?

“I think it comes from my fear of failure and my constant pursuit of being perfect. Although I never feel comfortable with failure, I can laugh about my blunders later. I can see the humor in it and that makes me feel good – I love surrealism and absurdism. For me, that is a different way of thinking, which is much less strict than logic: it is not about right or wrong, so the possibilities are limitless.”

How did you come up with the idea of ​​designing unusable utility objects?

“During my brief flirtation with Industrial Design, I was impressed by the role that user needs play in the design process. This is how I learned to deal with terms such as 'user experience' and 'user interaction'. A year later, after deciding that I was a failure and bored at work, I made a funny sketch of a toilet that could only be reached by ladder. Not possible if you really had to. I laughed out loud at my own creation! That gave me the idea to actually design objects for a bad user experience, objects that are deliberately uncomfortable. That was my eureka moment! Above all, the designs did not have to be practical and user-friendly. I had so much fun doing that, I couldn't stop!”

How do you come up with items like uncomfortable champagne glasses, a concrete umbrella, and salt and pepper hourglasses?

“How ideas arise has changed over the years. When I started the project, I was surprised at how difficult it was to think about utility objects in a different way. So I followed a method of mining ideas. That method included analyzing users' interactions with an object. Afterwards I chose to sabotage one of the steps in that interaction. Take an umbrella: part of the interaction is that it is held with one hand. But if the umbrella is made of concrete, then that is no longer possible.”

What requirements must a design meet to be accepted into your collection?

“It should remind you of the original object and be difficult but not impossible to use. And I want my designs to appear friendly and not aggressive: they should encourage the user to think about how to handle the object.”

What is your goal with The Uncomfortable?

“I started this project for fun, so my goal is to make people laugh, to have fun. And I want them to be confused for a moment, until the brain realizes that there is something wrong with the design.”


Curious about the rest of the interview? The summer edition is a fresh cocktail of entrepreneurship and sport. In this edition, several entrepreneurs from the Champions League of business are reviewed. Including Freddy Heineken and hospitality tycoon Richard Caring, whose expanding empire has been called the 'restaurant equivalent of LVMH'. Doing business is top sport, but top sport is also doing business. Take Formula 1: the sport is increasingly developing into an octopus with arms that touch all aspects of our society. Jaap de Groot investigated how millions are converted into billions. Also interviews with gymnast Sanne Wevers, two-star chef Guido Braeken, hotelier Robert-Jan Woltering, designer Maarten Baas and Rico, together with his Naomy. The 'King of Kickboxing' also turns out to be an octopus (with very strong arms): as an entrepreneur he is active in various industries. “When I look back later, I don't want to think 'I wish I had this or that'. I just want to, boom, accelerate, do fun things, enjoy.” Boom, the new MASTERS: enjoy!

Order MASTERS Magazine #54 here