From beer labels to sneakers, from brand identity to medical equipment, the portfolio of Flying Objects includes a great variety of things. We talked to co-founder András Húnfalvi about his work. He says: "The best thing about being a product designer is that you need to dive deep into many different types of projects."

Since 2012 he and his ensemble of designers have created numerous award-winning designs. When Húnfalvi is asked about the basics of his profession he emphasises their human approach: "The product designer is the one who humanises the technology." In his view when a product designer works on a project, they try to approach it from the human side. He sees himself and his profession as a bridge between technology and the user.

"When we look at a new technology it is not the engineering or the technical side we see. We see the human side," says Húnfalvi. "It means with our work we try to make a product as usable, as sellable and as loveable as we can. Nowadays we also work on making these products more and more sustainable. So, this is what a product designer does: making products useable, sellable, loveable and sustainable."

When approached by a client, the first thing Húnfalvi and his team need to figure out is what kind of audience does the project target. Who are the people who will use it? Based on the result they start their research on existing products, the market for this product and available technologies. That way they try to give the project a general direction.


The Hand-In-Scan: Award-winning design made in Hungary

Customers' needs can be very different: Sometimes companies already have very clear ideas about what they want and how the final product should look , other times the cooperation starts at an early stage, says Húnfalvi. This was the case with the Hand-In-Scan, an instrument that can determine whether one has washed his or her hands thoroughly enough; a project that might come in handy especially during times of a pandemic like now.

The project started at the University of Technology in Budapest. The engineers behind this device contacted Húnfalvi and his co-founder, Ferenc Laufer. "There was a team of guys, very professional in robotic, and picture analysis," recounts Húnfalvi. "They were so much at the start of the process that they had no design yet, no ergonomics, nothing. We met up with them and started to do something with all these electronic cables, cameras and different kinds of sensors."

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The Hand-In-Scan was Húnfalvi's and Laufer's first project after graduating from Moholy-Nagy Art University in 2012. Nonetheless, it became an instant success. Their innovative design not only won the Hungarian Design Award but the internationally acclaimed Red Dot Design Award as well – one of the most prestigious prizes in the field, also referred to as the Oscars of the design industry.

The Hand-In-Scan was followed by other similar projects, and although originally Húnfalvi and Laufer wanted to work in the automotive industry, they soon found their work to be best known within the health-care sector. In Húnfalvi's opinion, this turned out to be a stroke of luck for them. He believes local designers need to work with smaller groups of innovators, as there are just a few big industrial companies in Hungary. "They need to go in the direction of innovation because there are a lot of innovative companies in Hungary that they can help," he says.


A big variety of different designs – the best thing a client can get

Working together plays a key role for the people of Flying Objects. Laufer and Húnfalvi regularly meet up with their colleagues, graphic designer Luca Patkós, digital designer Anna Naszádi and product designer Beáta Csortán, in their downtown office to brainstorm and look at each other's work. "At certain times it is absolutely important to show your work to others and discuss ideas," says Húnfalvi.

In their typical working process – after determining target groups and direction – the Flying Objects team starts laying out a concept. "We always start sketching and thinking how the product should work and what it should look like," says Húnfalvi. At the end of this conceptualisation process, they present perhaps three different designs to their clients to choose from.

Providing customers with multiple options is a very important part of the designers' work. As the co-founder of Flying Objects explains, this does not necessarily mean three completely different concepts: the differences can be significant or minor depending on the project. And occasionally they need multiple rounds of iteration until their ideas harmonise with those of their customers.

As Húnfalvi explains: "Sometimes we have a bit of an argument within our team about which idea is the best. In these cases, we are doing all of them and show them to the client. I believe this is the best thing that the client can get." Despite his young age, Húnfalvi is already teaching design at the university.


Retro feeling straight from Lake Balaton

Working closely with their clients and developing a good relationship has always been a key business strategy for Flying Objects. As the internationally acclaimed designer Massimo Vignelli once said, "If you get a good client to begin, you will get a better client thereafter." This is also a firm belief of Húnfalvi and his team. As he says: "We were always focusing on the clients we liked to work with, and still today we depend on their network. I think our best jobs came through these early clients."

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When the Hungarian brewery Hedon contacted the design studio in 2014, they commissioned Flying Objects to create a whole brand identity for them along with the design of their beer labels. The brewery's goal was to no longer only target the usual circle of bearded craft beer drinkers in their 20s and 30s, they were aiming for a wider variety of customers.

"We wanted to create a brand identity that evokes this nostalgic Balaton feeling that lives in so many Hungarians. We wanted to revitalise iconic characters from these days," says Húnfalvi.

Certainly the most eye-catching character is Helmut, a guy with a blond mullet and a mustache, wearing sunglasses, a fanny pack and sandals. "Helmut was the idea of one of the guys over at Hedon. That way we wanted to give a retro feeling to the brand. Guys like Helmut live in the collective memory of Hungarians. They came from Germany with their fancy cars and drank a lot of beer. They had this typical style that still today we kind of associate with them in our minds. We wanted to make the design look cute. It was not supposed to be critical. In German there is the term 'Mantafahrer‘ – it refers to a cliché of especially uncultured, working-class machos, driving an Opel Manta, an iconic West German car of the 1970s and 1980s. This was the thing we were aiming for visually," says Húnfalvi.


From concept to ready product

Once a project leaves the concept phase, after consultations with the clients and corrections where necessary, the final design of the product is created. This is followed by modelling and the creation of prototypes, mainly for evaluation. Then the project reaches the next stage, which is the actual product design.

Now every surface of the later product, every aspect that will be experienced by users is designed. In this phase, the designers need to work together very closely with the mechanical engineers. "We can inspire them to make better engineering solutions but they can also inspire us to make the most of their technology," says Húnfalvi. "I think engineering and product design should go hand in hand all the time and none of the parties should be left out. Otherwise, the product is going to be something either not working, or not usable for the average person at all."

In his opinion, there is no clear border between product design and mechanical engineering. "You get the best results if it stays a blurred line. The product designer needs to listen to the engineering side and vice versa. Together we need to figure out how each part should look, what materials should be used, how the parts are connected, how it opens and closes, or what sound it should make when it clicks."

Húnfalvi believes the product designers' most important responsibility during development is to keep the design as close as possible to the original concept. However, many times they need to re-evaluate their design in the process and make changes if necessary. "Sometimes the final product turns out very different. Sometimes we need to redesign certain parts of the project, take a step back and rethink the whole thing."


Iconic Hungarian shoes redesigned for modern challenges

Although Flying Objects worked on the designs of a great variety of different products, when asked, Húnfalvi claims that his favourite project was working with the Hungarian sneakers company Tisza. The company was enjoying a lot of fame in the 1970s and 1980s, and their return in the early 2000s was a huge success.

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Flying Objects was commissioned as external designers for a new pair of shoes. "When we were asked to design a shoe for Tisza we started our work in the archives," recounts Húnfalvi. There they managed to find a very outstanding pair of sneakers, a model from the 1980s.

Their task was to keep the theme and obscureness of the original while making it a wearable and street-proof everyday shoe. This commission was especially close to Húnfalvi's heart, as he says he always wanted to design sneakers: "It is not only about styling, it is not only ergonomics, it is such a complex thing, that has a lot of emotion in it."

Working with Tisza had the additional advantage of seeing the final product out in the stores in just under six months, which is remarkably fast in this field. As Húnfalvi explains, it usually takes up to three or four years until a product reaches the market.

But the best part, he says, was getting to know yet another different industry and looking at things from a different perspective. "I really love being a product designer, not because I care much about product design itself but I care about the people benefitting from a good design. You need to dive into people's lives, their work environments and job routines to make the best product possible."

For further information about the works of Flying Objects see https://flyingobjects.hu/


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