Marko Pavlović was born in 1981 in Zagreb where he received the bachelor’s degree in industrial design at the School of Design, Faculty of Architecture. Currently, he works as an independent designer and external associate to the domestic and foreign companies for whom he creates unique solutions in different product categories. His work is mostly oriented towards designing toys and puzzles. During his studies, and after its completion, Pavlović has been present at many domestic and international exhibitions and competitions where he has been awarded with prestigious awards from the field of the industrial, i.e. product design.
We spoke to Marko Pavlović on the occasion of the Exhibition of the Croatian Design 19/20, of which he is selector and member of the International Jury.
MG: Although many years have passed since, I can’t help but ask you about Oblo and Logiq Tower, two internationally successful didactic games that gave you a significant boost at the beginning of your career. The first one was even developed while you were still studying at the Zagreb School of Design. Was that idea something you had brought with you as an obsession from before you started studying, or did something at the college push you into that project?
MP: I wouldn’t say I brought that idea with me. The project assignment from the course of industrial design in the first year of study was the main catalyst. Numerous sketches were made right at the beginning. One of these sketches was what, through later research and design, led to the creation of the Oblo didactic puzzle. An additional wind in my sails was an international competition that I used to refine and promote the conceptual design. The second sketch remained as a kind of a reminder for me to return to it after the graduation and to set out to independently explore the possibilities of developing a new toy (Logiq Tower) based on the propositions of the same project task.
MG: What do these two projects mean to you today? What did you learn the most from them and which processes you were the most interested in the course of their overall development?
MP: In the first year, the student must make a decision on a narrower specialization – visual communications or industrial design. Most students and freshmen generally have some pretty general picture of what design is and there is a strong preference for visual communications, at least that was the case when I was studying. Being encouraged by the success of my work in the field of industrial design at the very beginning I decided that this was exactly what I wanted to continue studying. That first project showed me very early how it was possible to go from an idea to a finished product. It’s certainly not the only way, but at that point I managed to take advantage of everything that was available to me as a student and turn my own idea into a product.
Perhaps the most important thing is that during my studies I gained insight and valuable experience in what it all takes for a project to truly become a product. After this first project assignment was formally completed and evaluated, I continued to work on it during my studies. I went through many phases, from the first sketches, the development of conceptual designs, to choosing the best one. After that, the development of the brand and product packaging, its promotion through numerous tenders, and finally active negotiation with an interested manufacturer and the conclusion of the contract. Oblo has been successfully licensed by a Canadian company with which I have been working continuously since 2010. Logiq Tower was a logical continuation of that collaboration.
MG: Such projects take a long time to develop, but they also have a long life – do some of them still require your additional attention and engagement?
MP: The development path on both projects was quite long, especially the one regarding Oblo, because I did most things for the first time in my life. Subsequent collaboration with the manufacturer required additional engagement in product preparation for production and quality control. At the moment, Oblo and Logiq Tower are completed projects that I am no longer working on. My idea was for both products to be a part of the same brand – Oblo, but the manufacturer eventually decided otherwise. The production of Oblo was discontinued several years ago due to poor sales results and changes in the manufacturer’s business strategy. The Logiq Tower puzzle is still being produced and sold. I have made additional product variants for the Logiq Tower brand, but they are currently in the functional prototype phase. This year, the manufacturer has shown a certain intention to refresh the brand, so there is a possibility to start new production.
MG: Do you think that such a start was limiting you in some sense? Let’s say that dealing with didactic toys in a way marked you as a designer specialized in only one area? Has that success closed any other doors for you?
MP: It is true that I spent a lot of time working on these two products. Given that both products have gained significant media attention, one can easily get the impression that toys are the only area of my interest and activity, but this is not the case. I work on projects that interest me and I try to collaborate with people from whom I can learn something at the same time. Since I have been working as a freelancer since 2013, the financial component plays an equally important role in choosing the projects I work on. I have started building my customer base very early on — since the first toy. For example, I work with the toy company on a number of other projects that include equipment for outdoor activities — camping, leisure, sports and the like. Jobs often include making modifications to certain product elements, redesign, preparation of supporting documentation, and production supervision. In short, I look forward to current and future projects.
MG: When we had the Balune exhibition by Grupa Studio a couple of years ago, we dedicated one of its segments to the packaging of the product you had designed. It is an exceptional example of an extremely complex, and masterfully solved, design task that as a piece of work often goes unnoticed due to its hidden functional nature. What was it like working on that project, and consequently did you receive any job offers of similar type?
MP: Thank you for the compliment, and Grupa for putting their trust in me. For me, working with Grupa is a great example of working with colleagues. We had good communication from the beginning of the cooperation, and through the development phases Tihana, Filip and Ivana helped me to clearly define what was the most important for them, so in the end the result was good. So far, a number of packages for Arigato and Baluna lighting fixtures have been completed. I have also had the opportunity to design new boxes for the Igram collection. I think that in total more than 25 different packages have been realized so far. The products are shipped fully assembled, and numerous indented and fragile elements make the production of transport and protective packaging an even more challenging endeavor.
The goal was to adequately protect the products and achieve space and material savings in transport. Basically, all packaging for Arigato and Baluna is modular – we use many packaging elements for multiple lighting fixtures. In a way, the design of transport packaging has a lot in common with my work on toys and puzzles. The designer must solve many spatial problems in an innovative and economical way. The cooperation with Grupa in the field of packaging continues as their product portfolio continues to grow. Later on, there were some inquiries and consultations that I performed for others as well.
MG: After Logiq Tower, I didn’t see you doing any similar projects in the field of toy design, neither yours nor anyone else’s. It is as if this area has been neglected in our country, both by designers and potential manufacturers. What are the reasons behind that?
MP: I may have been a little saturated after working on two similar projects, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be new products in that category in the future. As for the situation in general, I think it is true that this category of products has been neglected, and I can only speculate about the reasons why this is so. In general, Croatia is not a production-oriented economy, so there is no greater interest in designing and manufacturing such products. Toys as a product category consists of numerous, quantitatively very saturated subcategories. Puzzles, for example, are one of these subcategories and, as such, have a specific audience (enthusiasts looking for something special). In my work so far, I have met interested individuals having an idea or a functional model who were searching for information and advice on what to do next and how to do it, but so far I have not seen any domestic product in the category of toys that has achieved significant success internationally.
MG: What, from your perspective, are the biggest challenges that product designers face when acting independently, therefore, without permanent employment in an industrial context? On the other hand, where do their biggest opportunities lie?
MP: The challenges are numerous, and a freelance designer must be both a good worker and a good boss. You are actually in a managerial position because you have to adequately manage resources such as time, money, knowledge and equipment. One of the biggest, if not the main challenge, is to build and maintain a good customer base and quality relationship with the customers. Additionally, it is necessary to strive to create diverse revenue streams. This can be achieved, for example, by implementing projects that can bring long-term earnings or royalties, and one-off projects that can be done in shorter time intervals. As the third and most challenging opportunity, I see independent production and sale of one’s own products, and building of one’s own brands as a designer-entrepreneur. I believe that the biggest opportunities still lie in self-initiated projects and collaborations with other designers and entrepreneurs. Designers have one very rare quality and advantage – they can detect a problem or need and offer a thoughtful solution of a very high quality. The awareness that you possess an adequate skill-set that allows you to act independently and create new products and solutions is very liberating and helps me maintain a positive outlook.
MG: How do you see the opportunities for developing new self-initiated products provided by crowdfunding? Some of the foreign designers, who, however, operate in a much larger market environment, strongly advocate this approach; we have several successful products financed in this way and I am surprised that there are no more of them.
MP: It’s certainly a good way to fund selfinitiated projects, but just because it’s a more easily accessible form of funding, that doesn’t mean it’s less demanding in terms of getting the funding and everything that precedes a successful crowdfunding campaign. Especially today, when hundreds of thousands, if not millions of different potential projects and products compete for attention and money on several different platforms, the most famous of which is Kickstarter. When I look at the quality of the production itself, I often have the feeling that it is about already finished products. It is certainly a great thing to gather experience and feedback from interested people and potential future buyers, perhaps even to attract interested larger investors and manufacturers. If you go down this path, you have to take on a number of activities that often have nothing to do with the design process itself in order to successfully promote, fund, produce and then distribute a particular product to people who have trusted you with more or less money and thus helped produce that product. That first manufactured batch is then followed by new challenges. Is there any money left over from the campaign for the next order? Do I have any distribution channels? Who am I actually selling my product to? I can’t assess whether most designers want to be managers as well, or simply want to entrust production to someone through a license so that they can continue to do what they love the most – creating new products and solving some new problems.
MG: Your closest specialty is product design – from what you follow and what you were able to see here, can any conclusions be drawn about the state of product design in Croatia at the moment? What has, in your opinion, marked the past two years in that area?
MP: I have noticed new products that have been designed as part of new brands initiated by designers and I am certainly happy about that. Designers still need to be enterprising and create new business circumstances and opportunities for themselves. There is also further development and filling of the portfolio of designer products under already existing brands. There are no new, larger domestic manufacturers that would attract and motivate designers to collaborate. Personally, I think that the set up has been somewhat more limited in comparison with the number of submitted and realized works in the past years. I was also expecting more works submitted in the field of home furniture and equipment.