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  /  2022.09.14.  /  

The Silicon Valley of compressed plywood

Interview with Tamás Babits, founder of Plydesign

Although Plydesign was born in 2014, it actually has 30 years of solid manufacturing experience behind it.

After studying for his MBA and working in the US, Tamás Babits returned to Hungary and worked as a sales manager for the 30 years old family business. Since the establishment of the woodworking company, it has been producing furniture components from plywood in Kerta, at the foot of the Somló hill, as a supplier to prominent Western and Northern European design brands. Honesty and reliability have been the driving forces behind the success of the manufacturing plant - it operates with an open and keen eye for managing a complex system of production, business development, corporate culture and partnerships. In 2014, Tamás Babits, seeing the untapped potential of Hungarian woodworking professionals, decided to develop his own product collection that would create added value and be competitive on the international market. From the beginning, he worked with András Kerékgyártó, who designed the first furniture collection. Their commitment to furniture design, and in a broader context to Hungarian furniture, was complemented by the professional business experience that Tamás Babits had, and the first-hand expertise in Scandinavian design culture and practical knowledge that András Kerékgyártó represented.

You can meet Plydesign again at S/ALON BUDAPEST - this year they invite you to an imaginary design atelier at the Budapest Arena from 23-25 September. We talked to Tamás Babits, the brand’s founder, about their innovative products, design approach and plans for the future. Join us!

How would you sum up Plydesign’s manifesto and design concept?

Plydesign’s work is best described by serendipity.

The ability to find value where it is unlikely, and to capitalize on every new encounter and conversation, creating space for more productive and innovative ideas. Our method is based on both an energetic, connection-seeking, experimental attitude, complemented by immersion, long-term thinking and professionalism. We seek to provide a platform for this creative soaring and synergy through a variety of knowledge transfer tools, most recently with the launch of the PLY DESIGN HOUSE incubation programme.

What are the characteristics of Plydesign products? What makes them new, unique or original? Who is it for?

Plydesign products represent honest design - so they are perhaps most appealing to those who are conscious of their own lives, strive for productivity and prioritize creativity and curiosity. Plydesign products are the attributes of a balanced life - carefully crafted details incorporate good ergonomic practices. Its airy design is strongly influenced by the versatile nature of plywood, which allows it to create soft lines that follow the contours of the body, while withstanding the iron grip of time under heavy use.

Innovation is a priority in the life of Plydesign. In what ways does this progressive mentality manifest itself?

Over the past almost 8 years, Plydesign has been able to remain competitive, adapting effectively to changes in market trends. We have grown the brand from a two-person startup to a design-led team with agile project management. In addition to expanding the use of digital technologies to support internal operations and business management, we prepared for the introduction of sales-enhancing solutions in 2021, with results made available in 2022.

The pCon 3D interior design software is the perfect communication tool to address our established partner network as well as potential distributors, architects and interior designers. The pCon family of software allows designers to translate their ideas and projects through photo-realistic, high-quality 3D renderings, augmented reality, animations and interactive images with different perspectives. All the information you need is in one place; even the price of each product is just a click away, shortening the quotation process.

As a pioneer, we were the first Hungarian manufacturer to join the pCon community, so far mainly domestic resellers and interior designers are actively using this design software. It is a unique service in the sense that it works as an open system, any format can be assigned to it or downloaded in any format. By having prices available for all configured combinations - this feature greatly simplifies the workflow, as before designers had to gather the necessary information from multiple sources in a voluminous amount of time. A truly 21st century solution that meets the most complex needs of both manufacturers and interior designers. The configurator is now available to everyone on the website.

The PLY DESIGN HOUSE incubation programme gives young talents the opportunity to develop their concept from idea to implementation. What exactly does a collaboration like this look like?

Our aim is to support local talent, which is why we decided in 2021 to expand our work with new creative talent. We have launched an incubation programme called PLY DESIGN HOUSE for domestic higher education students in the field of plywood utility, accessory and furniture design. The aim of the competition is to nurture young talents, share the experience gained at Plydesign and to exploit new ideas and concepts, potentially putting them into production. Candidates will have the opportunity to compete, showcase their work and even bring their ideas to production and market. Participants will be able to benefit from the valuable production technology, marketing and commercial and design knowledge and know-how accumulated at Plydesign through a series of consultations with recognised experts. During the consultations, a threefold framework of criteria guided product development: manufacturing feasibility, design and design, and market, economic, commercial and marketing criteria. 

How do you select talent? Which completed project would you highlight to the public?

It is no coincidence that we have designed the structure of the competition so that we do not select talent purely on the basis of plans, but rather to assess their flexibility of thinking, their ability to adapt to external needs, their complexity of approach to a problem, and their ability to think with us during the multi-stage consultation period.

These are the skills we look for in a one-to-one professional meeting - with the design programme, our long-term goal is to enrich the range with additional product lines, in order to meet the needs of a complete public project, to stimulate the Hungarian furniture industry and to strengthen its position internationally. This is how Anna Kovács’s WAVE collection of paper dispensers was recently born, which has proved to be a niche product on both the domestic and international design market.

In your opinion, what role do programmes such as the Design Management Awards or EDIDA play in the life of a start-up design business in Hungary?

We consider the awards of the Hungarian Design Council as an important and inescapable professional feedback - that’s why we considered it a major milestone when the FRIGATE family of chairs won the Hungarian Design Award in 2019 and the Design Management Award in 2020. And this year, we were honored to be nominated by ELLE Decoration in the "Brand of the Year" category. These awards are an inspiration for the life of a start-up design company.

A signpost to show that we are heading in the right direction.

What does the future hold for Plydesign?

We are in the preparatory stages of several interior design projects that will only be visible in the second half of next year - we are excited to report on these worthwhile projects close to our hearts.2021 was about our first prestigious international award and PLY DESIGN HOUSE talent search and subsequent product development, 2022 about digital renewal, and in the future we want to leverage and bring to fruition these investments across as broad a spectrum as possible. In this uncertain global economic and political climate, it is not possible to make predictable long-term plans, but we will continue with passion and perseverance.

What are you preparing for this year’s S/ALON BUDAPEST housing trend exhibition?

At this year’s S/ALON BUDAPEST, we will be showcasing the complete WAVE range of paper dispensers, and the raised and tilting table top bar table. We will also be presenting a product development that experiments with different materials besides plywood, it will be worth a visit! As for the interior, we want to create an imaginary design atelier where designs, inspirations and objects are born.

What advice would you give to young domestic designers who want to succeed in product design?

In fact, all the things we would generally advise young people at the beginning of their careers - be persistent, see the world, gain international experience, be open-minded and dive into design-related professions (marketing, communication, manufacturing, retail) to be able to plan more complexly!

Meet us at the S/ALON BUDAPEST, where you can get a closer look at the outstanding players of the Hungarian design scene alongside premium international brands. Get your discounted tickets here and join us on Facebook and Instagram!

2022.09.14.

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