Daniel Rybakken says most of his projects are self-initiated

According to Norwegian designer Daniel Rybakken, the best way to land exciting design commissions is to proactively pitch ideas to brands.

Speaking to Dezeen ahead of Stockholm Design Week, Rybakken said many of his most iconic projects stem from approaching a brand with a proposal.

“Most of my projects are self-initiated,” he said. “As a student, you think that people will just call and assign you pieces, but almost everything I did was because I started the conversation.”

Rybakken is a Norwegian designer from Gothenburg, Sweden

Rybakken has been established on the international design scene for over a decade. Based in Gothenburg, Sweden, he has developed products with manufacturers such as Italian lighting brand Luceplan, Danish homeware label Hay and Finnish furniture company Artek.

The designer said that while he usually makes the first move, he finds brands very receptive to listening to his ideas.

As an example, he points to the Arbor Sofa, which he designed for Hay together with his Norwegian designer colleague Andreas Engesvik.

“We approached Rolf Hay”

It was only after the two Hay co-founders pitched the concept to Rolf Hay that they found out he was a fan of their work.

“We approached him and said we wanted to make a sofa,” Rybakken said. “At the meeting he said there was nobody in Scandinavia he would like to work with more. I think he was telling the truth. But people are busy. You must be the one to reach out.”

Daniel Rybakken, Andreas Engesvik and Rolf Hay on the Arbor Sofa for Hay
Rybakken and Andreas Engesvik (left) designed the Arbor sofa after approaching Hay co-founder Rolf Hay (centre) with a concept

Rybakken said brands that give him briefs tend to be too similar to projects he’s already done.

For example, he has been asked by lighting manufacturers to work on lamps that are “not copies but in the style of” designs he previously developed with Luceplan.

The designer believes he would have been pigeonholed as a lighting designer if he hadn’t taken the initiative to exchange ideas with furniture makers.

“I had to make the transition from designing lamps to furniture myself,” he said. “People only see what’s already there, if you want to do something different, you have to take that step on your own.”

Round version of Ypsilon, a bench designed by Daniel Rybakken for Vestre
Rybakken has launched the Ypsilon bench in Stockholm with Vestre

Rybakken introduces a new product at Stockholm Furniture Fair – the Ypsilon bench, an outdoor seat developed together with Norwegian street furniture company Vestre.

Available in both linear and circular shapes, the design consists of two solid glulam beams that are inclined towards each other to create a more comfortable and supportive seat.

Rybakken first came up with the idea in 2005. It stuck in his mind until the summer of 2022, when he decided to present it to Vestre. “They liked the concept right away,” he said.

Prototype version of Ypsilon, a bench designed by Daniel Rybakken for Vestre
The distinctive angled seat was an idea Rybakken first came up with in 2005

Vestre’s experienced manufacturing team helped Rybakken develop an innovative steel leg that could be made from a single folded sheet of steel, with no welding required.

However, the shape of the bench is still the same as the designer’s first prototype. This meant the product could be accelerated from concept to market in less than a year.

“I have a lot of ideas in my mental memory”

“My process is very thought-driven,” Rybakken said. “Some designers start by drawing and see what comes out. But I like to start with the overall structure.”

“I have a lot of ideas in my mental memory,” he added.

Daniel Rybakken stands for Luceplan with his Stochastic lamp
Rybakken has worked with Luceplan on designs like the Stochastic chandelier

Also at Stockholm Design Week, Rybakken is presenting Shelter, a stranded pavilion intended to symbolize the plight of refugees.

Upcoming projects include new furniture products with Artek, Luceplan and Japanese brand Karimoku, all due to launch in Milan in the spring.

Rybakken believes his successful track record with brands is due to developing design with himself in mind.

“You could say it’s selfish, but I don’t design for other people,” he said. “I think of myself as an end user. I think I can be so honest when I do that.”

Ypsilon can be seen at the Stockholm Furniture Fair, which takes place from February 7th to 11th as part of Stockholm Design Week. Browse our digital festival guide or visit the Dezeen Events Guide for more architecture and design events around the world.

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