Is Memory Data?
Mike Meiré is like a moving target and trying to pin a label on what he does is a pointless exercise – and no fun. Brand director, artistic director, this professional disrupter and questioner is a consummate chameleon, and what’s not to love about someone who scoffs at the idea of ‘target groups’. The headline of this story is the name of the exhibition created by Meiré under the label Dornbracht Research Lab for Milan Design Week, and his two-decade relationship with the company is both personal and a shining example of trust.
One does not simply ‘have a chat’ with Mike Meiré – it’s more like being shown a reel of all the visionary thoughts he’s thinking at the same time while Kraftwerk blasts in the background. You’re left mind-boggled, impressed, wildly inspired, and perhaps a tiny bit horrified.
Meiré started his career almost 30 years ago in Cologne and he’s been breaking rules and shaking things up ever since. However unlikely it may be, if you’re unfamiliar with Meiré, you’re sure to have seen work inspired by his unruly and opinion-severing movement that he called the ‘New Ugly’, which he put in to play around 2007. The portfolio of the agency that he started with his brother Marc in 1987 – Meiré und Meiré – is vast. He has (re)created the identities of cutting-edge cultural magazines like Garage and ARCH+, and has worked with major clients like BMW, Telekom and Dornbracht, with each of whom he plays a totally different game. ‘I’m not too interested in one language, one style.’
The great thing about Mike is that whenever he approaches a new project or topic, it seems that the first thing he wants to do is figure out how to disrupt it – or at least disrupt people’s thinking of it. I replaced the word ‘consumer’ with ‘people’ as Mike told me. ‘We perform, but we are also all consumers. We are all facing the same issues.’ He scoffs at the idea of a target group. Instead he proposes the idea of thinking in a more human, empathetic way. ‘If you’re bored, your audience will be, too.’ Although it seems that Mike is rarely bored.
The relationship between Meiré and Dornbracht has lasted well over 20 years and its shape has morphed and evolved over time. One thing that has remained constant throughout the collaboration is the bond and trust between Andreas Dornbracht and Meiré. When Mike first started with them, he was given carte blanche and has used it wisely, helping keep the brand up to speed with our changing times. ‘When I started, the bathroom wasn’t a sexy subject.’ As a first art-directorial decision, Mike changed the logo of the brand, dividing the name into two lines – it modernised the look and made the two syllables more manageable.
Since that move, Mike has used his role as brand director at Dornbracht to bring aesthetics to the sanitary market. He doesn’t think in terms of the products, but rather in terms of experiences. He takes a research-like approach, asking himself and his team very human questions. What happens in a bathroom? How can a bathroom be static if its roles change throughout the day? ‘The morning bathroom is required to energise us and prepare us for the chaos of the day, while the evening bathroom is meant to cleanse and replenish us. It’s not meant to be the same space.’
This idea of (de)contextualising the experience has taken on a new life in the exhibition Is Memory Data?, which was on show at this year’s Milan Design Week. ‘It started with a logical observation of Gen-Z kids. They are digital natives. We older people are experiencing a conflict incorporating smartphones and new technology into our lives, but not them.’ The exhibition created under the label Dornbracht Research Lab aims to question how technologies change, enrich or even replace the encounter with the element of water. While it doesn’t aim to present ready-made solutions, it does aim to question and provoke dialogue. The Hyper Fountain is an immersive virtual reality installation that plays with your experience with water. It is, in fact, a hose and a bucket, but because of the headset you experience a variety of fictional textures of water, based on our memory of how it feels. ‘Imagine if we could address the water restrictions by creating a shower that stops running water and instead blows hot steam on you, imitating water,’ considers Mike. For Dornbracht, this is an incredibly valuable aspect to research. ‘Development cycles are becoming shorter and shorter, which is why we believe that market research in this specific form only works if we work on topics in an interdisciplinary and interactive manner,’ says Andreas Dornbracht. ‘Is Memory Data? alludes to this fundamental question: can a virtual experience potentially trigger the same reaction in us as an actual, physical experience?’ concludes Mike. I’ll leave you to think about that.