Daniel Vila and Ester Pujol founded the Nahtrang product design studio in Barcelona in 2004 with the aim of creating functional pieces that improve the daily life of their clients. During these years, they have designed and developed products for different sectors such as lighting, furniture and bathroom accessories, always maintaining their philosophy of creating honest designs with simple lines and direct language.
Nahtrang has worked for companies in several countries. In Spain, it has designed pieces for lighting brands such as Carpyen, Estiluz, Faro Barcelona and Leds c-4, urban furniture brands such as Escofet and bathroom brands such as Industrias Cosmic Since 2011, it has been working intensively in the Chinese market where it has created products for companies such as Unite and LightSpace, as well as corporate image and stand designs.
Daniel Vila and Ester Pujol invite us to get to know about their way of understanding design, their work as teachers and support for design, their work in the Chinese market and their latest projects:
Interiors From Spain: When was your passion for design born?
Ester Pujol: I think it is born at the moment when you become aware of what industrial design is. From a young age, we have been accompanied by iconic products. But in my case, it was the technical drawing teacher at my secondary school who opened my eyes to this world in the mid-1990s with a visit to SIDI (International Design Selection of Furnishings for Interior Design) at Construmat, and I thought, ‘I want to do this!’
Daniel Vila: My discovery of design was through friends and clients who stopped by my parent’s business, a restaurant. I should have continued that project but I knew that my vocation was in another direction.
At that time, I considered the possibility of doing architecture or some type of engineering. I started with industrial delineation and saw that everything was very grey. Curiosity for objects and how they worked made me go down a path that made me feel much freer. My friend was a teacher at Escola Massana and I went with her to see the centre. I signed up that day!
Interiors From Spain: How did you meet and how did your collaboration come about? And the name Nahtrang?
Nahtrang: We met while studying at Escola Massana, and the truth is that we did not work on any project together until we finished and decided to get together to prepare for the former final exam (official qualification at that time). We understood each other very well both on a conceptual and work methodology level. Little by little, we began to carry out projects for acquaintances and for ourselves until the first orders for companies came about.
During this process, looking for names for our future office, it just so happened that Dani had just returned from Vietnam and Nahtrang is one of its cities. We liked how it sounded, it gave us good feelings.
Interiors From Spain: How would you define your design?
Nahtrang: Above all, simple and transparent. We don't like to add shapes or elements without being justified and we tend to be very austere in our designs. We try to minimise production systems and find sensitivity to the pieces through their purity.
Interiors From Spain: Among your creations, lighting designs, urban furnishing and contract chairs stand out. What attracts you from these sectors? Would you like to work in new sectors? And in other areas of design?
Nahtrang: It is true that many of our projects are lighting ones. It is a sector that we know well and they are very magical products. Whenever a lamp is lit, it produces that effect of becoming engrossed. For us, lighting is one of the sectors that is capable of causing the user to have more emotions and feelings and we love participating in it.
But one of the virtues of our work is the variety of different projects and challenges that it brings. We are delighted when we have to develop a chair, bathroom accessories or even something as industrial as a protective mask.
Interiors From Spain: You have participated in conferences at design schools in Barcelona such as Massana and Elisava and since 2013, you have taught at Eina University in Barcelona. What do you think about design education in Spain and how has it changed in these last two decades?
Nahtrang: Yes, the teaching side has been a very interesting complement for us. From our perspective, the offer of design studies has increased a lot. In particular, Barcelona is one of the cities with the largest number of design schools in the world.
Thanks to this, the profession has been professionalised much more, students leave more prepared and above all, with many more resources at their disposal to make their way in the sector. When we remember that, for example, we didn’t know what the Internet was when we finished, it seems amazing to us!
Interiors From Spain: Daniel is a member of the ADI-FAD board that organises the ADI awards that promote young emerging talents of design in our country. What is valued? What has surprised you most about the latest award-winning designs?
Daniel Vila: In general, we believe that the products presented are high-quality in all categories. In the Delta awards, we find that we have the industrial sector in good shape, especially that there is new talent and that this is reflected in the designer/company relationship. In the medals, we see the good work of the schools reflected in excellent and risky works. In the ADI culture awards, which only has two editions, we are glad that it has been so well accepted with great participation. One of the winners this year is the Humanium project that supplies and distributes metal from destroyed firearms for commercial production.
Interiors From Spain: One of your main international markets is China. Tell us about your experience. What do they look for in a European studio? Any advice for other designers when approaching this market? And for Spanish manufacturers?
Nahtrang: For us, the experience in China has been hard but very enriching. Actually, we had our first contact there through national clients who were beginning to deal with this country. At that time, we were not interested in working for them. They did not develop products, they only manufactured. After a few years, they contacted us to start making their own original products and we accepted.
The cultural differences are enormous and for them, it is essential to have a European perspective to develop products if they want to export them. They often don’t share at all the formal language or the importance of small details that are vital for us but they are learning...
Advice to approach this market from scratch: it is vital to be there and very close and constant contact. Anyway, the issue of communication is also a disadvantage. Normally your point of contact is a person from the sales department who speaks basic English and has no technical knowledge. There are few companies where you can talk directly with the technicians or the manager and this greatly hinders the project. So, learn Chinese!
For Spanish manufacturers, China is a huge market. You have to go carefully but steadily.
They have many needs that we can meet. In many cases, the problem is the protectionist market itself which makes more direct action difficult. In any case, we know first-hand of companies that have managed to enter the country with very good results.
Interiors From Spain: In 2017, you won the NYCxDESIGN award for the Volta lamp for Estiluz and in 2018 a German Design Award for the Mine lamp for Faro. What have these two international awards meant for the studio? Have you gotten new clients?
Nahtrang: The awards are always a joy and they motivate you to keep moving forward. In the case of NYCxDESIGN, it was very interesting because it allowed us to get to know the American market first hand and it gave us a very different view of a society that seems very similar to the European one but is very different in reality.
We have not gotten clients directly but we have a very good relationship with the media there and this makes you much more visible, us and, in general, designs that are made in our country.
Interiors From Spain: What projects are you currently working on? Any outside of Spain?
Nahtrang: We always have a drawer full of projects. In many cases, the design and production processes go at very different rates.
We are currently developing a line of chairs for a company in the Netherlands, an extensive collection of lamps for indoor/outdoor use that will go public soon and a line of bins for communities and offices, among other things.