Bright ideas: Pure Talents 2021 presents product concepts by young creatives

Presented by IMM Cologne and LivingKitchen, the 18th edition of the Pure Talents Contest attracted 862 product entries from 59 countries, with no fewer than 240 design schools that focus on product and interior design involved. Interactive products, sustainability concepts, innovative furniture and clever kitchen ideas featured strongly among this year’s designs, for example young designers wondered how can a low-tech air conditioner double as a decorative object; what additional functions can a bookend perform; how can the mood of an interior design be changed via light and movement; and can furniture be an emotional outlet in addition to providing physical support?

Flow Chair by Filip Lenarcik: reinventing flat-pack furniture, it consists of four main elements and eight joints that can be reassembled multiple times without sacrificing strength.

As with everywhere else, the coronavirus pandemic presented the Contest with new challenges. Normally, the nominated designs are staged as prototypes in a lavish exhibition during IMM Cologne and LivingKitchen and personally presented by the designers themselves. The cancellation of the in-person event means a special Pure Talents showcase will not be held either. In response, the organizers expanded the international reach of the competition. “Because of corona, we had to keep adapting the conditions of participation to the pandemic situation over the course of the year. So we’re all the more delighted about the surprisingly positive level of registrations,” said IMM Cologne director Claire Steinbrück. “We’re very much aware of our responsibility towards the young creatives and are standing by the contest even in this difficult year, despite the fact that we’ve had to cancel the IMM Cologne 2021 in the meantime.”

Judging session at Koelnmesse’s HQ in October

Held and organised by Koelnmesse, the competition is specifically aimed at designers who are either still at college or have just completed their training. This year’s judges included designer Eva Marguerre from Hamburg-based Studio Besau-Marguerre; Jennifer Reaves, CEO of international design trade show blickfang; designer Sebastian Herkner from Offenbach; and Norbert Ruf, creative director and managing director of Thonet GmbH.

The jury was impressed by the many international entries and the creativity exhibited and, in the same breath, pointed to the fact that the already difficult circumstances young designers face when they finish training are even more challenging than usual right now. “For the young generation, being seen and expanding their network is the be-all and end-all. At this point in their careers, young designers don’t have anything to show for themselves yet,” said Jennifer Reaves. “This could now be a lost generation of designers because there’s currently not any opportunity for young designers to meet producers. What’s more, most companies tend to play safe and hire established designers rather than relying on young talents,” said Herkner.

“This year, besides some very conceptual and artistic approaches, there were also a lot of designs that had already been taken further and fleshed out. That’s not to say the designs didn’t surprise us – on the contrary: we saw a great many creative and interesting ideas,” said Ruf.