New Design Leadership at SONNEMAN: Nuno Pires da Silva

New Design Leadership at SONNEMAN: Nuno Pires da Silva

Nuno Pires da Silva

For nearly six decades, the lighting brand SONNEMAN has been synonymous with its pioneering founder, Robert Sonneman, but in 2023, the company’s namesake announced he would be stepping away from the day-to-day operations and design studio. Stepping into lead the design studio is Nuno Pires da Silva with a bold new vision that will introduce more color and curves while still honoring the legacy of solution-based, technology-driven, high-quality lighting that SONNEMAN has always been known for.  

We recently caught up with Nuno to learn more about his new role, his design ethos and what is next for the legendary brand.

How did you get into design? And what led to your new position at SONNEMAN?

Starting at 11 years old, I helped my family’s sign-making business in the south of Portugal. I was surrounded by light; my father is a neon artisan maker, and I remember being around him and being fascinated by how incredible the process of creating something from scratch was. I was using all sorts of materials – metals, plastics, glass, wood, etc. and designing, building and installing signs by myself when I was 16.

After all those years of being exposed to the ‘art’ of creating things, I think it was a natural move to choose industrial design as a career. I studied industrial design in college from 2005 to 2011, in Lisbon with a year abroad in Milan. I have been fortunate to work with great mentors and coworkers that helped me to carve my way and get where I am today.

I joined SONNEMAN in 2018, at that time just as a regular industrial designer, but along the years I developed a close relationship with Robert Sonneman. We shared the same design principles and approach to design. It was an easy connection that we continue to have today. He is a great mentor and I have the utmost respect to what he represents within the design community and the brand he and his cofounder Sonny Park created. In 2020, Robert began his plans to step out of the day-to-day business activities, and he mentored and promoted me to be his successor to lead the creative direction at SONNEMAN.

What is your design philosophy?

My philosophical approach is focused on designing products that are unique and timeless. I am a big believer of the ‘form follows function’ mantra, but as designers we have the responsibility to design products with purpose and reason and avoid cheap and fast production of products that will end in a landfill in a couple of years.

What makes for good lighting—is there more to it than simply illuminating a space?

Good lighting nurtures good emotions. Personally, I find that the warmer the light, the better. Light doesn’t just illuminate the space; it creates the space and affects the perception of everything that surrounds you.

What is your design process? Does it start in the studio, or does inspiration strike you in unexpected ways?

I like to think that as designers we are natural problem-solvers, but above everything else we connect the dots. We imagine relationships in unrelated things and see things differently. That can happen at any time, I don’t think my brain truly disconnects ever. Observation and visual thinking is how my process starts.

And then how does something go from an idea to a design to an actual product?

That all happens in the studio, once I sketch out my idea and give direction, I have an extraordinary team that works with me to make it happen. It goes through several sessions of sketching and doodling, CAD iterations, and of course a lot of model making and prototyping. It’s not a linear process, it goes back and forth between designers, engineers, and the factory, until we can have something real, and sometimes the ideas don’t work, for various reasons. Ultimately, when developing a product, it’s finding that balance between unique and beautiful design versus cost, and how much people are willing to pay for a product.

What’s next for the brand now that you are leading the design studio?

We have a lot of ideas and exciting things lined up for the next couple of years. We’ve been picking up the pace, learning more about what the market wants and where the gaps are, all of this without losing our brand’s DNA. On the brand side, we are also planning to progressively evolve and become more approachable and contemporary. These are very exciting times with a lot of new ideas and initiatives to look forward to.

How do you design alongside changes in the industry as far as new technologies, techniques, sustainability needs, and other developments?

In general, we try to visit one or two of the largest design shows in the world to keep us to date in a general way. Additionally, we have a strong relationship with our factories, and we are always pushing each other to get better information about technologies, manufacturing processes and how to implement them in a mass production environment. A big concern that we have, and I am sure a lot of brands should have nowadays, is our environmental impact and what we need to do to offset our carbon footprint. We are ‘new’ to this topic but it’s becoming more and more present in our daily conversations. Both social and environmental responsibilities are equally important for us, and we are moving in the right direction.

What keeps you going? What keeps your creative energy charged?

Working with an amazing group of people, making great products and continuing to elevate the brand is what keeps me going! I get a boost of creative energy charges every time I go back home to Portugal and get some of that southern European warmth, food, and sun! Our immediate focus is next year’s collection, but we are also focused on building SONNEMAN’s reputation globally as a leader in modern design.

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