The man behind the egg

ZenEgg

interview with Gasper Premoze

by Carol Guiterrez

introduction, editing and translation by Bor Pungerčič

06 / 01 / 2015

In mid-December, a quiet little campaign launched on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform, among so many others. Its goal was to gather 2.200$ worth of pre-orders, which would allow it to start production of the minimal batch of 200 items. With the support of the local community, the modest goal was reached in a matter of hours. On January 14th, the campaign closed with the counter stopping at 111.144$, overfunding the project by fifty times. The product is called “ZenEgg” and as the name implies, it is a simple wooden egg.

Setting aside the immediate visual and tactile appeal of an exquisitely crafted object made of high-quality material, what was it that convinced over 6000 backers to spend between 15$ and 33$ on a chicken egg made of walnut? Smart timing on behalf of the team, which placed the campaign right in the middle of the pre-Christmas gift-giving season, undoubtedly played its part. But as the products themselves will not be arriving until mid-March 2015, the wild success can hardly be attributed solely to the yearly shopping frenzy.

As it is true for most products (and doubly so for products being pitched on crowdfunding platforms), it is the story about what it is that the customer is buying, that influences the decision at least as much as the thing in itself. In a society suffused with material possessions, it is usually this myth, or this aura, that the authors manage to weave around the product, that really makes or brakes most new arrivals on the market.

The story of the ZenEgg is narrated through the customary Kickstarter presentation video. But one that is anything but customary for the platform. Setting itself apart from the crowd, it falls neither into the category of “honest” DIY homemade videos, nor the over-aestheticized big budget “elite” (which is slowly becoming the norm for any serious product campaign). With a whimsical, high-paced and humorous tone, it starts off by exposing the overcharged, stress-filled everyday that characterizes contemporary society, then in a more slow-going, relaxed tone, proceeds to offer you a solution — the ZenEgg, a wooden totem that reminds you to give yourself a break every now and then, relax, breathe, give yourself a little massage, and so on. So it is simultaneously (as the webpage states) a reminder, a massage object and a toy.

Given how the depicted stressful lifestyle is particularly indicative of the freelance class, (a.k.a. the people who are bringing you all these Kickstarter products) the video is almost subversive in the way it uses a crowdfunding platform in order to pitch a product obviously targeted at the very same people, who make up the crowdfunding crowd.

We talked to Gašper Premože, a young Slovenian industrial designer and “the man behind the Egg”, about his opinion regarding the opposing philosophies of consumerism and mindfulness, the way introspection informs his design process and an interesting fact about the ZenEgg itself…

OK, let’s go straight to the most obvious question. Isn’t it a paradox, that your campaign asks backers to spend money on a material item, in order to be encouraged toward a “spiritual” goal? Why would anybody even need yet another product?

I am absolutely certain nobody in this world actually needs a ZenEgg. Because your real needs are so simple — a safe and dignified home with a bed and a shower, and then some quality food. That’s about it. And yes, of course, when it comes to tending to one’s psychological or if you will, spiritual needs, one can allocate time for oneself with willpower and discipline alone, without needing something or someone to entice and remind him.

The question the ZenEgg deals with, is how to encourage a person to dedicate some quality time to themselves, to egg them on (pardon the pun) to really take the time and focus their attention on self-reflection, in spite of this fast-paced lifestyle of ours, which leaves us with precious little space, understanding and support in this respect.

This task can really be accomplished by just about any object, as long the user attributes this role to it. What the ZenEgg does, is establishes that connection for the user. The accompanying video uses the stark visual contrast between the hectic everyday and the moment of peace, to evoke that serenity when the user says to himself: “Stop. I want a moment for myself.” So the wooden object is really just the material part of a more complex product, the part that unobtrusively reminds the user of the message it was endowed with. And it is this message, this effect, that is the “Zen” in the ZenEgg.

The second part of the answer would be, that as several thousand people start to use the product, it will gain a certain symbolic value, reminding the user that the object’s message has been taken to heart by so many other individuals and that taking the time for oneself is something normal and expected, not a “waste of time”. It is just a matter of common use — the object becomes a symbol for something, validates it and places it into everyday life.

Revolving mostly around this point, there has been some rather harsh criticism of the project online. What is your reaction?

I appreciate the honesty in speaking one’s mind. And I do not really believe a reaction is necessary. I try to evaluate the relevancy of any piece of criticism objectively and use it to re-examine my projects and actions. Through my work experience, I have come to the conclusion, that I know what I am doing and that I would like to carry on. I welcome and encourage critical thinking, and my hope (especially when it comes to online feedback) is for more in-depth and well thought-out critique, which could lead to meaningful discussions and thus further creativity.

There is an interesting fact you mentioned regarding the ZenEgg and the interval of 15 seconds?

Well, once I had the prototype in my hands and started to use it regularly, I suddenly realized that the Egg, once thrown off balance, requires approximately 15 seconds to come to a standstill. This is exactly the same time that is required for a single inhale and exhale, as practised by Zen monks — four inhalations and exhalations per minute, in 15-second intervals. That is the amount of time necessary for the brain to reset and quiet down. It is also the reason behind the well-known advice to take a deep breath and count to ten, before saying anything in a stressful situation.

But this timing is not something you had planned ahead. It was unexpected?

Yes, it came as a surprise; I had no idea it would happen. I only discovered the connection between the rocking of the Egg and the breathing by chance, once I started to use it.

Would you say it is also an aid for meditation then?

I don’t use it as such myself. I see it as an appealing totem, which reminds me to take a few minutes to relax several times a day, letting my worries fall of my shoulders, nothing more. I pick it up occasionally, because I like the touch and use it to stay focused during my five-minute break. But I don’t use it for longer meditations, no.

What is your understanding of meditation then?

I do not frame it in terms of any established practice. I would say meditation is any time when I focus on understanding myself, my emotions and the human condition in general. It means taking time off and dedicating my attention to different emotional responses I encounter in others and in myself. The more you care for yourself, the more you are able to care for others.

What did this type meditation give to you personally? What happens to you while you meditate and afterwards?

This time off allows me to step aside from the humdrum goings-on of day-to-day life and evaluate them from a different point of view, unburdened by emotions and convictions. I attempt to describe the events accurately and to understand the actions that took place, to comprehend the messages that stand behind them. Understanding and insight bring peace, relaxation and the capacity to interact with events in a mature way.

In our pre-interview talk, you mentioned how your interest in psychology, especially your study of transactional analysis, has helped you to become more aware of the influence of your past experiences on your thinking today. How do you proceed with this awareness? What is the process?

I set in front of myself the questions that enable me to establish a position for example, in regard to the memories of traumatic events in my childhood, and through this, attempt to resolve the internal conflicts that make one feel fear, anger, sadness and guilt. Gradually, through this, I build the awareness that I am a mature person, able to allow myself to feel the full force of my emotions, while making sure these emotions receive appropriate protection. Since I started this practice, I have felt safer, happier and more confident.

So we could say this was a process of healing. Alejanro Jodorowsky talks of curing oneself through art and creativity, and of starting to create with the purpose of healing others. One might say your project is connected to also helping others in this healing process.

Basically, what I wish for is to live in a society of sincere relationships. And the healthier we are emotionally, the easier it is for us to open up and maintain closer relationships. Expressing oneself through art can have a strong contribution towards mental health, but in order to achieve lasting well-being it is crucial to reconcile our emotional life and our convictions with our reasoning. The ZenEgg reminds us of the key moment which has to be allowed to happen in order for this process to begin; and that is taking some quality time for ourselves.

The ZenEgg is an object designed to engage the user visually, but also on a tactile and olfactory level — through smell. I wonder, what kind of input do you choose for yourself? What draws your attention, what do you look at, what do you listen to? Which sense is the most active?

Due to my rather severe (physical) short-sightedness, I am currently highly engaged with my visual perception. Since I have decided to improve my vision through training, and stopped wearing prescription glasses, my visual perception of the environment has changed drastically. For example, when I look at you, all I see is a blurred silhouette, without any detail. I only see the whole, the body language and the movement. The visual information I receive is completely different form what I was used to before, it is like as if I am discovering visual perception all over again. I feel almost like a newborn baby, learning to see.

You focus on healing your eyesight, but does that also translate to your other senses getting more acute?

Yes, definitely. More and more information I receive from the environment is acoustic. But otherwise, I am a very tactile person. I like to touch the people I meet or the objects I observe. This is my main problem at exhibitions, wanting to touch everything. But you are not allowed to look with your fingers. (laughs)

You have designed a product that is meant to be touched. I suppose that means you’ve poured quite a bit of yourself into it.

That is true. (laughs) Touch makes up for my current lack of visual input, at least partially. When I meet people and shake hands with them or hug them, I get feedback on what kind of a state they are in. It is the same with objects and the environment, for example when I am looking for something; my fingers walk over the different objects until I find the one I am looking for by texture, temperature, hardness and shape. I guess this situation with my vision has contributed a lot to my design process, while working on an object intended for touch and massage.

Do you have a favourite massage object that you use regularly and is a part of your life?

Yes, actually I do and I use it regularly. It sits right there on my table and regularly reminds me, “Gasper, stop, take five minutes and think a little!”

What was your greatest discovery when designing the Egg?

It actually came at the very end, when I realized that I really didn’t design anything innovative at all. The product just came into being all on its own. All the discoveries had already existed; the swaying, the shape of the egg, the material… The message came from my own personal experience. All I did was to connect all of this into a meaningful whole.

Your Kickstarter also offers a “nest of Eggs”. A nest is a warm and safe place where the eggs can hatch. What can we expect to come from them?

(laughs) I assume something good. Inside the Egg, there is a small space that resembles a tower with a dome at the top. At the bottom, there is a metal weight, which enables the Egg to balance itself when thrown off balance. It is imprinted with the Ouroboros sign — an ancient symbol that represents self-reflection and rebirth. I believe the Egg will hatch into a greater attention to the deepest feelings of mankind.

So a planet full of calm and happy people?

I would wish for happy people.