Ep. 88: Industrial Designer Carl Gustav Magnusson

Industrial designer Carl Gustav Magnusson, was born in Sweden and grew up on a farm in Canada. Early life was informed by wide open spaces and a natural curiosity about cars and industrial farm equipment. After engineering and architecture degrees he got straight to work with Charles and Ray Eames, and then logged 30+ years with Knoll. He’s spent his life dedicated to contributing to society’s needs in a thoughtful way. Along the route, he’s worked with the greats, and birthed many iconic designs. Listen:

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What is your earliest memory?

Opening the refrigerator in Sweden looking for a small boat that propelled itself by a CO2 capsule. Found it.

How do you feel about democratic design?

Design has a responsibility to be as democratic as possible to solve problems for many. That’s why the industrial revolution and design grew up together and this responsibility continues now with the digital revolution.

2012 Zurich CGM Studio

2012 Zurich CGM Studio

What’s the best advice that you’ve ever gotten?

Persevere to discover your talents and skills then apply them to bring ideas into reality.

How do you record your ideas?

By pen sketches in a pocket book so I have no excuse but to record them.

1946 Lapland mountains hiking

1946 Lapland mountains hiking

1955 1st car: 34 Chevy hot rod Canada

1955 1st car: 34 Chevy hot rod Canada

What’s your current favorite tool or material to work with?

The iPhone is a good reference medium but as a useful tool I use the Muji 0.38 pen which forces me to be creative. It also allows the ideas to be sketchy and layering the ideas on top of each other leaves a memory.

What book is on your nightstand?

Gardens in Art by Getty Museum.

2017 Allseating LYSS chai

2017 Allseating LYSS chai

With Frank Gehry for the 1989 commission of the FOG chair

With Frank Gehry for the 1989 commission of the FOG chair

Why is authenticity in design important?

Design contributes culturally when it is authentic and worthy of attribution.

Favorite restaurant in your city?

Raynard in Williamsburg and Torre de Pisa in Milan.

What might we find on your desk right now?

Carpenters flat pencil, iPad pencil, caliper, imperial/metric SS ruler, A4 ruled paper pad, Air Force grey colored Leica camera and a snapshot of the family.

Who do you look up to and why?

Many in my career path but mainly Leonardo Da Vinci, The Eames and Dieter Rams—all of which mentally expand the possibilities of design and its impact on society.

2010 “3500 years of design…” lecture

2010 “3500 years of design…” lecture

What’s your favorite project that you’ve done and why?

An image lecture “3500 years of design in 2000 seconds flat” consisting of 225 images tracing the influence science and culture have on the history of design. It forced me to study the history of science, inventions and art to feel confident that I understood its impact.

What are the last five songs you listened to?

Chet Atkins & Les Paul: “ I want to be happy”
Matt Monro: “on days like this” sound track to “The Italian Job” #1
Handel: Zadok the priest. Coronation anthem #1
Bach cello concerto #1 in G major by Yo-Yo Ma
Rolling Stones “ you can't always get what you want…”

Magnusson with Florence Knoll in 2004

Magnusson with Florence Knoll in 2004


Take a look at more of Carl’s work at cgmdesign.com.