By Michael Chang
It was all down to personal preference and a little aesthetic craving when Danish optometrist Poul-Jørn Lindberg designed the ultimate in functional designer eyewear – AIR Titanium. When Danish optometrist Poul-Jørn Lindberg found that he needed glasses in the early 1980s, he began to understand just what it means to be a user of eyewear. The first thing he did was to search the shelves of his own optician’s shop, Lindberg Optik, which he established in 1969 in Denmark’s second-largest city, Aarhus. But nothing was to his liking. After trying numerous designs, Poul-Jørn Lindberg finally realised that wearing spectacles was no laughing matter. “A pair of glasses is just a frame you wear on your face – heavy, inflexible and uncomfortable,” as he says. One of Poul-Jørn Lindberg’s acquaintances with much the same eyewear experience was Hans Dissing, co-founder of the Copenhagen-based architectural firm Dissing+Weitling. Hans Dissing wore customised eyewear of his own design; an ingenious steel wire construction with an added flap mechanism which allowed him to alternate between lenses of different strength. Poul-Jørn Lindberg, in association with Dissing+Weitling, embarked on designing a rimless frame for his new eyewear concept. Hans Dissing and Poul-Jørn Lindberg both shared the same predilection for austere Scandinavian design, which naturally formed the basis of their design programme. Their basic requirements were that the designs had to be light yet resilient with as few screws, rivets and welds as possible, and they should be easy to customize to suit all facial shapes.
Clash of Titanium
Achieving simplicity is often a complicated matter, which also proved the case with Poul-Jørn Lindberg and Hans Dissing’s rimless eyewear. Not before they employed titanium did their design finally start to take shape. Unlike other metals, titanium is strong even when rendered as a thin thread; yet also flexible and wearer-friendly. Determined to take the final step towards completing the project, Poul-Jørn Lindberg took out a mortgage on his house and ordered the first roll of titanium thread from the USA. When production of the *AIR Titanium* eyewear model started, special tools had to be created to fashion the titanium thread, which apart from being a high-strength metal is also a very living metal. No one had previously worked with such thin threads of titanium and Poul-Jørn Lindberg had to invest in developing the necessary tools. After much dedication, the design finally met all requirements: there were no screws, rivets or welds, and the design was elegant, simple and durable – with a weight of only 2.7 grams.
*AIR Titanium* eyewear was introduced in 1987 when it was featured in a design programme broadcasted on Danish television. The *AIR Titanium* concept was instantly airborne. One of the first to be introduced to the design was Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, who was already a client of Lindberg Optik in Aarhus. Demand for *AIR Titanium* rose steadily; first nationally and then internationally. After 4 years of hard work and considerable investment, the design was finally a worldwide success. In 1989, *AIR Titanium* was awarded the Danish Industrial Design Prize, *ID-prisen*, and in 1991 it was included in the permanent contemporary design exhibition *Die Neue Samlung* housed at Pinakothek der Moderne München in Germany. The year after, *AIR Titanium* was awarded the Japanese *Good Design Grand Prize Award* in sharp competition with 3000 other products from around the world, including design heavyweights such as the Japanese bullet train, Macintosh and BMW.
Lindberg Optic Design has expanded to employ 350 people and currently features 7 different product ranges. Most recently, Lindberg has launched a rimless design called *Spirit* in tune with the current trend towards a more distinct design for spectacle side bars and a stark, rimless front with minimalist mounting. The design is also a response to modern consumer demands for individuality. Products by Lindberg Optic Design have been exhibited at a wide range of international trade fairs and design museums, including the exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris entitled *Design miroir du siécle*, which featured a selection of the world’s most accomplished 20th-century designs. By using his imagination and by combining fine craftsmanship and a bold approach to new technology, Poul-Jørn Lindberg has succeeded in revolutionising the world of eyewear. His innovative designs offer more than one million different variations, allowing frames to be customised to individual taste.