Aelian Gunawardene

How has the applied art of design become a competitive advantage for businesses? Consequently, how does design help foster innovation? In conversation with Aelian Gunawardene, Founder and Managing Director of JAT Holdings, currently one of the leading conglomerate brands in Sri Lanka which is diversified into designer products, we explore the impact design possesses towards inventive growth.

We believe that design can help businesses distinguish between new ideas that matter and ones that don’t. It can transform and shape them to fit into people’s lives in the most meaningful and stirring ways. As such, design becomes a bridge between invention and innovation. “When we started JAT in 1993, it was all about giving the market an innovative product” states Aelian. He elucidated that to design is to envision, to plan, to clarify and to build. As one shifts focus from design being a noun to verb, it becomes dynamic—a vigorous approach to solving problems, identifying new opportunities and creating great solutions.

“I am a perfectionist, pedantic to live and work with and in fact my characteristics are reflected in the brands we work with, of which design plays a critical role in most of them. They say ‘sitting is the new smoking’ as when one sits wrong; it affects the structure of the body, impacting one’s health. To address these concerns tactfully, we promote
internationally renowned Herman Miller office chairs in Sri Lanka of which its design incorporates ergonomics and comfort remarkably”, stated Aelian. Understanding the scope of design in impacting the business of Herman Miller is of enormous magnitude. Ergonomic design of a chair is of primary importance for reducing the physiological and biomechanical stresses on the seated body; for providing a wide range of adjustments and postures to suit the individual in promoting hyphenation and performance. “As far as design is concerned, the manner through which it promotes comfort is critical to me” he confided. Ask a designer to describe the steps it took to arrive at a winning solution and you’ll hear some core principles: conduct research to generate insight; envision solutions that embody unifying concepts, ideas or stories; build endless numbers of prototypes, while continually testing, refining and improving them; clarify meaningful experiences people will have with the product; consider larger ecosystems and complete life cycles. Design is not a single activity; it is an organic collection of interconnected practices that create value and we believe that JAT Holdings is pioneering in this sector in showcasing the value of design to consumers to enhance their lives.

During our conversation with Aelian, we identified the resonance between his design personality and that of the brands he promotes further. When we asked him what his core design principle was, in both his personal and professional lives, he promptly stated minimalism. “For me, design is very important, I try to have a concept going across my home to office and what I wear and how I look. I like clean lines and minimalism with a sense of finesse”. Interestingly, the design principle of minimalism or the concept that less is more is evident in SEA Bauformat collections that JAT represents in Sri Lanka. As Aelian explains, he adds a sense of lavishness to design while he persistently adheres to minimalism, which SEA brings forth with their collections. In that sense, minimalism is about making things that are alive and beautiful become more so through the way architecture directs attention to them. SEA Wardrobes from Cube, Cube +, Motion, to Coplan, denote the sophistication and luxury that lies in simplicity. Interior becomes the territory where the design of furniture and rooms intersects with that of whole buildings.

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2nd August, 2019 Applied Art