Over the following month, designers from around the world will gather in London to bring their products at a host of events. Anya Cooklin-Lofting meets three champions of the creative process
As the year vanishes before us faster than you can say “Indian summer”, September is almost here. In the interiors industry, September is a chaotic month of design shows and launch parties as London’s design districts swell with visitors to the events, installations and trade shows.
Publishing houses will empty and prosecco will flow, all in the name of great design.
September is a month to immerse yourself fully in design, appreciating the way it enriches and streamlines our lives. Before the design-centric revelries kick off in the next few weeks, I speak to three trailblazers who celebrate creating for the sake of creating.
Below, Carlo Gasparini, the design manager at Alessi discusses the poetic act of designing for the sake of design itself, Peter Erlandsson, co-founder of String highlights the importance of timelessness in design and Jean-Christophe Chopin, founder of Born, tells us how his company acknowledges and rewards intelligent design.
I meet with Carlo Gasparini in the Brook Street Alessi showroom in Mayfair to discuss the recent launch of the Marcel Wanders collaboration, and how design, in and of itself, is paramount at the global design house. “Alessi is part of the ‘Made in Italy’ phenomenon,” he begins.
“Many of the global Italian design brands started as small workshops, often family-run businesses and ambassadors of Italian aesthetic values. There is an Italian attitude to producing beautiful things, which can be summarised as designing something that is not made to sell. It is not the product of market research, but more, as we say, of intuition.
“Defending the true nature of industrial design is not only to produce nice things, but also to give value to the practice behind them. This is exactly my job. I sometimes say that my job is to keep alive the poetry through the whole process of development.
“You’re not only designing because you have to sell it but because you believe in the value of your time, and you believe in the people that work, and who are behind the creative process for every project.
“The integrity of the design and the wider landscape – it’s not about making something that will fly off the shelves, but it’s about making something that you and your designers feel totally connected to in a way that you can’t get by thinking just in terms of trends.”
Peter Erlandsson, co-owner of string, is the guardian of a cult design brand, rescuing it from an unexpected demise, an inexplicable lull of unpopularity in the mid-1970s. In 2005, Erlandsson approached the founding family, the Strinnings, and bought the company, taking its annual turnover from £80,000 to £20m in just over a decade.
Erlandsson puts this success down to better business strategy and staying true to a beautiful, useful design that simply works well in a new era, saying: “The original shelving system was designed in 1949, and in the same year won the Bonnier’s Bookshelf competition. In the same year still, the brand was officially founded by Nisse Strinning and continues to produce the same iconic shelves in the same way.”
String’s original model worked on exactly the same principles as it did when it was originally established, according to Erlandsson. “For String, design means fusing the ultimate level of functionality with beauty. Great design should be equal parts usable and beautiful, and string shelving is just that. We have not changed our core design principles, using the same shapes and dimensions as we have always done.”
When I asked whether string feels the pressure to follow fleeting trends popular with its younger demographic, Erlandsson tells me that the brand simply doesn’t pride itself on changing its wares dramatically for short term sales.
“We are lucky to have the flexibility of developing different colour finishes to stay up to date with the latest trends that our customers want to include in their homes, and we have also launched new wine glass storage rails, kitchen hooks and stationery pots.
“However, these explorations into colour and additional accessories come from our love of design, and a passion to create useful, beautiful items, not the desire to beat sales targets.”
Jean-Christophe Chopin founded Born and the Born Awards programme eight years ago to celebrate the global design community and recognise the achievements of design in six categories across six regions.
At its essence, Born is a market network for creators to showcase their new products, putting them directly in touch with other professionals in the industry. Speaking to Chopin, it is immediately apparent that he considers design as something to be nurtured and celebrated for its impact on humankind and the myriad ways it can be experienced.
He believes “design is about experience at every level. It’s not just about owning something and displaying it. What the designer must acknowledge is the creative intelligence of the end user. This focus on an end user is not to do with maximising sales or commercial gain, but is instead on understanding how the they might want to experience the product.”
Chopin tells me that this is why he founded Born and the Born Awards, as a “celebration of design for the sake of design across multiple categories on a global level”, adding that “design is not just evident in obvious places such as architecture and fashion, but also in the sports and tech industries, and in the automotive industry, as demonstrated by Gerry McGovern at Land Rover, who designs for the sole purpose of design itself.”
When I asked what the remit of great design should be, Chopin again turned to experience. “Within the experience of designing itself, three central tenets must direct the process. These are desirability, functionality and integrity. Although these pillars of design do not include allusions to commercial success, sales will follow if the conditions for great design are met.”
“It is through the desirability, functionality and integrity of good design that humans experience it – how it enriches their lives. Surrounding yourself with desirable objects is important for your aesthetic fulfilment. You will always find yourself happier when you enjoy looking at your home, office or even transport like cars and planes.
“Functionality is enriching on a basic level, making life that is a little bit more seamless. A jug that will pour an even stream of water, a car to take you safely from A to B, or an entire home automation system – all functionality is the product of great design.
“Finally, integrity in design comes from trust – trust in your designer, trust in the way the manufacturer sources materials, and trust in the brand, workshop or design house to provide on desirability and functionality.”
Acknowledging the omnipresence of design in our daily lives should be on everyone’s to-do list next month. From your teapot to the tube network, notice that design is everywhere, is everything, and more often than not, is the product of a love of creativity and creative problem solving.
So this September, keep your eyes open for new launches and exciting innovations in design for the sake of design.