Every year we scour the programme for London Design Festival, picking out the most inspiring talks, intriguing events and creative workshops that we really REALLY want to go to. This year, Cristina Tang and Ainsley Cox went along to the Barber & Osgerby talk, hosted in the grand surroundings of the V&A Museum, and Tom Dixon’s ‘Multiplex’ – an immersive, multi-sensory prototype department store.
They both returned to DB HQ full of inspiration to share. Ainsley has written about Barber & Osgerby below, whilst Cristina tells us all about Multiplex…
Ed and Jay (Barber and Osgerby respectively) proclaimed that the main inspiration that has influenced their studio’s distinctive style is from the design and construction of airplanes and boats. They dub this “Hidden Beauty” and explained how the design of objects, such as wings and hulls, are driven solely by the fact that they need to fly or travel through water, and that this movement is as elegant as a design object in its own right. The range of objects below hint at this aesthetic with visible frames, split lines, wire constructions, rounded front edges, and the illusion of weightlessness and floating:
“The more simple a design is, the more engineering thinking it will require.”
They talked about how the ‘Iris Table’ was one of their most difficult designs to realise; creating a perfect circle out of machined aluminium parts required technical precision as well as creative refinement. The parts were then hand anodised in order to create the perfect spectrum of colour. Ed and Jay maintain that the individual components and how it looks inside are just as aesthetic as the assembled finished piece. They believe that designers should not be afraid to be drastically simple with their 3D design as beauty can derive from the object’s construction just as equally. As a 3D Designer, this is something that really resonates with me.
Barber & Osgerby’s creative process always starts with understanding how the object might be crafted – whether it’s visiting a mass scale plastic factory in China, or a holding a simple workshop in Italy for a one-off piece. They say that this often drives the initial thoughts when it comes to the 3D concepts. How the limitations, materials and construction can be embraced, and how they can influence the development and crafting of an object, is of utmost importance to them. Two really good examples of their different ways of working are their work on the aluminium Olympic torch, which contained 8000-laser cut holes and was finished in gold-PVD, and the Tip Ton chair, which is simply a single injection-moulded component (example below):
I found the process of creating the Tip Ton chair fascinating. It did not start with a physical design idea, but with a brief from the designers themselves. Barber & Osgerby approached Vitra with an open brief to tackle the issue of standard plastic chairs not allowing the user enough free movement. Vitra then commissioned B&O to fulfil their own brief. “There was an opportunity to create a new archetype for sitting, a chair that would allow different seating positions, but unlike expensive and highly-engineered office chairs, have no moving parts or components.” This is a typical example of where the needs of the product (to “tip” back and forth) and the engineering challenges (keeping a strong but basic construction) drove the aesthetics. Ed and Jay went about buying different plastic chairs on the market and creating 30 “quick and dirty” prototypes with the core function in mind. Two years later, the Tip Ton chair that we know and love was born.
Finally, Ed and Jay said that they believe in “design that lasts forever” and are conscious of not designing to current trends – so much so that they make a point of not visiting design shows and fairs!
When they say “design that lasts forever”, they mean both in a physical quality sense as well as in an aesthetic sense, although they understand that their designs are influenced by current manufacturing methods and modern materials too. B&O maintain that their designs are “timeless” in their form and will not go out of fashion – I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Tom Dixon believes that “high street retail is fighting a losing battle against the shift to online shopping, and it is time to radically rethink how these spaces can become relevant again in a digitally-defined future.” Multiplex, hosted at the Old Selfridges Hotel, is his prototype shop, created to reflect Dixon’s vision of how the future of retail might look.
This hybrid department store brings together powerful experiences, bespoke service and unique products, which encourage visitors to completely immerse themselves and their senses to explore design, technology, fashion, film and interiors. It was quite a diverse experience – ranging from graphic interfaces and connectivity for children, to “futuristic and healthy” black food served by Gail’s.
Here are the ones that really stood out to me:
An inflated mist spa structure that diffuses “natural series of scents distilled from seaweed in Margate” to offer people the experience of breathing the calming air of the British seaside – an engaging product delivery system that makes consumers want to find out more about the story behind the brand.
Studio Rive Roshan created a solar printing concept shop, giving visitors the opportunity to document their stories on bespoke silk scarves with UV reactive ink – visible, invisible and the sense of reveal spurred a lot of imagination and possibilities.
Sort of Coal
Charcoal purification is not new news to us, but it is very on trend and relevant for a growing group of consumers that value product origin, purity and honesty.
A fashion boutique “conceived in Tokyo, born in Bombay and pop-up in London.” Obataimu brought their live production studio to London, where customers can customise their designs and then watch the manufacturing process on screen simultaneously – very exciting and innovative!
We thought that one of the most interesting things about the Barber & Osgerby talk and visiting Multiplex was seeing the hugely different approaches of two of the (arguably) most influential British design studios. Tom Dixon’s superfluous, story-rich and beautifully striking designs versus B&O’s trend-less, meticulously crafted and stunningly simple designs is an interesting contrast.
When asked if there was anything quintessentially different about British design, their answers couldn’t be more different. Barber & Osgerby answered with an outright and certain “No” – they feel that great design shouldn’t feel like it falls into a category. Whereas in an interview with Tom Dixon when he was asked the same, he answered that British design is clumsier than Italian design, but longer lasting. That British Design is less conceptual than Scandinavian Design, but more on-trend yet traditional. A great example is a pair of quality chunky British Brogues. Wise words.
A special thanks to the lovely people at Barber & Osgerby for the images of their work. Ainsley and Cristina took the photos at Multiplex.