NEW DESIGN asks a range of successful designers to reveal how they started out in their careers
MANAGING DIRECTOR / Studio Conran, London
I guess you could say that my first real job was working as a roadie/designer for The Clash rock group, where I designed their record covers, posters, and tee-shirts/clothing and bits of stage stuff too. It was in the days of means-tested grants and as my father was considered too wealthy, I didn’t get a grant from government or him either! So I became resourceful by subletting a large house to fellow students and friends, one of which was Joe Strummer - ‘The Clash’ singer.
CO-FOUNDER / Seymourpowell, London
When I left the Royal College of Art in 1976 I set up a product design business with two other graduates called CAPA. At the time, the design world was over-occupied with legitimising and professionalising itself (the CSD’s Royal Charter, the Design Council’s activities etc) to rank alongside architects and other professionals. Also, there were worthy people attempting to systemise the design process by creating prescriptive methodologies. The notion that ‘good design’ was exclusively design that responded to a formula built around the modernist precepts of form following function, truth to materials, honesty of purpose and so on - all straight lines, flat surfaces and radii - seemed ridiculous to me. The very idea of styling was deeply frowned upon. Great designers like Loewy, Bel Geddes and Harley Earl simply weren’t referred to as designers, but stylists... and styling was somehow meritricious and intellectually lightweight. I felt that the design culture of this time was sucking the creative spark out of the business and that designers were losing sight of their core skills - vision, ideas, innovation and great looking stuff. We formed CAPA because we wanted to put some emotion and, yes, even some Art back into design. We did pretty well - we were featured on the front cover of the Sunday Times Magazine in a feature called “Who will be who in the 1980s” alongside a host of folk who rose to the top of their profession. Can you believe it though? This was the late 1970s and the Sunday Times print workers went on strike and it was never distributed!
The Clairol hairdryer was the first product I ever did that went into production. I was talking with someone the other day about ‘authorship’ and designers claiming stuff they didn’t really do, and I said a good test of authorship is whether you can draw (assuming you can draw) something you designed, no matter how long ago. I told this person that I could draw the first thing I had ever designed - this dryer. And I did it there and then on the restaurant napkin. Post CAPA, Clairol went on to become an important Seymourpowell client until they abandoned making appliances completely.
This first business experience both being a designer and running a business, ultimately informed the creation of Seymourpowell with Richard Seymour in 1984.
HEAD OF DESIGN / Virgin Atlantic Airways, Crawley
My first job was as a junior designer in a packaging design consultancy, based in Notting Hill. It was a bit of a miracle to land such a job in the middle of the Nineties recession. They only read my speculative letter because I’d addressed it using the name of the MD, apparently ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ letters went straight in the bin. As I had just won the Product Design Award at New Designers they thought I was worth an interview and I landed the job because they were impressed with my final year project model.
The job was a real baptism of fire. It involved frighteningly long hours, working on projects with incredibly tight timescales and multitasking more projects than should have been possible. The experience eradicated all of the glamorous preconceptions that I had associated with the design industry and gave me an enormous appreciation for what a small consultancy has to achieve just to break even. It was a fantastic experience that made me realise how little I actually knew about the design industry as a raw graduate. I left in late 1994 after securing a place at the Royal College of Art.
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