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monthlies OnOffice July9

09 Feb 2009

Design hot spots

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The onoffice team left our London-centric bubble to check out which designers are making a name for themselves away from the Big Smoke

Great design does exist outside of London. This may be an incredibly obvious (or insulting!) statement to people who live and work in the rest of the UK – but what we found was that plenty of good work is happening in every region – from Scotland all the way down to the tip of Cornwall. It would be impossible to cover it all, so to start with we’ve singled out four lively design hubs.

Newcastle, with its annual trade show, Design Event, plus the powerhouse design program at Northumbria University, is teeming with designers of a very high calibre who are both internationally acclaimed and pushing boundaries.

Bristol stands out as a hot spot due to the Bristol Design Festival, launched in 2007, which promotes local craftsmen, designers and manufacturers.

A history rooted in the UK textiles industry, two top design departments (De Montfort and Loughborough), a ready-built Creative Business Depot and a new digital media centre in the making, are all factors turning Leicester into an ideal incubator for new talent.

And Cardiff has the Design Commission for Wales, funded by the National Assembly of Wales, which champions good design, it’s own design festival, plus new and established design firms, many located on the new waterfront development.


Niall Meadows
Operating out of a cooperative workshop and trained as a cabinet-maker at Brunel College in Bristol, Niall Meadows creates contemporary furniture – such as his occasional tables (left) – working with wood. His DNA table, mimicking the DNA double helix (below right), uses tailor-made jigs for the compound angle holes and the frame is constructed of an African hardwood called Ovankol, strengthened with cross-braced stretcher rods.

Simon Austen
After giving up a 20-year career as a mechanical engineer, Simon Austen decided to get himself trained up in furniture design. Starting his own business meant he could develop his own style, which combines engineering with design and furniture making. The Lounger prototype (below right) is currently being developed into a production piece and will be available in indoor and outdoor versions. The Green storage unit (below left), based on the shape of a fern, is designed to be used in the office, lounge or bedroom.

Cato Workshop
Designer Tony Portus co-launched Cato Workshop with Zoe Sharples in 1989, primarily working to commission and small-scale handmade production of furniture constructed of wood and metal. Cato’s pieces, including the acclaimed Cato Rocker, the burr walnut and sycamore cube cabinet (top right) and the Venn table (above right) are crafted with quality and endurance in mind and have been recognised by the Crafts Council and The Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers.

Silence and Grace
German born Sebastian Gronemeyer, the man behind design studio Silence and Grace, is a newcomer to both Bristol and to product design. The sculptural W (right above) and Orchid (right) chairs, seamless shapes of recyclable plastic with slightly flexing backs, are his first ventures. Prototypes were showcased last year at 100% Design, which garnered tremendous media attention. Manufacturers have been “somewhat disinterested,” says Gronemeyer, but he is determined to release a version of Orchid Chair in 2009.

Q&A Neil Ferguson, co-founder of Bristol Design Festival

When and why did you get the idea to start the Bristol Design Festival?

It all started from a chance meeting with my now business partner, Duncan Iraci on
a tram at the Milan Design Festival in 2005. We were both design students at the University of The West of England (UWE), and the question on both our lips was, ‘Why doesn’t Bristol have a festival like this?’ Bristol and the South West have one of the biggest creative economies in the UK outside of London, and yet nothing existed to celebrate that fact. After much frustration, we decided to take matters into our own hands and set up Bristol Design Festival off our own backs.

How has the festival grown since the first year?
Our inaugural year (2007), the festival was very small. We exhibited work from 25 local designers including creative companies and individuals, design graduates and a local school.

Despite its size, we attracted an incredible 1,200 visitors to the event over three days and it was clear that Bristol was in desperate need of a festival of this kind.

Since then, the festival has gone from strength to strength and proved to be even bigger and better in 2008. Not only was our main venue (a derelict fire station) five times bigger than our first venue but we also had 10 other smaller satellite exhibitions and events going on across the city, exhibiting work from 250 designers from the South West region.

How is BDF different from other festivals?
Unlike most festivals, BDF encourages the participation of designers from all levels, and not just design professionals and businesses. Uniquely, school students, amateur designers and graduates exhibit alongside design professionals and businesses.

The Bristol Design Festival also aims to educate the public and local businesses about design and its potential benefits. It
is not just a static exhibition of design work, but aims to show the processes and ideas behind each of the designs.

What do you envision for the future?
Getting paid for all of our hard work! The road ahead for the festival is not going to be easy, as budgets are tightened there will be less and less funding and sponsorship available, but we are confident the festival will continue to grow.

Bristol has a burgeoning design scene. Is the community fairly insular or do designers have to stay connected with what is happening in London?
The London vs Bristol discussion has been going on for a long time. As with most things, the creative economy (especially design) is very London centric. However, the increasing trend for London companies re-locating to cities like Bristol, will continue to grow, especially in the current economic climate. Organisations like the Bristol Design Festival, The West of England Design Forum and Bristol Media are an important part of this transition and we are here to prove life goes on outside London!


Cohda Design Ltd
Cohda Design Limited specialises in product design with an environmental focus. Its latest, Revive clamps (above), steel table legs that attach to any flat material (old doors, leftover floorboards etc) to create a table surface, exemplify the company’s ethos of cutting down on energy used in manufacturing and transporting furniture around the globe. Started by RCA graduate Richard Liddle (above right) in 2006, Cohda is perhaps best known for RD Legs plastic chair (right), which is constructed of 100% recycled and recyclable domestic plastic waste using no glues or additional fixings.

Afid Design
In 2005, Michael Armstrong established Afid Design in Newcastle after spending a number of years working as a freelance designer in London. Afid provides bespoke, handmade furniture as well as developing pieces for larger production runs, and his simple forms use a wide range of materials from wood to acrylic. Jimi coat stand (left), Sarny chair (bottom) and ES1 cabinet (below) are lit nuggets, indeed.

Dan Civico
Combining the disciplines of sculpture, design and performance would seem daunting for some – but Dan Civico has based his practice on the idea. The 31 Chairs series (above and right) was an ambitious feat where Civico made a chair a day for 31 days (with use for the office in mind), which appeared in a gallery as they were constructed out of powder coated steel and Formica, and finally ended up around a board table in a local architecture firm. Civico’s latest project is called Credit Crunch Chair, which will be a hand-finished birch and walnut chair for under £100.

James Design UK
In 2006, James Kinmond and James Harrison set up their design company, James UK, after taking advantage of Northumbria University’s Designers in Residence programme, which provides access to workspace, materials, equipment and mentoring for up to two years – 3L tables (right) are just two of their designs. “These resources were major factors in us deciding to set up in Newcastle upon Tyne,” they said. The pair were named, ‘Ones to Watch’ in 2008 by the Telegraph, while Harrison scooped Elle Decoration’s Young Designer of the Year Award.

Made up of designers Dan Ziglam and Elliot Brook (above with pieces from the lauded Form range and Wire Lighting Collection), Deadgood offers an inventive range of furniture and interior accessories, including the Bookshelf, Hanger ranges. Since opening their doors four years ago, the duo have snagged a host of awards and a place on Elle Deco’s ‘New Brit Talent Hot List’ in 2006. Their latest offering, Wire Lighting Collection from the 2009 range, was launched in Cologne and combines traditional form with ‘a Deadgood twist’.


Paul Atkinson
Atkinson Design Associates, a hybrid retail-architecture-product group are behind a new furniture programme for Hov Dokka (left), part of one of the largest manufacturing groups in northern Europe, Point Island, an architectural project including the largest vertical array of solar panels in Europe. They are also the Interiors team for the new £21 million Digital Media Centre (DMC) in Leicester’s cultural quarter (above). Due for completion this year the building includes, two cinemas, 63 residential flats and 68 studio workspaces. They also completed the interiors for the new £25 million Peugeot HQ in Coventry last August for 500 staff.

Creative Ape
Alastair Woodgate, who set up company Creative Ape, recently landed a local project to design a 21-piece range of furniture for a boutique hotel, which he’d like to develop into a commercial range. His eclectic designs include, clockwise from left: Mobile bar unit, Scarab desk, Clock radio concept, Villain desk and Forbes chair.

Renfrew has been set up in Leicester for 30 years, doing everything from healthcare to full size mock ups of planes and trains – for them, space for prototyping is paramount. The company has designed, among others: the Triumph Sprint (top), the Qpod desk-chair for children (centre) and the Abacus desk light (above).

Curve Theatre
The £61 million Curve theatre, designed by Rafael Vinoly Architects opened in November last year, Leicester’s most recent architectural, cultural landmark.

Jo Miller
Jo Miller was Design Factory Designer of the Year 2008. Her contemporary furniture reflects her interests in component connection and assembly. Working in Leicester allows her to get designs (below) prototyped locally, and affordably.

Leicester Creative Business Depot (LCBD) has been giving home to fledgling creative and design businesses since 2005, and with a new state-of-the-art Digital Media Centre set to open in June, the design industry has growing dedicated ‘incubator’ accommodation. The ongoing regeneration of old textiles warehouses in the cultural quarter offers designers a more industrial backdrop.

Leicestershire has three universities that include two of the top design faculties in the UK. De Montfort has more than 70 creative undergraduate courses on offer including architecture and traditional industrial design, and a New Product Development Centre, while Loughborough has been known to ‘break the nose’ of the RCA with its output. Research at the University of Leicester (bioscience, space technology, biotechnology) has great implications for design and De Montfort boasts the key institute of energy and sustainable development.

New English
Carl Babbington, joint founder of New English, a branding and interiors company, currently working on the branding for the new DMC, worked “all over” before setting up his own company, with Wendy Draper in a converted Sunday School in Leicester. Here they carry out work for Honda, Dulux, BBC, a range of arts organisations and an increasing portfolio of local projects.


Attic 2
Attic 2 design was created in Cardiff for 10 years. It makes signature upholstery products for the contract market – mainly receptions and break-out areas, and producing exclusive designs for Liberty, The Conran Shop, Heal’s, and private clients. Founder Angela Gidden’s commissions as creative director to clients include the BBC, National Assembly of Wales, Wales World Nation, Wales Venice Biennale and the Cardiff Design Festival. In 2007, Angela was awarded an MBE for her commitment to creativity and business in Wales. Everything Attic 2 creates is designed and made in Wales, with a green vein running through it.

Timothy Forrester set up Timothybenfurniture when he moved to Cardiff to take up a position lecturing on the 3D design course at Unversity of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC), after studying 3D design in Leeds, and working in Milan for two years for Italian design company Kundelini. In December 2005 his Luna furniture range was a finalist in the BIDA Awards. This year he was runner up at Cardiff Design Festival with his new piece Hex (below). “Working in Cardiff gives you a chance to switch off,” he explains, ‘”and take influence from the landscape’.

Cardiff Design festival
n October 2008, the Cardiff design festival took place for the fourth year, celebrating design (graphic, product, interior, multimedia and interactive) and industry in Wales, with a panel of judges awarding the best in a range of categories, including best of Welsh graduates. At the centre of the festival is a range of design events, which in 2008 took a strong architectural slant, with a design charette which attracted 80 cross-disciplinary participants - planners, urban designers, architects, engineers, students, artists – to design the last site in Cardiff Bay left to develop, Roath Basin, an area marked for development as a new media hub.

Studio SDA
Studio SDA in Cardiff was founded by Julian Sanders, and is probably the largest product design company in Cardiff, designing for Kenwood, Le Creuset (top), Kenwood (above left) and Cole & Mason (above right). When Sanders moved to Cardiff 20 years ago it was quiet on the design front in comparison to London, where he’s previously worked as an active member of the CSD (Chartered Society of Designers). But a lively design community has grown around him since, especially in graphic design, stemming he believes from Cardiff’s history in animation. Although Sanders recruited product designers to the company, branding and packaging design now play an equal part in the business.

Mode is known for its quirky design objects, such as the magnetic key holder (left) and interior accessories, such as the Crate fruit and canapé holder (left below). Set up four years ago as a design consultancy, by Cardiff school friends Alun Jones, Duncan Taylor and Kevin Champion, it now distributes its products to 35 countries worldwide. Originally based in the centre of Cardiff, the trio moved to Cardiff Bay, a mile outside of the centre at the end of last year. “The building we are in is an old shipping warehouse” Jones explains, “there is a strong community of product and graphic design within the building”. Mode travel to London if clients are passing through, but most of its business is done at European fairs such as Ambiente and Maison D’Objet.

Architen Landrell
Architen Landrell, tensile fabric architecture, structure and canopies specialists are a Chepstow-based firm, with strong ties to Cardiff. In the Cardiff Design Festival 08 they picked up the best spatial design award for BBC Caversham, a fabric feature that provides solar shading for office environments, and cuts out solar glare from overhead skylights (right). The company has produced thousands of installations using structural membrane design, including Covent Garden’s Ugg store, and Barclays Bank headquarters, and has been established for 30 years.

Julian Sykes
Julian Sykes returned to his home city of Cardiff after studying 3D Design at Leeds Metropolitan. He set up workshop Jafor creating custom made pieces, using local materials and manufacture techniques. He has exhibited at Cardiff Design Festival for the last three years, and at Tent London in 2006, with pieces including WOO sofa (left), a small space-saving 2½ seater and the ‘60º’ chair (above), all made to order, by hand. He is also part of the publication team for NakedWales, a magazine distributed to design professionals, artists, students and academics, and Cardiff’s branding company Hoffi.


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