How did you get into design and making and where did you train?
I was always interested in art and design and studied BA Applied Arts at Middlesex (many years ago!) After graduating I worked in the design industry for about 7 years; working in retail, marketing and accounting roles for small creative companies, which gave me a brilliant insight into how to run a business. I always wanted to have a creative role and so started my own company to do this. I’m constantly learning new skills and techniques so always experimenting, be it with computer software, use of materials or production processes – I’m pretty self taught so always happy to use new projects as an opportunity to teach myself something new.
How did you find your degree, what was the gender balance like- did this affect your learning experience in any way?
My Uni degree was very hands-on so we were primarily based in the wood, ceramics or metal workshops. We didn’t learn any computer skills, which did feel like we had less transferable skills on leaving uni to get a job as a creative in the design industry. It was 85% female, but the teaching staff and technicians were 50/50 male/female – I don’t feel gender played a role in what we learnt.
Have you ever experienced any set backs, how have you overcome them?
Running a micro designer-maker business can be full of setbacks, but everything is a learning curve (sometimes very steep and painful!) In the past I’ve designed and invested in a few products that really were not very good or in line with what I was passionate about. This resulted in losing a lot of money and also confidence but you can’t win all the time! I now trust my instinct more and cull a lot of ideas and designs, only producing pieces that I really believe in. Confidence can be a huge setback.
What is your favourite thing you have made/designed?
I’m particularly fond of ‘Plantini – a miniature botanical planthouse’. It’s a little stainless steel model kit, which is made into a beautiful jewel like plant house, complete with plant pot, seeds and soil to grow your own desktop hot house.
Do you vary the materials you work with, does this have any benefits?
My main interest is working with sheet material and transforming this by folding, bending and cutting into three dimension objects. Every couple of years I like to bring in a different material and so far have work with paper, steel, brass and wood. I enjoy the challenge of understanding each material and the production processes you can use for each, seeing how far you can push, flex or fold the qualities. Creatively, for me, it’s so important to keep learning and experimenting otherwise I become a bit disengaged with the business. I always have ongoing tests and trials on the go that I dip in/out of when I have time.
Have you considered branching into furniture design? What was the appeal to working in the product design industry?
Maybe one day, though no immediate plans to. I love problem solving so product design is a perfect outlet for this; the whole design process is about how to creatively solve a problem. I love the process of taking an idea through to a final product, all the tweaking and developing involved. All the behind the scenes samples, mock-ups and mistakes to make the piece perfect and resolved as well as it can be.
Do you tend to use traditional or modern design and make processes?
I like to mix both and am open to all processes, which are best to create the end product. We work with laser cutting, die-cutting, injection moulding and acid etching as well as making pieces by hand – each product we design tends to have a couple of processes included to make the final piece. For our wood range we’ve had to develop new hand making techniques that are suitable to do in our small studio, as I couldn’t find any existing factory to help create the piece I wanted.
How do you find having your own business?
Amazingly rewarding. It’s not an easy option but I enjoy that my role is so varied and never gets boring – I like being very busy and juggling many tasks from sketching new ideas to sanding wood, managing people to looking over complex spreadsheets! It’s difficult to switch off or have a peaceful holiday but it becomes part of your lifestyle. Luckily my partner and many of our friends run their own creative business, so I have a good support network which helps.
Would you have any advice for students who are hoping to set up on their own?
I’d say getting some experience working for other small companies is invaluable. The business/admin side is just as important as the creative side, and I think it’s important to get a glimpse into the reality of running a small creative business. It’s not right for everyone, as you need to have the drive and interest to learn a lot of different aspects, it’s not all about designing and making.
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