Over Summer 2017, I visited a few of the design graduate shows in London to scout out who was about to enter into the design industry. One of the stands that I was most drawn to was Northumbria University’s. Having considered their 3-Dimensional design course as a possible next step for myself, it was interesting to see what work was on show; particularly as it was the same year group that I would have been in, had I started university straight after my A levels.
Their mini exhibition, within the noisy hustle and bustle that is the New Designers Show, was clean and spacious, and allowed the students’ work space to speak for itself. One students work that I was particularly drawn to, was Jasmine Craven-Huffer’s (http://www.jasminedesigns.info). Perhaps to no surprise, as her final project was a small range of a seat, stool and bench, made in solid wood and tastefully influenced by traditional furniture constructions. Anything with a through-wedged tenon gets my vote!
We exchanged business cards, and now, after six months of being a graduate, I decided to catch up with Jasmine to find out what her next steps were.
She said, “Since graduating I started job hunting, I knew I was going to probably need to relocate to the south. I was prepared to relocate for work and start a new adventure in a new city. I had a plan in my head that the first 3 months after graduating I would be picky about the design jobs I was willing to take, if in the 3 months I didn’t find my dream job I would try just taking any opportunity and work my way up instead (which I knew would probably mean just drawing other peoples designs on CAD, pretty boring). I wasn’t expecting much in the first three months, I didn’t have much hope for that side of my plan. The first month of it was quite crushing to my self-esteem, I started to feel like the years of commitment to being a designer were all for nothing (it had been my dream job since I was 14).
Then all of a sudden I got three really good offers. One of them was for a company designing luxury furniture for interiors of some very wealthy people, this company were pretty secretive about their work (hence why I don’t want to mention their name). They were designing gunrooms and the interiors of London homes which were only lived in for a few weeks a year. Despite how beautiful their work was I wasn’t prepared to start designing for a company where I would be glamorizing things that I felt were morally wrong. This opportunity wasn’t too difficult for me to turn down.
The next two offers had me tied. I was offered a job as a CAD designer at Ercol with the career path to become a designer for them, it was the dream. I’ve admired Ercol since the beginning! Their huge workshop makes their designs limitless, they have some pretty cool machines. Despite thoroughly enjoying my interview there and the personal tour of their factory I turned down their offer. Which might make me seem mad, but I still stand by my decision.
My final offer was to be the very first designer of a small furniture company in Bristol, Konk! (http://konkfurniture.com). The offer included full access to the workshop to prototype and most importantly play! I could take the lead on the designs, giving me creative freedom from the offset. Alex the owner wanted to push the company to Design Exhibitions and the brand into the inner circle of leading furniture design. It was a daunting responsibility. It was risky as the company was only two years old, the salary was the lowest I had been offered and I didn’t know if I was going to be experienced enough to push the company to where Konk! was wanting me to help them get to.
As a student Intern, I had spent some time speaking with designers at my favourite studios and companies at London Design Festival, I was asking how they found their designers and how I could land my dream job with them. I found that I was being told the same story: Our designer was with us from the beginning and they have no plans of leaving so we simply don’t need to employ a designer. As a second-year student, this wasn’t the response I wanted. This story resonated with Konk! I could make a difference with my work and watch it grow from the start. I could have a job that I would never want to leave… and the perks of a workshop too. I wasn’t going to be restricted to an office, I wasn’t going to be a cog, I could design pieces I was truly passionate about. So less than a month later I relocated to Bristol. I am now 5 months into my working life as a Designer and I couldn’t be happier.
After New Designers I went to exhibit at London Design Festival as one of the 10 students shortlisted for the Rado UK Star Prize. The entire experience of exhibiting at such a high profile event, amongst the world’s leading designers was truly amazing. It was an incredible opportunity and I was lucky enough to win the public vote! I had a good chance to speak with some very experienced designers, marketers, and manufacturers about the fate of my work. I was advised that the Moravian collection needed further expansion, with a table and some kind of storage.
Everything has been quite hectic moving to a new city, so I’ve had no time to give to the Collection. I am hoping that this summer will be a time when I can really dedicate the time to expanding the collection, prototyping the new pieces in preparation to contact some manufacturers. The entire range was directly inspired by a 15th-century Moravian Stool (the Moravians were a church movement, which is still popular in America), I had followed the design through time, tracking the subtle changes and I am committed to producing the next generation of its design, so that it isn’t lost in time.
I have always enjoyed making. My mum taught Design Technology at her primary school, I always loved what she got to do at her school (my primary school wasn’t so crafty) she would show me how the children were making little motor cars with wooden frames and wheels with a basic motor and battery, or sewing little puppets with felt or making pop up cards. I was always more interested in making things, which served a function. I tried sculptural things in Art lessons but I always felt they lacked purpose. In secondary school, we had to take some kind of DT class. I was one of three girls who chose Resistant Technology, which was a brave decision, as it meant I couldn’t spend the three hours of lessons each week with people I liked. I also stuck out like a sore thumb, as all the other girls were doing Textiles and Food Technology. I was woodworking. I was quite secretive about how much I enjoyed those lessons to avoid judgment from my teenage peers.
A-Levels gave me the boost I had needed. Again I found myself leaving all my friends to pursue Design. My school’s sixth form didn’t teach Product Design, in fact, very few places did. I found a college, which did with an incredible little department hidden in a building’s basement. I was one of the few to change to a different college and the only student in my year to move to the college: Notre Dame Sixth Form College in Leeds. I often questioned if I should have just done A-level Art, so as to stay close to my school friends. But I was stubborn and fascinated by the work that the Product Design Department was producing. I wanted to have a go! So I left my school friends and replaced my twenty-minute walk to school with an hour and a half bus ride to a College where I knew nobody.
I look back and think that was one of the best decisions I made. The Product Design Department at Notre Dame was incredible; I still believe it’s a very under-recognized asset to the college. I was allowed to use new machines, work with new materials and was taught about the world of manufacturing. I had a tutor who acknowledged my passion and pushed me to achieve my very best. It was very different from hiding at the back of the class, suppressing my passion during high school.
It then came to choosing a university course. I found surprisingly there were a lot to choose from, all with subtle differences. I had to decide what kind of designer I wanted to be, what I wanted to design and how I wanted to produce my work. I was pointed in the direction of the 3D course at Northumbria. Having been to a few open days at this point, I was not expecting much more than another course to add to the list of average courses. I was wrong; it immediately felt like the place for me, the work they produced, the freedom in an incredibly well facilitated workshop, and the focus on furniture design grabbed my attention. I was certain this was the course for me.
I became fascinated by the joinery, the details, the ergonomics and how it all comes together to make a beautiful chair. I am the kind of person that really enjoys learning and understanding how things interact. I think that is why I focused on woodworking, you always have to think about how the wood movement will affect the joint, and how each part interrelates.
The biggest lesson learnt, for me, was that University won’t teach you everything you need to know. When I started at Northumbria, I felt like if I was paying £9000 a year they should teach me everything to tick the boxes. The reality is that most of the students in your class want to take lots of varied paths, and your course is designed to fulfill the main bits that you need from those varied paths. If you know what you want to do, then go do it- or at least try!
Taking responsibility for your own path definitely helps! I spent time Interning at London Design Festival, no one on my course bothered to do it, however I saw that it was an opportunity to see how an exhibition works; from start to finish. In the end, it actually helped me recognize the importance of marketing materials (something which was never really taught at university), and which was something I started to work on during the summer after my second year. This meant that at the end of final year, I could refine my business cards, website and social media accounts, while many of my course mates were cramming in the hours last minute, to try to complete some kind of marketing material before New Designers. The intern work was also how I found out about the Rado Star Prize opportunity.
My advice would be: don’t be lazy or scared, push yourself and enjoy it! I would say take the time to try new things, do that unpaid internship, and quit that internship if it’s not teaching you anything. Go to as many exhibitions as you can, always be thinking about the next step on your path and how you can prove that you are a worthy designer.
As for women, I would say there are more of us in the industry then you might think. At first, it may seem like a male-dominated industry, but you will soon find yourself surrounded by unique ladies who share your passion!”