18 March 2013

What skills do the next generation of designers need? - Naomi's keynote speech for the Design Ventura Conference at London's Design Museum 18/3/13

Open any newspaper these days and there will be yet another story about our education system. Amazingly, after 1000's of years of what we understand as education, since the days of Aristotle and Plato, we in the UK are still tinkering with the curriculum, which can only be a rather dangerous thing.

Recently there has been a lot of debate over the so-called E Bacc, with a focus on what have been described as core academic subjects. To someone of my generation, where we studied core subjects as a matter of course, it’s all a bit baffling. Why would you not want a child to study and become proficient in English, maths, sciences, languages, history, geography etc.

During the debate there was pretty much uproar in the design community about the absence of a design course within the proposed E Bacc. I have to say I did not share this concern, though I was worried about any absence of a study of art.

For me design is a process that draws on many, many subjects – that’s what makes it such a brilliant job. To be really effective as a working designer you need a really good grounding not solely in design but in "feeder" subjects, such as those core subjects I just mentioned.

I have recently designed a range of taps that are informed by the anti-microbial properties of copper and copper alloys - so that's my chemistry O level put to good use.

I have just designed some student accommodation where a study of astronomy influenced the design of a 14th floor common room.

I am currently working on a country house where the study of the history of vernacular architecture and even zoology has been fundamental to the devlopment of the design, where we are planning to incorporate a bat roost into new sections of building.

So to study “design” at school, at a cost to core subjects,  carries with it the same risks as a course in “media studies” i.e. intellectual strangulation. Did Martin Scorcese take a course in "media studies"?

I’d also like to add that the opportunity to study subjects such as the sciences, languages, history and geography can be as short-lived as childhood itself and so should be cherished.

Further careers are no longer one-dimensional, especially in design. The portfolio career is common-place, as I know from experience, and can be both exciting and nerve-racking. I design interiors and products, I advise companies who sell products, I write books and journalism, I present TV programmes and films on design plus lots of other stuff. So again, this for me is another reason why young people now more than ever need a thorough education in fundamental subjects so they can fully exploit the vissiccitudes and vagaries of modern working life.

At the same time for young people to study “design” in school is an unmatchable opportunity to see how traditional academic subjects can come alive and be applied to real life, just as in my own projects and frankly any other designer's, and in so doing have a real experience of how the life of work, works.

What is also invaluable in any design education in schools is the opportunity to teach pupils problem-solving – a core life skill. When I first went to design college not only did I appreciate having a whole world of design and art opened up to me but also being trained in the process of design, a process that requires visual literacy, lateral thinking, collaboration, observational skills, invention, an understanding of context and the skill and confidence to persuade others of your ideas – or in simple terms, selling.

Even if children do not go on to be designers I cannot think of a better way of training children in such invaluable life skills and being part of and observing Design Ventura has made this crystal clear.

Further, recent economic disasters have proven that our society and the politicians we have elected and in some notable cases, not elected, have little grasp of only spending what we earn: projects like Design Ventura can teach children financial literacy too, helping them learn the importance of maths, statistics and risk management.

In fact the advertising guru Sir Martin Sorrell recently said “we are all mathematicians now” – advertising now needs creatives who can also respond to the data produced by the world of social media.

Creativity and visual literacy - an understanding of design, art, architecture and ideas - is a life skill that has benefits not only to the individual though but of course to our society at large.

I have written widely on the benign, confidence-boosting effects of living in a home that is redolent of our own creativity, that is tailored to the way we and our household want or need to live. At the same time, when I was making TV shows, someone told me they thought I was over-critical of people’s design choices in their homes. My response was and is that just as the integrity of the family has a fundamental effect on the wellbeing of our society so taking responsibility for our man-made environment begins in the home.

I see the architecture of a building and the design of say a table or a TV being part of the same conversation. The NPPF (the national planning policy framework) is forcing us to think deeply about the way we want to develop our country and yet the response is terrifyingly chaotic in the face of unsustainable population growth.

Perhaps with better design training in schools the next generation will be more fluent in what constitutes good design, from transport infrastructure to rural development and what constitutes genuinely ecologically sustainable design?

I was at EcoBuild recently and was horrified to see nearly 25% of this exhibition full of PV panels, mostly made in China. How can this be sustainable design when the products are made thousands of miles away, in dubious circumstances that result in an astonishingly ugly product?

Surely we can be cleverer than this? Which brings me back to my point about the importance of a broad education that inextricably links design and art with “academic” subjects, a relationship established around 600 years ago during the Renaissance and developed during the Enlightenment, over 200 years ago. If only the designers of those PV panels hadn’t only studied engineering but also art and architecture.

Visiting the exquisite Montacute House in Somerset recently I was reminded that beauty is an essential quality in sustainable design because if something is beautiful it will be cherished and it will last. Houses like Montacute are beautiful though because they are informed by a combination of maths, engineering, art, geology, history, craftsmanship, horticulture and many more – and it is this that is design, where breadth and depth of knowledge results in designers who can create the most valuable and enduring kinds of inventions.

27 October 2011


So we made a presentation to a major house builder this week and were amused to be asked by a related party if we were the ones who turned up with boxes of macaroons and pretty “waitresses”. Purlease!

I’m all for surprise and wit in design but my constant and fervent plea that “proper interior designers are not just cushion plumpers” is not helped by “plumpers” who make the frontispiece of their presentation cake and totty. They’ll probably get the job!


Wooden Windows Give Homes Soul

As if I didn’t get myself into enough trouble when I dedicated a couple of my Telegraph columns to the curse of uPVC (or PVCu) windows I am now working with the very fine Wood Window Alliance in an attempt to push back the terrifyingly rising tide of white plastic windows. As a result we’re looking for three lovely homes with those hideous plastic windows that we can make over. For more info go to wwacompetition.co.uk



19 September 2011

A Magical Summer House at the End of Summer


To Killerton House in Devon yesterday. House unremarkable but gardens and Summer House, built as a birthday present for the then Mistress by the Master at beginning of 19th Century magical.

the above a floor made of deer knuckle bones

06 September 2011

Top Brass

Loving these from warmproducts.com Warm_marina_coffee_tables ...

an appropriate supplier now the winter season is clearly upon us!

16 June 2011

The Point of Design

What’s the point of design? This the title of a seminar I participated in recently with Heavenly Kevin and architect and TV presenter George Clarke (I am reliably informed he likes his fishy firmly on the dishy by the way) at the recent Grand Designs Live exhibition.

To begin with we all agreed that design is not a choice but unavoidable, it being a process rather than something one just adds, like water, to a product say.

Then Dishy came over a bit peculiar and started talking about design being like masturbation and how design is solely defined by beauty. Must be something in those fish. Crowd seemed to love it though, and I guess that’s all that matters, right?



Raising the tone I stumbled across the lyrical Collier Campbell exhibition in the National Theatre this week; nothing like the comfort of floral prints combined with the inspiration of clever ideas.

Also this week I presented a short film for Design Ventura, the Design Museum’s competition inviting secondary school age children to design a product for their shop. It’s a brilliant project and not only do I get to present the introductory film but I also get to judge the awards and go to the party. Can't wait on all fronts.

I am rather beginning to love working with young people (no doubt I will eat my words soon). I recently gave a masterclass as part of The Sorrell Foundation's Saturday Art and Design Saturday Morning Classes at the Somerset College of Arts and Technology.




A thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience and an opportunity to tell young people about the fantastic opportunities that exist in a career in design. The UK has the best design education system in the world and the creative industries are worth over £70 billion to the UK economy, something I love to quote to people who say doing art at school is a waste of time, something I was always told. Equally I never knew as a young person that design was even a subject, and I am sure I am not the only designer to have had this experience.

The Summer Show, an exhibition of all the work from all the classes, will be held at Somerset House from this Saturday. For more info. go to http://thesorrellfoundation.com/saturday-club.php 














25 April 2011

Pretty Food: Tomato and Wild Garlic Flower Salad


22 April 2011

Emery et Cie Palette of the Month...ahhhhh

Palette EN 9 Avril 2011 copie
Palette EN 7 Avril 2011 copie

21 April 2011

Milanogogo: Moooi, the bad and the bonkers.

Who’d have known it was the 50th anniversary of the Salone, the focus of Milan’s furniture fair and the flagship of the industry? No, I mean really, who would have known? Thank God for good friends, new friends and nice restaurants.

The emerging trends seem to be stuff made to look like animals - a piano made to look like a whale, a light made to look like a chicken, that kind of thing......

Whale piano Bull cushions

stuff made out of masks, from the kind of chandelier that would probably look perfect at one of Berlusconi’s Bunga-Bunga parties to Driade – yes Driade – producing a chair moulded out of a giant mask........

Mask chandelier Moooi mask Images

stuff with plants plonked onto them (this was Milan’s sole attempt at “green design”, more of which below);

Plant 2 Plant3 Plants4

plus a good dose of sexism typified by a laughable lampshade designed by Richard Hutten, founder of Droog for God’s sake and made of gold discs punctured with the kind of silhouettes of nude dancing girls that can be seen on truckers mudguards. 


I know the Dutch are pretty open about sex (I do a pretty good impression of a Dutchman talking about orgasms the way a Brit might talk about the weather) but come on people!!!!

 During this odyssey, shared with Maya (architect) and Kathleen (interior designer), otherwise known as The Kingston Massive (perhaps massively bottomed after so much pizza?), we began to think maybe it was us – maybe we are just getting old? But then speaking with chums bumped into along the way we realised that we may well be getting old but that’s not the reason for our ennui.

We also discovered that our failure to visit one satellite event – the Lambrate – was indeed a grave omission as this zone was reputed to have the best “gear”. Which goes to show that quality is always far more valuable than quantity.

The few highlights, however, began the moment we landed, with a dinner to launch the new World Festival of Interiors (http://www.insidefestival.com/launch-party.cfm) to be held in Barcelona later in the year, headed by my old mate Paul Finch (ex CABE and ex editor of Architect’s Journal who in that role lavishly sponsored the catalogue for my very first show of architecture and interior design a million years ago now, and for which reason I will always love him) and the lovely Claire Barrett editor at large of Elle Decoration (UK) and ex editor of Grand Designs Magazine.

Held in Tom Dixon’s Milan “space”, surrounded by his beautiful work and crunching on Steve Parle’s imaginative food (piles of carefully selected raw veg, a plate of spices and a mortice and pestle in which to mix up your own mix – then squeeze lemon on veg, dip in spice and scoff) was utterly memorable, especially as Marcel Wanders intentionally/unintentionally provided the cabaret.

Hermes produced a wholly atmospheric installation designed by Shigeru Ban within a basketball court.

And we got accosted by a “man of the road”, who turned out to be our old mate Michael Young (though difficult to discern beneath the wild-man, slightly-matted-veering-towards-an-Arthur-Scargill hair do and layers of clothing consisting of his own topped by Trussardi threads insisted upon by his client at Trussardi) with whom we were all at Kingston and who had designed a sparkling installation for said client in Piazza de la Scala.


Jumping in his waiting chauffeur-driven Beamer (!!) to go to dinner at a sweet Sardinian restaurant we marvelled at Michael’s total rock star lifestyle, a boy who failed all his exams and got a third class degree now has homes around the world, flies first class (with a plastic bag only of essentials, at least so he says) and loves what he does but would actually quite like to do nothing too, especially as the Saturday before he flew to Milan from Australia his wife had just given birth to his first born son.

Notwithstanding these and a few other highlights, such as....

Drape sofa Arco Piani Piani lights Shaded bench ercol

......plus whatever was going on at Lambrate, what was striking about the entire event was the paucity of intellectual rigour in many of the exhibits and groups thereof: not just a failure, but a kind of stupid determination to completely ignore the enormous conflict that exists in design when it comes to sustainability, in terms of both environmentalism and the sort of high quality, enriching aesthetic that can be cherished for years to come. 

Eco irony ??

Design’s first purpose must surely be to enhance life, either through practicality, beauty or ideally both - that old William Morris idea – or it’s just pointless rubbish, literally. Even the mounds of discarded flyers for events scattered on the streets everywhere were pretty offensive.

 This observation has been made all the more poignant for me as I have since barrelled around Devon’s boscy lanes, munching on freshly bloomed wild garlic flowers. Nature is the most brilliant designer and it is surely a designer’s duty to glorify her? Better to do nothing at all than produce just more loads for landfill.

 Perhaps this malaise is entirely Milanese though? The presence of graffiti literally everywhere was depressing and suggested something rotten at the heart of this city. And it probably didn’t help that we got into a fight with a bunch of Milanese lads as they tried to grab our taxi. They certainly learned that you never try and steal a cab from a London-trained Lady, and especially not three of them. In high heels. Late at night. In the rain.





16 March 2011

Glaring Mistake


It actually says "ALL WEATHER SCREEN" on Great Western's sign but that isn't true is it GW?

Because when the sun shines from the South, a not infrequent occurrence, it's impossible to read the screen.

Bad Design No. 000000768

As I tell my students, when thinking about what you can control inside always think about what you cannot control outside - and the relationship between the two.