Go out on a limb if you want to have influence

There is a general concern that creativity in design has reached a plateau and the excuse cited that clients aren’t prepared to take a flier with new concepts, but the responsibility lies as much with designers…

There is a general concern that creativity in design has reached a plateau – the polite way of saying it’s not up to scratch. The excuse cited has long been that clients aren’t prepared to take a flier with new concepts, but, as we have said before, the responsibility lies as much with designers, too eager to please clients and not strong enough to push boundaries.

Last week’s Milan furniture fair threw up examples of risk-taking on both sides of the client/ designer relationship that should at least encourage the product design community to pull out more stops in the future.

On the client side Milan yielded two notable examples of patronage that breaks the mould, creating a completely new one that others can only hope to adopt. The Design Council would do well to heed them as it looks for best practice models in its efforts with British industry.

The first is Italian fashion house Prada, whose sideshow outlined the process that architects Rem Koolhaas and Herzog & De Meuron are separately applying to the company’s new offices, factory and showrooms in Italy, New York and Tokyo. What an inspiration it was to see such experimentation with form and materials and such evident pride in its designers that the company was prepared to open its doors – and sketch books – to share fantastic designs not yet realised.

Then there is Artemide, the lighting company poised to float on the Milan stock exchange later this year. Leadership from the top – founder/ designer Ernesto Gismondi – distinguishes it from many a rival, and it is no surprise to see it aiming to attract shareholders by launching more than 50 innovative products in Milan while others might focus more on the prospectus.

As for designers, the ideas of Amsterdam’s Droog squad have been taken up with a vengeance by manufacturers. It is a year of touchy-feely products, with rubber where ceramics might once have been and gels and squidgy plastics taking the place of conventional seating. Yet Droog didn’t set out to have this influence: it just got on with its own experimental thing.

The same is also true of Ron Arad, once billed as an artist perhaps because industry wasn’t ready for his avant garde concepts. Now clients are keen to take a calculated risk with him, and he is delivering. But he’s pushing the art side even further, not least through the Tomato animations that are part of his shows.

Success doesn’t come overnight for those who pursue their passions, but if the instinct is right it comes in good time. The truly inventive have, however, already moved on to ever more creative concepts by the time their ideas become mainstream. What a great position to be in.

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