Too much complacency about what design can do

It is ironic that as new Chartered Society of Designers chief executive Frank Peters identifies apathy as a force to be reckoned with in design, we should find ourselves covering the work of two design groups that are anything but apathetic.

Paris-based enfant célébre Ora-ïto has shown how an extraordinary proactive urge to get your work out on the streets can pay off. His bold pastiches of the ads of top global companies might be construed as a sophisticated new-business plan, but given the potential risk of legal action maybe they were not. Above all, the work is stunning.

Then, closer to home, we report on the latest antics of Hemingway Design. Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway, founders of fashion business Red or Dead, have moved from flooring designs for Milliken and interiors for the Institute of Directors’ London premises into volume housing through a collaboration with house-builder George Wimpey, showing that being creative can be more important than having experience in a market sector when it comes to getting great work.

Only a few months ago Wayne Hemingway – a science graduate – addressed an audience of design industry bosses about the ills of volume housing and admitted he and Gerardine wanted to become involved in raising design standards. Someone with influence was clearly listening to that or one of his other talks and now we have a result – a job that many deemed to be more qualified to take on would give their eye teeth to win, but probably wouldn’t have the nerve to go for.

In both instances, the clients probably weren’t aware what was possible until it was brought to their attention. They were probably open to change to compete on difference, but through the bold approach of the designers concerned were persuaded away from a more conventional route with the obvious creative players.

For Ora-ïto and the Hemingways an instinctive, provocative approach has won them work in sectors they might not otherwise have stood a chance in. Everyone’s a winner – and, judging by the Hemingways’ work on their own house and north London office (DW 17 November 2000), that will include the owners of Wimpey’s Gateshead homes.

Peters’ talk of apathy is mainly in the context of the design industry’s attitude to the CSD. But I’m sure he’d agree it goes broader than that. There is too much complacency about what design can do and where it is most effective. As movers like Ora-ïto and the Hemingways have shown – like London Eye instigators David Marks and Julia Barfield, James Dyson and others before them – there is another way.

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