The decision to give Thomas Heatherwick the Prince Philip Designers Prize has sent a positive ripple around the industry. Not only is he relatively young for the honour, won last year by septuagenarian Derek Birdsall, but he is harder to pin down in terms of creative discipline than most recipients of the prestigious award.
Heatherwick was famously dubbed ‘the new Leonardo’ by TV guru Alan Yentob in the Imagine series earlier this year. This may be over the top, but it says something about the diversity of skills Heatherwick draws on for projects ranging from the D&AD Award-winning façade of Harvey Nichols in London’s Knightsbridge to the Rolling Bridge at Paddington Basin in west London and 56m-high B of the Bang sculpture at the City of Manchester Stadium.
His projects blend art, design, engineering and architecture. All display a fascination with form and with materials and technology – you can almost hear him asking ‘why not?’ when faced with a creative challenge.
All designers go through this to an extent, but few pull it off with the twist that Heatherwick’s work invariably presents. His approach makes him an amazing role model for young designers of all disciplines.
Heatherwick’s talent is rare, but he is not the only designer to show such breadth of interest. Terence Conran, his supporter from the start, is a Renaissance man, though perhaps more in the way he has consistently blended commerce with culture than in a crossover between art and design.
Other designers jump disciplines, combining all of them in their design. Richard Seymour left graphics for product design and his protégé, Simon Waterfall, has gone from product to digital design and advertising.
This is the way forward for design. Disciplines – imposed by the education system, but not by client briefs – are there to be blended. We look forward to a time when people talk just of being a designer, rather than limiting their scope by defining their area of expertise.
Lynda Relph-Knight, editor – Design Week