Profile: Designers Front

The multidisciplinary design group already has an impressive portfolio of projects under its belt and it is working on more, yet to be unveiled, for some big names. Tom Banks explores the group’s history and what its future might hold

Young, precocious and boasting a portfolio of high-profile clients, Designers Front has come a long way since 2009 and its previous incarnation as the trio Waggott, Tripp and Graham. In those days, its members may have been no more than students at London’s Goldsmiths College, yet they were already exhibiting at Tent Digital.

Go Scan Yourself the piece on show at Tent was one of the standout designs that year. It was an interactive work involving a lidless scanner mounted to the wall, scanning the faces of visitors to create a frieze that was broadcast on one of several old television sets as well as online.

Experiential design such as this has rapidly become a hallmark of Designers Front’s work, taking it swiftly on to commercial projects and into partnerships with other consultancies.

After Brittany Graham left the fledgling group for the US, having graduated in the summer of 2010, Chris Waggott and Sam Tripp joined up with fellow Goldsmiths graduates Ben Barker and Matt West to form Designers Front. This core team now works across interaction and digital design, illustration, graphics and film designing and building, but ’always with experience at the centre’, says Waggott.

In little over a year, this approach has seen the consultancy work on the Think-Work-Play magazine-style website for Pernod Ricard that celebrates and explores the creative process.

Designers Front is now looking to work on a second phase for the site, featuring a mapping interactive to plot London’s creative community and to pinpoint geographical hubs for particular sectors.

Other clients include Pizza Express, publisher Sceptre (for author David Mitchell) and the social design group Think Public.

Think Public turned to Designers Front to create a short, animated film called Prototyping Made Simple, which has been targeted at public services this month to demonstrate how they can better use prototyping to develop and test new services.

Having been out of Goldsmiths for just over a year, it is no surprise that the group’s members are still being influenced by their experiences at the school. Barker worked with interaction group Kin Design which came to Goldsmiths with a hypothetical Nokia brief in 2009, and now Designers Front aspires to the group’s joined-up way of working.

Studios Troika and Berg also inspire the group, as well as ’film work, or anything that might help us form narrative constructs’, says Waggott. He believes above all that the group owes its outlook and broad skill-base to Goldsmiths, where the design course which is simply called Design encourages students to approach problems by working across disciplines.

Often, this has led Designers Front to create multisensory experiences, as was the case with the teahouse-themed reading environment in London’s Spitalfields Market that was produced to mark the launch of David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet in paperback. Design Week happened to bump into Waggott traversing London in search of Japanese incense for this project in March, when he revealed details of the room, including that it was to feature a Nick Ryan-designed soundscape, pumped up through underfloor speakers.

Inside, interaction was encouraged through the use of touchscreen tablets which showed excerpts from the book and offered the option to upload a review, image or film to a Designers Front-designed website.

The group is now starting work on another design-and-make project for live music and arts event I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night, which is due to appear at Wayne Hemingway’s Vintage Festival in the Royal Festival Hall in July as part of the Festival of Britain’s 60th anniversary celebrations.

While it is still at the ideas stage, Designers Front has conceptualised a self-playing piano that activates in response to sounds, movements or mobile phone signals, using an Ardwino microprocessor and sensors.

Waggott explains, ’It will be an upright piano, making chords and creating its own music in response to what is happening in the room, like a parlour pianist just without the pianist.’

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