Successful designers are right to leave comfort zone

News of two high-profile moves have rocked the design industry this week. First came Simon Waterfall’s amicable split from Poke, the interaction consultancy he co-founded in 2002 (see 17 September). Now we report that Sebastian Conran is quitting the family firm of Conran & Partners to go it alone again.

Both designers are well respected among their peers, hugely successful, creatively and in business, and rank among the few big ‘characters’ in design. The circumstances prompting their respective shifts are, though, quite different. Waterfall wants a new challenge, while Conran is keen to be master of his own destiny again, though will probably be designing similar lines to those created at Conran & Partners and will continue his involvement with initiatives relating to averting crime and protecting intellectual property.

Their decisions to leave the relative safety of an established consultancy have a familiar ring to them. If great design is about changing things for the better, then why not apply the same principles to your own part in it?

Waterfall is a role-model for diversity in design. Having studied product design, he was a pioneer in digital design, co-founding the legendary Deepend and, more recently, Poke. He has his own fashion brand, Social Suicide, has been a president of D&AD and was a generator of the Pub Club networking events in London.

Product designer Conran has, meanwhile, worked within the Conran empire on more than one occasion and ran the previous Sebastian Conran Associates before merging it with Conran & Partners in 1999. His work with the Home Office and others to design out crime has shown the way for other designers to immerse themselves in wider social issues.

Both will be missed by the colleagues they leave behind, but will no doubt thrive. Their leadership positions within design will be undiminished, whatever paths they choose. We wish them both well in their new ventures.

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