A design degree isn’t the be all and end all

We shouldn’t be surprised to hear that Hemingway Design has been signed up by German kitchen manufacturer Miele. As founders of fashion retailer Red or Dead, Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway are only following on from the moves fashion stars such as Jasper Conran and John Rocha have made in to homewares.

But while the likes of Conran and Rocha have stayed mainly at the giftware end of things, both working in glassware, the Hemingways have found themselves at the gutsier end of interiors.

The commission by Miele to Gerardine follows work for carpet manufacturer Milliken, creating carpet tiles that are a far cry from that old “luxury” shag pile and emulate denim or concrete, or take on a whole new persona. At the same time Wayne is working with Eyestorm to create a digital art gallery for the home, projecting artworks of your choice on to the wall in rotation.

Gerardine’s commissions in particular show how hungry manufacturers are for fresh ideas and approaches, given exposure to them. Like Richard Seymour’s recent appointment as consultant design director by toiletries giant Elida Fabergé, it shows a willingness to embrace change through design. The Hemingways are not the kind of people you’d bring on board to refine or simply restyle what already exists; their track record shows they do things differently.

Their concepts are likely to be fairly well advanced before the manufacturer sees it – both projects for Miele were developed for the Hemingway’s eccentric “home office” in a Tudorbeathan semi in Wembley. Hence any risk is shared – and presumably any remuneration.

Another thing that sets the Hemingways apart is that neither formally trained as a designer. Though in their late 30s, of the age where design education could have figured in their lives, Gerardine started out designing and making clothes for herself and for a market stall in London’s Camden Town. Wayne, meanwhile, has a science degree. Yet both have the ideas and strong commitment.

The ingredients for success are there – entrepreneurialism tinged with passion and good business sense. These are the qualities we identify in people like Richard Branson, Terence Conran and James Dyson, all of whom have persevered alone, taking risks and sometimes failing. If, like the Hemingways, designers can broaden their outlook and find like-minded partners on the client side we might have more than a handful of heroes to emulate. But it won’t happen unless new generations of designers are prepared to break out and stop believing that a design degree is their only passport to success.

Lynda Relph-Knight

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