It is a great pity that more designers didn’t attend Ross Lovegrove’s talk at last week’s Surfaces Show in London. If they had, they may have gained inspiration from a product designer who is renowned for his exploration of form, materials and processes. But the experience might have also built their confidence in themselves as designers, particularly in their dealings with clients.
By his own admission, Lovegrove is difficult with clients and is not known for courting them to win work. He doesn’t even have a website. An arrogant approach? Maybe, yet his portfolio boasts some of the biggest names in the business, from Sony, Philips and Braun to furniture manufacturers Herman Miller and Driade. Then there are companies unknown in design circles that look to him to create a real difference in the product range of what is probably a traditional manufacturing company. They find him somehow.
Lovegrove has adopted this aloof stance over years of experience and has developed the ability to say no – something few designers manage to do. If the proposition isn’t right, then why take it on?
He has been abused by clients. He openly cites one that after some five years’ input from him decided to end the relationship with no tangible outcome, or so it seemed. When he saw his designs on that manufacturer’s website, attributed to someone else and ready for market, he had no hesitation in going to law and he is not afraid to name and shame.
A characteristic of Lovegrove’s work is an innate concern with sustainability, through judicious use of materials and processes. Often linked with plastics – though he’ll take on any material appropriate for the job – he nonetheless contemplates an ideal material that, like a jelly, is strong, yet flexible and aesthetically appealing, but will dissolve in water for easy disposal or recycling.
This is a far cry from the idea of New York designer Karim Rashid – often compared to Lovegrove – of ‘intelligent’ environments, ‘wired’ for sound and just about everything else, also experimental in his work. Described by Lovegrove as Nat Art (natural meets artificial), his approach is closer to nature.
By the same token, Lovegrove’s carparking concepts are a hit on the conference circuit. Stylised vehicles are stored vertically, doubling as street lights after dark. Reminiscent of the 1960s architectural collective Archigram (DW 1 April)? Yes. But he makes an intelligent stab, through design, at a universal problem.
Would that more designers strived to be as inventive as Lovegrove and his ilk. There are times when compromise just won’t do – and, as he has shown, even clients can recognise that.