When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
Shortly after I failed my eleven-plus. I walked every day to my Technical College past an engineering factory that over the years flourished, expanded, but for as long as I can remember that factory had “Designers Wanted” on its vacancies board.
What was your first job?
Building and Architecture was my chosen subject, so my first job was in a posh, postcolonial architects office in Bloomsbury. It was horrid – pompous, patronising architects, pretending to be clever – I lasted about three months.
How would you describe what you currently do?
An academic in so far as I’m Professor of Retail Design and Studies teaching Master Students, Design, in a big Dutch University and a consultant/advisor to anyone who will listen to me.
What has been the biggest change in design since you started?
a) The commoditisation, in some cases, the dumbing down of designing. Brought about, in part at least by…
b) The internet – have a thousand quid, buy a Mac and hey presto you’re a designer, never mind the quality.
What is your favourite project, that you’ve worked on?
In a long career, too many to mention. At the time, every project, every client, every challenge is special. But I have a great affection for Topshop 40 years ago, which got me started
What is your favourite project, that you haven’t worked on?
I always hankered after the job of Minister for Culture and the Arts!
What was your biggest mistake?
Refinancing Fitch (as a public company) the way I did in 1992. I chose the wrong partners and paid a heavy price.
What is your greatest ambition?
Nowadays my ambitions are quite modest – live forever, become the new Oliver Cromwell. But mostly my ambitions are for my students in Delft – to teach them well, make them curious, see them progress.
Who is the most inspirational person you have worked with?
My boss, Charles Sayes, chief designer in a small shopfitters design studio on the North Circular Road where I washed up after the architecture debacle. Modest, cultured, fantastic draughtsman. I worked for him for two years before the fags got to him during which time he sparked my interest in ‘shopping’ and taught me much that I needed to know of designing as a practical science.
What piece of advice would you give to people starting out in design?
Be a banker! Or if you insist on designing, be prepared to put yourself in harm’s way – don’t settle for good enough – don’t rely on technology – look not only for the big ideas, but for the little ones too. Cultivate designing as a service rather than the end in itself – because it isn’t!