These little article / interviews have been a long time coming but, finally, here’s the first one. It’s an effort to inspire people to do things and define their own interaction with the world. Not passively, as a consumer (yea, we know we’re an e-commerce site but stay with us), but by actively getting out and creating things. There’s plenty of copy on ‘the famous ones that made it’, in terms of publicity, but there’s arguably more to be had from the folks out there just getting things done because they wouldn’t have it any other way. You know, people like you /us. Maybe they’re making furniture, films, music, writing books or just creating communities. The important thing is they’ve carved a little niche and so could you.
Of course, they also tend to inhabit interesting spaces which is a good excuse to go snooping then fire a few questions their way…
First up is Nick Rawcliffe who runs a design lair in south London stuffed with prototypes, vintage ‘things’ and quite a lot of bikes. Having studied at the RCA, the Bauhaus and in various locations around the world, his is a down to earth, hands-on and get it done approach to the creative process. We met him to take a few shots then fired a few questions at him over Skype IM a week later.
Nick Rawcliffe: take your time , I’m listening to the cricket anyway
LOL: so, where are you?
LOL: Does it do a good dance?
NR: Exactly, you have to approach it with the big shakes to be worthy of its favour
NR: Or it drops something on your toe.
LOL: I swear sitting for 6 months, at a desk, did my back in, so I think that’s probably a good idea.
NR: Exactly, no one knows (well not enough people , I mean) that chairs with backs erode the muscles round your spine so you get weak and tweak things…… that’s why I did that little chair ages ago after working out in Bangladesh on the wheelchairs ….
LOL: Your studio seems to be full of ideas in various stages. Do you work on them in rotation or just when inspiration strikes?
NR: They all hang around waiting for a deadline or an opportunity or yeah a bit of inspiration for the next step. No point forcing the next step when you’re mind’s not settled that it’s the right option/decision. So yeah that can take years….
LOL: It looks and feels like what I imagined an inventor’s studio would be like when I was a kid, with lots of weird bits that probably only make sense to you. Do you think inventors and designers are basically the same thing, or not? Where do you fall on the scale?
“there is a quote by Thomas Edison that all you need to be an inventor is an idea and a load of junk. I do have a lot of junk down here”
NR: Same same but totally different. The thing is, if you say ‘inventor’ you might as well say ‘a bit mental’ . if you say ‘designer’ you’re average person in the street will think all you do is choose paint colours in a Llewelyn-Bowen style or something . Answering the question, “So what do you do?” is a very difficult question for me , so I just say I make things and show them pictures on my phone… there is a quote by Thomas Edison that all you need to be an inventor is an idea and a load of junk. I do have a lot of junk down here
LOL: It’s just people’s instinct to put others in boxes – which is frustrating if you’re creatively claustrophobic. You seem to have a playful approach though, a hands on, potential explosion kind of thing. It looks like fun in there. You also seem to have some great old pieces of kit, mostly related to manufacture. Like the dog-tag stamp and the screen print machine. Manufacture is something you’re into, right?
NR: Yep , the Design box is massive… and misleading in most cases . “Designer, eh? of what?” is always question 2.
I’m a total geek on manufacturing, and materials. Most of my pieces come from pushing the envelope on what processes can do, doing things differently for a change. That’s where the ideas cross over between products and new concepts emerge. The lights all originally came from trying to make lights from the shapes created by the hanging chairs, etc.
Old machines are magical when you get your head round them. So much more authentic than this whole 3d printing hype…. but let’s not get into that…..
LOL: yea, i think we might be well off-piste for an hour or so on that one, let’s leave it for the pub. You’re Northern, and proud of it. There always was a real link with the North and manufacturing – and still is in many cases. Does your interest in it come from anything you can recall from early years or did you just get into it later?
NR: I grew up surrounded by big trucks [Nick’s family have a haulage company], making dens and weapons in the countryside. I do feel a real connection to the manufacturing north too, and sad about how most of it has disappeared and changed the landscape (and the opportunities for the generations of kids). In my opinion it’s a shame that designers haven’t been given more respect in the boardroom over the declining decades, in certain instances. BUT! The opportunities now to make things for your own niche of customer are bigger than ever. The trick is to design your products from the right manufacturing processes from the outset….. This only makes sense to me in retrospect. I had no idea about design until I went to the RCA….
Well maybe I did a bit, but I needed the RCA to rearrange my brain a slightly from being too engineery…
LOL: You’re a bit of a traveller though, right? I know you’ve also studied at the Bauhaus, and taken your design brain to Bangladesh, the US, lots of Europe and even Japan. Is part of being a designer just making sure the inspiration keeps flowing in? Being you, you get on a plane to do it rather than vicariously through Instagram or Pinterest though.
“The real inspiration from travelling is finding out how other cultures’ brains work”
NR: Images of places say nothing compared to being there (a bit like seeing a pic of our Hive chair says nothing about the feeling of sitting in it). I’ve always been one for taking opportunities when they come up, like any excuse to travel. The real inspiration from travelling is finding out how other cultures’ brains work, the way they see or use products….. like the welders in Bangladesh that use bare feet as a vice, or the way the Japanese craftspeople see the imperfections in materials as blessing rather than a reason to bin it…. things you can only understand by hanging out with these people. It’s fascinating and makes you question yourself and the culture you come from…
LOL: You’re a sensual designer in a way. It all comes from the feel and the narrative rather than a cerebral deconstruction which is pretty much opposed to how design is taught these days. Do you think you’re destined to become more of an outlier or will it swing the other way and you’ll become more ‘normal’, if you know what I mean?
NR: Why would i take the normal people on at what they do? haha. ‘They’ design things for companies that are scared of doing anything too different, that’s why it takes so long for things to change, many things out there are samey…. I see it all as an opportunity to do something different, evolve products. A few things I do now might filter through to be a bit more mainstream in the future but I like to think of my ideal customers (or the people that like my stuff) as the grown up skaters , people with a bit more of a punk attitude than people who will buy furniture like what their mum would buy…… know what I mean?
LOL: Ha, yea. I just meant in terms of design, you’re, as you said, at the opposite end of the scale to 3D printing in many ways, do you think the more sensual approach will return?
NR: Yeah . The craft is coming back! The worst thing the universities did was cut back on workshop facilities (for health and safety’s sake amongst other things) and push for everything to be more digital. It’s like they forgot that everything people touch needs to have the tactile angle , the economic angle all resolved , to be a good product and that is an iterative process that’s most effectively done by making real things out of real stuff .
And it’s the story behind the products that people really like , something to tell their friends about when they come round for tea!
So, if folks want to see more of what you do they should check out your site? Are you doing any upcoming events? I liked the art car boot you did with the vintage Adidas tracksuit tops. Very terrace, and again with a good story.
NR: Yep, some stuff on my site, loads more to come, most sneak previews of bits and bobs in development on my instagram @nick_rawstudio . Not got any events lined up at the moment but starting to arrange a bit of the collection in the studio in Clapham for people that are interested to come and have a look , and feel what it’s actually like to sit in the hanging chairs
LOL: Sounds good. Now you’ve got beer as well we’re in.
NR: anytime mate
LOL: I’ll let you get back to the cricket, who’s looking like winning?
NR: we’re spanking em