Category Archives: Conran digital

We are Conran, and we have a new blog…

‘What’s Going on at Conran?’ was launched in spring 2010 to show off everything we do at Conran, and what goes into it. Over time, it’s expanded to much more than that – a place for sharing our opinions as well as our work; for talking about our love of design, our favourite designers, galleries and places to eat.

To do justice to this, a new blog was needed, and we’re delighted to pull up the curtain on We are Conran. We hope you like it.

We’re on the lookout for guest contributors to the new blog – if you’re interested, or have any other feedback, let us know.

Finally: if you’re at a loose end tonight, do come down to The Conran Shop Marylebone from 5.30, where we’re celebrating our new Ten Green Bottles collection for Gordon, as well as our shiny new blog.

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Pixels are forever

Last Thursday, Conran Singh hosted a debate on the use of digital technology by luxury brands.

Precious Pixels event

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Conran Singh on Luxury: “What does this button do?”

Here’s the latest from Conran Singh on luxury – check out their blog for more.

“What does this button do?”

If you have enough money, you can spend the hassle out of almost anything.

Luxury hotels are well-accustomed to dealing with the outlandish requests of their well-heeled guests; travel concierge outfits offer the super rich the simplicity of a life almost totally unplanned. Why hail cabs, reserve tables or book flights, when all of these things can be done for you? Continue reading

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Conran Singh on Luxury: Luxury without ostrich leather

Luxury designers have been slow to embrace digital technology, and those at the very top have been slowest of all. Super-luxe brands revel in the mechanical and the material, in burnished dials and ostrich leather sleeves. Where does digital technology fit in? Continue reading

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Conran Singh on Luxury: Can money buy a better interface?

As promised, we’re following up Daljit’s Wired article on Monday with the first of Conran Singh’s thought pieces on how luxury and digital mix.

Conran Singh phones

Today’s question: can money buy a better interface?

Designing by committee

Received wisdom dictates that, in the digital design world, iteration is king. Tech needs to be built, tested, torn apart, and built again, and it it this process of iteration that makes good interfaces.

The same holds true for most design, of course – except that tech naturally lends itself to crowdsourcing. When Facebook wanted to translate its interface into every language, it used a crowdsourced development process: users could submit translations for the 300,000 words which comprise the Facebook interface. These submissions were voted on, and translation was done by consensus, in the blink of an eye and at negligible expense.

Much more than other companies, software makers design by committee: user feedback is collected, collated, and used to improve the product. It’s tricky to do the same with a toaster.

This is a blessing and a curse. A software company knows better than any other what its customers want – or at least, what they think they want. As Henry Ford probably didn’t once say, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. In other words, crowdsourcing may actually limit the possibilities of software design, pushing designers to refine the old, rather than to invent the new.

On luxe

Most areas of design have a luxury end: Bentley cars, Bang & Olufsen speakers and Hublot watches. These manufacturers design to the highest standards, making products that are not just sold on their name, or the expense of their materials, but also the beauty and refinement of their design.

Luxury design takes time, money and expertise, and the iterative R&D that typifies designing for the mass market doesn’t take place. Perhaps because of this, such manufacturers design groundbreaking things. Why doesn’t the same apply to digital design?

For digital, too, there is room for a high end – and, as computers become embedded into just about everything, doing digital well becomes an imperative for luxury brands.

There are two roads to a great interface. One is the mass market: designs honed by the collaborative will of thousands or millions of users. The second is less travelled, but no less valuable: deep investment of time, money and expertise to create truly sublime digital experiences.

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Conran Singh on Luxury: Luxury + digital

The luxury sector treads carefully when it comes to technology. Luxury designers focus on materials – brushed aluminium and leather panels – and as such digital elements, inherently material-free, are seldom included.

Is this a missed opportunity? Can luxury products be infused with digital technology, to make them all the richer? Daljit Singh thinks so.

Daljit on luxury

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Looking $100 billion

Last month, we launched our new Facebook timeline, which allows you to dip into our heritage, as well as keep up to date with our latest news.

It’s a work in progress, but we think it’s already looking pretty neat.

Conran on Facebook

The good people at Shiny Shiny seem to agree: they just included Conran in their roundup of ‘Cool Facebook brand timelines‘, alongside the likes of Starbucks, Red Bull, and the US Army!

Conran on Facebook @ Shiny Shiny

You can find Conran’s Facebook page here. If there’s more you think we could be doing with it, please let us know.

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Pinterest has been adding a healthy dose of pretty to our office lives for a while now. We love its clean, simple interface and great use of portmanteau.

So far we’ve been quiet observers, but today we’d like to introduce Conran on Pinterest. We have experts in branding, products, interactive and digital, architecture, interior and retail, and our boards are curated by all of them.

Conran on Pinterest

Conran Studio are hunting out their favourite brands, and Conran & Company their favourite products. Conran Singh and Conran & Partners are picking the best from the worlds of digital design and architecture.

At the moment, Vicki Conran is at Chelsea Flower Show (read more about her Artisan Retreat here), and she is kindly sending through her Chelsea highlights.

More to come soon – including a board of Terence’s personal picks…

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What went on at Conran?

At Conran, we have some strong ideas about what constitutes good design. We think good design should make people’s lives better, first and foremost. Above all, to quote our Chairman, we have an affection for the ‘plain, simple and useful’.

From Terence Conran’s first splash at the Festival of Britain in 1951, we’ve worked across design disciplines to that end. It’s a heritage that we’re very proud of.

Facebook’s new ‘Timeline’ layout gave us a good opportunity to delve into our design history. Take a look for yourself, and find out what went on at Conran – as well as how we’re building on that heritage today.

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The Grok Organogram

We have a hunch that the word ‘grok’ – a sci-fi term which means, to quote the OED, “to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes the observed” – is unlikely to find an audience away from the free-loving streets of San Francisco.

The broader idea it describes, however – the mingling of minds, and the cross-pollination of ideas – is already catching on, not least in the design world. Practically, it means deep collaboration between the design department and other parts of the business, and so developing products in a design-led way.

Baking designers into the heart of product development seems sensible enough, but it jars with usual company structures, where market and business analysts tell designers what their new product will be. However, some companies – not least a little upstart from Cupertino by the name of Apple – are demonstrating the value in rethinking that traditional approach.

Grok design was the topic of a talk last night at The Book Club, Shoreditch, part of the Future Human series of lectures and discussions. We learnt about the history of grok – with special reference to Apple – and we discussed how grok can inform design processes.

Before the Industrial Revolution, the distinction between designer, maker and retailer didn’t exist. There was only the artisan, and his work naturally took into consideration form, function and market opportunity. Grokking is a way of replicating that in modern industry, and ameliorating the downsides of division of labour.

The late Steve Jobs loved grok, and his ideas about ‘grokking’ were central to the way Apple’s product design process worked. Just as Google venerates its coders and engineers, Apple venerates designers. Jonathan Ive and his team are seen not as hired hands to prettify a product, but central to product development. They are given generous R&D budgets, direct access to the CEO, and rare latitude to experiment. They work alongside the business development teams, the salespeople, the marketeers. Thus the elegant gestalt products, the marriage of form and function – and, perhaps, the eye-watering revenues.

It’s easy to make a cult of Apple – a point made by Deyan Sudjic, Director of the Design Museum, who noted that Jobs’ corporate structure – with just about everyone reporting directly to him – had as much to do with his megalomania as his business philosophy. But the basic intuitiveness of grokking design processes is hard to ignore.

In the end, James Moed, a business designer at IDEO London, came through with the take home messages. Firstly, anything can be designed – from coffee cups to sales teams to human resources departments. It behoves big companies to stop thinking about design as a siloed process, or even to think of designers as a discrete category of employees. We can all design things.

Secondly, design at its best is interdisciplinary. Good design comes when product designers, industrial designers, interface designers, graphic designers, ideas people, marketeers, thinkers and strategists work together, with eyes firmly on the bigger picture.

It’s something that’s at the forefront of our minds at Conran, too. We’ve found that when we work together, across traditional design disciplines, we are usually more than the sum of our parts. It’s what we did with Boundary, a restaurant bar and hotel complex in Redchurch Street that came of a collaboration between our architects, interior designers, furniture designers and brand strategists. Increasingly, we see this as the model for how we should work.


The Boundary’s rooftop bar

Whether it’s Apple’s super-designers or Google’s 10% time, the world’s most successful companies are finding ways to turn the soil – and watching their revenues grow. We can all take something from that.

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