Category Archives: Where do you find design inspiration?

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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RED designer talks at The Conran Shop

We spent this morning in a post-Olympics doldrums, wondering what on earth we are going to do with ourselves, and then remembered: London Design Festival kicks off this weekend!

At Conran, we’re pulling out all the stops to make it an enjoyable week. We’ve already mentioned The Conran Shop’s RED exhibition, and today, we have another reason for you to head to Chelsea.

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Inspiration for architects: Jason Hawkes’ aerial photography

Paul Zara, head of Conran and Partners Brighton, just brought to our attention the wonderful photography of Jason Hawkes.

Jason Hawkes

© Jason Hawkes

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Adrenaline junkies: Emma Booty on coffee and cars

Emma Booty is the Creative Director of Conran Studio, our product and brand design team, and resident brand-building expert.

Emma Booty

Last month, she spoke at the Interior Motives China conference in Beijing – a major gathering for the Chinese domestic car design industry.

Cutting through the petrol fumes with typical panache, Emma regaled a 350-strong audience with a story about coffee.

Bear with her…

…un piccolo momento di piacere” – in drab English, a small moment of pleasure.

As designers, we’re interested in transforming items of necessity into such moments.

But how?

Britons, on average, spend £3 a day on takeaway coffee.

£3 a day makes a £5 billion business, and a greater household expense than the gas bill.

Until 1994, the coffee shop market was relatively immature – the baristas wore baseball caps, and served lacklustre pints of weak, sweet, American-style coffee. Did you know that the French call American coffee jus des chausetttes – literally, ‘sock juice’?

Then something changed. There was an infusion of Antipodean personality into the British (and especially the London) coffee scene. An infusion of social ease. The emphasis was no longer on the utility of a caffeine fix, but the luxury of a moment of pleasure.

Coffee shops started to say something about us: bright, confident, sexy, energetic. The market diversified – not just Italian-American, but Australian, British and Scandinavian. There was a new confidence in national personality.

With it came a natural increase in quality.

The American stalwarts took note of this shift – and tried to inject a little personality of their own.

What does this mean for the Chinese car market?

…un piccolo momento di piacere” – a move away from necessity.

Cars are more than appliances, more than status symbols. They represent a way of living.

As the Chinese car market matures, cars will evolve from necessity to lifestyle choice.

How will China influence the rest of the world?

By infusing design with Chinese personality – with themes of economy, family values and respect.

Just as Australian social ease was an authentic fit for coffee shop culture, so these Chinese values fit plumb into the new, leaner automotive industry.

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Filed under STUDIO CONRAN, TRADE SHOWS AND EXHIBITIONS, Where do you find design inspiration?

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.

Image

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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Where do you find design inspiration?

In the first post of a new column here on the Conran blog looking at where we find design inspiration, Will Unwin, a product designer from Studio Conran, tells us more about the mysterious and beautiful place he finds his…


In the creative industry it is only a matter of time before we experience what I like to call ‘a dry spell’. Of course I am talking about those little ideas that eventually end up allowing good design to be exactly that: good design!

This begs the question, where can we get design inspiration? Some people may get it by looking at that object in their home from a different angle, some people might get it from talking to their friends, or maybe it just hits you while you’re on the tube. Whatever your method, can I suggest a new one?

Before returning to work at Conran in August this year, I spent the previous 5 months exploring South America. Since then I have come to the conclusion that my inspiration cannot be found on the underground, but instead lies in a far away land. The land I am talking about in particular is Antarctica.

After making the biggest impulse reaction of my life, I blew the majority of my hard earned savings on a boat trip across the Drake Passage to the unknown continent at the bottom of our planet. I was not prepared for what I saw.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place that provides you with such a diverse range of ideas and inspiration. It’s a place that puts you in the perfect mindset for work. Hopefully some of the below images will help you understand what I mean.

I saw icebergs in shapes I did not know were physically possible; I saw colours I was not aware even existed; I saw combinations of forms that I didn’t think would complement one another- all of which can be used to influence design directly. If any of you budding architects out there are looking for a new form to compete with the soon-to-be-complete London Shard, Antarctica is your place

The landscape is simply stunning. It does things to you like nothing else can. It can relax you or it can energise you. It can calm you as easily as it can excite you. The effects too are long lasting; it’s easy for me to slip away into my memories and when I return I feel somewhat enlightened, ready to attack another design problem.

Speaking of design problems, I think I’ve worked out a design for next winter’s coat collection…

Where do you find your design inspiration?

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