Monday, 23 April 2012

For Surface Pattern Design Students...

Over the last year or so I have had a number of young design students contacting me and asking if I would answer a few questions about my career in Design. Most recently there have been quite a few from various colleges in the UK and some overseas as they were preparing to either graduate or finish their first year..... so I thought that I would post one of the latest Q&A that I have completed most recently. I have put the Questions in coloured type.... I have also included some pics from various sources. Print mills and trade fairs so that I can illustrate some of the environments I have worked in over the years.

What resources did you have when you first started out as a designer?  
After doing a years foundation for Fashion Design at Salford Poly(now Uni) I started an apprentice style training at an independent design studio. This was in 1975, and most of the resources available was a bit "do it yourself" meaning the studio did their own market and trend research and any design research was literary scouring museums, interior stores and books shops for historical references. Some of the buyers and clients would also have their own market research which they would brief us on for their collections. Our studio was very fortunate to have connections to the European studios so from a young age ( 17yrs) I was traveling a lot and this gave me more inspiration for ideas. etc.
Basic paint, water and brush to go

Did you do any relevant or valued work experience?
Without sounding immodest ... I would say that most of my career, especially between 1980- 2003 I had valued and relevant work experience. As mentioned in Q1, we worked in the Parisian studios, Lizzie Derriey and Kitler in Paris, StudioWagner in Krefeld and had short exchanges in several of the studios in Como, Italy. As an independednt design studio we worked closely with the mills producing the collections for most major UK retail and own brands, building close relationships with most of the buyers (mainly for bedlinens) These included M&S, House of Fraser, BHS..... ( I worked with Zandra Rhodes on her bedlinen collection for Grattans) In the early days we also produced collections for Dorma and worked briefly with Mary Quant......lots of others as well but it could sound like serious name dropping.  There were USA bedlinen companies, Westpoint, Cannon, J.P Stevens. The role call could go on forever really because we were independent we worked with everyone. In 1995 the studio had its own sample screen printing facilities, ( we did sampling and origination for Sundour, Edinburgh Weavers, Rectella, Fryetts on soft furnishing fabrics to name a few)  employing over 25 people which were designers, sales, colour separation artist, graphic designer, printer, colourist etc........ I have worked for companies in South Africa, Berg River Textiles and Svenmill. David Whitehead in Zimbabwe, and even a small batik company in Sri Lanka, Then later Pakistan for Gul Ahmed, Fateh and Sitara Textiles.. The roles here were a combination of designer, teacher, producer cum project manager and stylist for international brands and retail groups.
Cloth department.
Flat Bed printing.

How did you fund your work at first?
I was not self employed so I did not need to fund myself. Initially as an apprentice I did not make very much money. In fact the first few months of working did not cover my monthly travel to work as I had to catch a train and then a bus everyday, back and forth. I had to live at home for the first year but I remember getting my first rented flat when I was almost 18. However, I was a bit of a workaholic and perhaps a geek for a 17year old and I worked long hours, weekends and soon was earning quite a lot of money for my age. I appreciate that it is so much harder these days for designers because there seems to be no support or anywhere for them to go. But there are also many surface pattern designers out there, so much competition, compared to my early career.

How did you get noticed, how did you go about it?
This question is so much "Of Today"......  When I was training I did not give any thought at all to getting noticed..... I came from quite a humble background and all I wanted to do was to design and not work in an office (In those days In Manchester it was the goal to work for the Refuge Insurance company, unless you were academic.... I definitely did not want to do that.)........ my passion from being a toddler was to paint, design and travel. I achieved it with relentless hard work and obviously a little bit of luck as well. I totally accept that these days the Industry has changed so much. Designing does not pay as much now unless you create your own niche brand and promote yourself and become famous. Seems like it is the only way for designers to make a living. I was quite happy being a "faceless" designer because I enjoyed the work, travel and the money.
Todays Studio

What technology software do you use?
At the moment,  none. Because of what I said in Q4 (about not a lot of money in basic designing) I have to do quite varied projects, which are all hand painted work, so software or the computer not necessary. ... I paint pictures for local galleries, do a few interior advisory jobs and some decorative interior jobs. a current project is painting two door panels and soon a total wall mural. I am also working with an agent selling off my basic collection for the Chinese market. (I have to bite my lip really because these days I can only expect a quarter of the design fee that I got 15 years ago) The hand painted brushwork florals for the USA markets can still command a decent price though. I am also doing some work for a traditional wallpaper company and he does not need the digital work. ..... If you have read my blog you will also know that I am working on a design manual........... I would also love to work with other designers and this is where the digital technology will come in.... at the moment I have the basic photoshop and illustrator but no time or inclination to perfect it. I also love the physical aspect of designing.... working to scale and also standing up.... too long sitting by the computer depresses me.
My Interior work

Have you always used it?
No.. I did an Illustator and Photoshop course a few years ago ...... I found illustrator too slow and restrictive for me ( I may try the new Wacom Inkling though)....... and photoshop is fantastic but would take me years to  become average at it.... so decided to stick at what I am good at.

Would you say its the best in your field of design?
Not sure what you mean by the question .... do you mean the technology being the best?... or WHO is the best in the design field.............. TECHNOLOGY.....Not sure I am qualified to talk about even though sometimes I think that the technology is perhaps more complex than the designers operating it... some designers lack of product knowledge and industrial experience limit them to stretching the possibilities of the software.......The last studios I managed in Pakistan I was instructing the CAD operators to do certain jobs which in the past were done manually, I knew what the end result needed to be but felt frustrated that the computer was limited and amazingly slower....... That was 2003 so I appreciate it will have greatly improved.
Digital printing

If you could, would you change anything you've done?
Absolutely not! (apart from saving my money that I made then spent ridiculously in the champagne eighties/nineties.... and losing it to my ex) I do not regret anything that I have done in my career... I loved the study, and the travel, and particularly loved working in industry in the textile mills (which I miss considerably).... I got a buzz every time I saw a printing machine rolling or when I was overseeing the sampling. also the research and discussing collections and trends with a client.
Trend research at Heimtex

If you had any, what advice would you give to up and coming designers today?
I think I gave an answer to a similar question in my interview for the Chinese magazine..... link is on my blog...... . read 1) Awareness 2) Knowledge 3)Originality 4) Perfecting Skills 5) Re-invention........ However I think it is a really difficult question for UK designers because I think that the whole design industry is so far removed from how it was when I was younger. ...... When I say the Industry I mean Designers, Buyers, Retail groups, manufacturers and suppliers of homewares. ..... In my opinion and based on my experience it seems that the way that the businesses operated now is completely different.
Exhibition stand at Heimtex 2012

....... Buyers did vary considerably in their involvement with the design process, ie selection, commissioning projects etc, but generally they had clear cut ideas about their brand, and relationships would be built up over the years between design studios or design individuals.... and a design or collection would be nurtured more. ...... There were designers who just churned out lots of designs and sold them individually at fairs but it was more profitable to work individually with a client and achieve a royalty on the work ( may not be the way forward now because of the quick turnaround of new trends and ideas)..... to give you an example... I have created bedlinen collections where one or two of the designs were still selling after 12 years ... and I got the royalty... we used to say an average design sold for 2 years a good design sold for 5 years and occasionally you got a gem which continued selling for over 10 years. ... Profitable for the printers, as they did not have constant investment in the set up and origination and great ongoing royalties for the designers.... without doing any more work.... and great sales and margins for the buyer as all they needed to do was to order more product...the initial outlay of design and development costs were certainly paid for. Everybody benefitted. ....... I am trying not to be controversial here but I think that a lot of designers these days have a bit of a bum deal and are expected to do so much more than designing.  Buyers, perhaps through the stresses of always having to meet sales targets and feed the ever hungry consumer expect the designer to present them with the finished product without any room for nurturing or developing ideas together.

Product on stand at Heimtex
I would love to embellish on this discussion but I think that I have waffled too much already. I suppose further advice to young up and coming designers these days would be to not only nurture  existing skills  but add new but related skills so you can offer something different to the client. For example, perhaps you are interested in interior design, where you surface pattern can be as an interior decoration... similar to what I am doing at the moment, concentrating on the hand drawn a little more...... Recently I have had feedback from contacts in the industry and education that there appears to be a renewed interest in hand drawn design. Unfortunately the UK has always followed trends so relentlessly the training establishments where I learnt my trade no longer exists.
....... I think I shall end the answers here.... sorry to have elaborated too much


  1. love the images you have put with the Q&A


    1. Thanks Bridget, I wanted to put some of my old pics on from studios ect ... but cannot find at the moment.....will post when I do


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