LDNER #187: SPECIAL PROJECTS

The masterminds behind Exchange, an installation that will make up part of the Design Museum’s NEW OLD exhibition are Special Projects and our LDNERs this week. We are going to be taking tips off the founders, Adrian and Clara Westaway who find time for a huge variety of things – including teaching and becoming part of the magic circle – as well designing their innovative, user friendly products. We better start taking notes…

Where do you live in London and what do you like about the area?

Adrian: We live in Shoreditch, just a 10 minute walk away from our studio in Spitalfields. When we first started our company I remember talking to a famous architect, Alan Baxter. We asked him for his top tips on running a creative studio and he simply said “Walk to work”. It’s precisely what we do and it’s the best advice we’ve ever been given! We love it here, it’s one of the most multicultural melting pots in the world, and there is never a boring day in East London. Also more recently the food you can find nearby is astounding and constantly evolving!

You combine your values of empathy, clarity, magic and experimentation to create unusual, thoughtful products: talk us through the thought process that takes you from brief to a final product.

A: We’re a peculiar company because literally any company can approach us and ask us to invent something new, from theme parks and future technologies to post boxes and snowboarding accessories. Usually we’ll work with our clients to create a brief together because sometimes finding the right question to ask is half the challenge. Once we have that we’ll immediately switch into research mode – this means we turn into mini detectives and immerse ourselves in the world we are designing for, and surround ourselves with the people who will ultimately be using our invention.

The end users are our muses and we need to understand their deep needs and aspirations. In the last year we’ve visited over 25 theme parks, been to Japanese incense burning ceremonies, and observed soldiers hurriedly shaving at 4am! We design for people, so understanding how they will react emotionally is fundamental. We also look for unexpected things to give us a completely new perspective on a problem, and only once we’ve fully absorbed the research we start the design process. This involves an amazing mix of prototyping, from 3D printing to custom circuit boards and everything in between. The secret is the turn little intuitions into physical things that people can experience. Finally, once we have our idea and prototype we work extremely hard to simplify it down to its calmest, purest form – decluttering the concept and creating clarity in the user experience. Clara is a firm believer in clarity – in fact that’s what her name means in Italian.

You’ve worked for some very important clients, including BBC, Samsung and Google, which project was your favourite to work on and why?

Clara: Out of the Box was a series of concepts we invented for Samsung aimed at making smartphones easier to user for older adults. It’s one of our favourite projects because we spent over a year researching with older adults across Europe and we discovered just how stigmatising and frustrating some of the “elderly tech” can be for people. We created a whole new way of learning how to use smartphones based around familiar mental models, and we were able to really shift the way tech companies thought about ageing. I love this project because the end result is clear and functional but also deeply delightful and magical. This year we also designed a completely new theme park concept for an inspirational client, from the rides all the way through to the navigation and interactions between visitors. It was heavily inspired by immersive theatre productions by companies like Punch Drunk. I love this because we were given full creative control over the experience design, product design, ride design and even the food design.

Your installation ‘Exchange’, will be featured as part of the Design Museum’s NEW OLD exhibtion, are you excited to see how people interact with it? Tell us a bit more about the concept behind it…

A: We’ve been asked to contribute a special installation for the exhibition and our brief was to overcome stigma around ageing. Rather than designing an object, making a film, or just telling visitors about older people, we thought the best way to learn about ageing is to actually really have the opportunity to spend time with older people. So we’ve been working closely with the Design Museum to arrange for an incredible team of over seventies to come to the museum and sit at a special table. Members of the public will be able to sit with them and ask any question they want, and then they will ask a question back in return. All of the questions will be written down onto the specially designed table and we’ll be publishing a record of the questions asked between generations.

How do you find time to juggle all of your creative outlets?

C: The most exciting thing about being a designer is that you need to constantly soak up information and experiences so it never feels like we are juggling different things. The amazing thing about being based here in London is that you can literally be at the worlds oldest magical society and then 10 minutes later in one of the best design schools on the planet! Having said that, balance is really important – we make sure to finish at a reasonable hour and never work weekends.

Describe your perfect day in London…

A: We’d wake up to the birds chirping and a clear blue sky and head off to either Victoria Park or Hampstead Heath for a wander with some friends. We’d go to the Pavilion or the Holly Bush pub for lunch and then spend the afternoon at one one of the weirder museums in London, like the Horniman Museum or the Wellcome Collection.
If it’s a perfect day we’d get a coffee at Fazenda on Leyden Street, or Lanark on Hackney Road. I’d head off to Davenports Magic Shop which is tucked away literally under Trafalgar Square and Clara would hunt for some new fabric at the London Fabric Shop and we’d disappear into our own worlds for a bit! Then off to dinner at Brawn on Columbia road for the perfect tagliatelle before heading off to to Sink the Pink with some friends to admire the incredible outfits created by some of the most wonderfully imaginative Londoners!

NEW OLD will run at the Design Museum from 12th January-19th February 2017

35 Fournier Street, London, E1 6QE
www.specialprojects.studio