Journalism portfolio of Alistair Welch

Category: Writing

Re-inventing the wheel?

Feature for New Design magazine on IDEO’s thinking around the circular economy

How might design thinking change our approach to consumption? Alistair Welch speaks to IDEO’s circular economy expert Chris Grantham

What do we mean when we talk about the circular economy? If anyone is equipped to answer this complex question it is Chris Grantham, the circular economy portfolio design director at IDEO. “For me, it is a system that enables the re-use of materials enabled by services and data across biological and industrial materials. It’s an economy that’s designed to be regenerative,” he says. Clearer now?

In exploring the potential of the circular economy, IDEO has considered the role that design might play in ‘closing the loop’ of production and consumption – that is moving from the traditional linear ‘take-make-dispose’ model to an economy where materials, nutrients, and data are continually repurposed.

In collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, IDEO recently launched ‘The Circular Design Guide’. This online resource, developed with input from leading businesses, students, and specialist design institutions, is intended to drive awareness of the circular economy and offer a practical guide for the application of circular principles to organisations.

Grantham explains that IDEO’s thinking around the circular economy is in line with its broader work as a global design consultancy addressing the future of products, services, and systems. “We want to help organisations adapt to the right mindset and develop the creative capacity to be good at innovating within the circular economy,” he says.

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Chris Grantham, IDEO

IDEO is building on the stated aims of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation around inspiring a positive future through the framework of a circular economy. Many of the ideas have their roots in MacArthur’s sailing career. During her 2005 record-breaking circumnavigation MacArthur needed to account for every gram of equipment and food on board her yacht. This experience made her question prevailing attitudes towards consumption and disposal. Her Foundation brings together work in areas such as ‘cradle to cradle’ design strategy and biomimicry under the umbrella of circular economy.

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Oar inspiring

‘Briefcase’ feature from New Design 125 exploring LA Design’s development of the Float Rower, an innovative training aid for rowers.

Reaching the top in any given sport requires hard work, determination, and a good dose of talent. Key also is a training regime that helps an athlete to perform at their optimum. Few know this better than Anthony Hamilton, father of three-time Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton. Anthony supported his son through his early days in karting and formative years in Formula Renault and Formula Three and was regularly seen in team garages following Lewis on the F1 circuit.

Building on his experience of elite sporting performance, Anthony Hamilton has started a business based around training aid products. Already in his portfolio is KickTrix, a ‘keepy-uppy’ machine that helps youngster to hone their soccer skills. As the ball is attached to the device, would-be Beckhams can even practice at home without the danger of smashing the china. His latest innovation is the Float Rower – a rowing machine that simulates the experience of rowing on water in order to deliver a more comprehensive workout and prepare the high-level rower more immersively for on-water competition.


The concept emerged following conversations with Berkhamsted-based product development consultancy LA Design. Indeed, LA Design director Les Stokes recalls that originally Hamilton was considering a driver training aid before the idea for a ‘floating’ rowing machine developed.

The fundamental task for the LA Design team was to devise a system that improved on the conventional static rowing machine that is found in gyms across the country by developing a method of simulating the experience of rowing on water. “The idea was that if you could create an experience of floating on water, the user is exercising more muscle groups and [the machine] is a training aid for serious rowers,” says Stokes. “The potential for these two things – creating something for performance rowers and something for the recreational gym user to get a hugely better workout – is a compelling proposition.”

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Uncertainty and possibility

Editor’s introduction to the New Design 2017 Yearbook

Now in its sixth edition, the New Design Yearbook has become quite the annual ritual. From the editor’s perspective the drawing together of contributions from companies across the design and product development industry offers a perfect opportunity both to take stock and to look ahead; to reflect on the meaning of an extraordinary twelve months and set out our stall to tackle the coming challenges.

It would be quite impossible to conceive writing such an editorial without reference to the remarkable social and political events we witnessed in 2016. In the UK we saw a vote to leave the European Union and, swift on its heels, the appointment of a new prime minister; in the US, the rise to power of a certain Donald J Trump; whilst through Europe, the Middle East and North Africa the refugee crisis continued to displace millions. At such moments it is important to remember that design sits in a position of privilege and responsibility in its ability to shape our future.

Brexit is a seismic political moment the ramifications of which will play out in the years ahead. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that the design community (with one or two notable exceptions) was overwhelmingly in favour of a Remain vote. Nevertheless, through many of the conversations I have had with industry professionals since June 23 I have learnt that, despite disappointment in the outcome, there is a resolve amongst designers to embrace the opportunities offered to the UK as it leaves the EU.

Whilst there are as-yet unresolved concerns around the movement of labour – a particularly pertinent issue for the proudly international design industry – and access to the free market, the fact remains that the creative industries, product design especially, is a driving force of economic prosperity. Indeed, a weaker pound could be advantageous in making our British design consultancies more appealing financially speaking to international clients.

We should not forget that the UK is part of a global design network – a fact that is represented in our Yearbook with entries from domestic companies with international scope as well as businesses based in continental Europe, the Far East, and the US.

Aside from the headline political moments 2016 saw significant social and humanitarian narratives continue to play out. Our ageing population is placing additional strain on already stretched health services. Furthermore, as people live longer, age-related conditions such as dementia, arthritis, and diabetes are likely to become more prevalent. It is heartening, therefore, that throughout the pages of our Yearbook you will read stories of companies tackling this issue through the design of devices and services to improve the quality of life not only of patients, but healthcare professionals and carers too.

Design drives commercial success but it is very much a discipline with a conscience. After all, design is about improving human experiences and as such has the scope, ambition, and experience to address society-wide challenges and make manifest improvements to the lives of many.

Turning to product development technology, 2016 was another intriguing year in the evolution of additive manufacturing. We’ve long been promised by the mainstream media (too tempting to include what was one of the year’s buzzwords) that 3D printing will herald a new industrial revolution. I think that in the design community we are naturally excited about the potential 3D printing offers, but perhaps more realistic about its meaningful application.

One trend would seem to be that the 3D printing industry’s centre of gravity has moved away from the hobbyist user to the engaged professional. Furthermore, the use of 3D printing for low volume manufacture appears to have reached a tipping point – especially exciting is the aerospace and automotive industries’ extensive use of metal additive manufacturing technologies for volume production.

Meanwhile, crowd-funding platforms such as IndieGoGo and Kickstarter are increasingly popular and have opened new channels to market. Inventor-entrepreneurs with a great idea can see a realistic path to raising funds to engage with a design consultancy, whilst design consultancies themselves are using crowd-funding as a means of supporting internal IP generation and product development.

We live in an age of uncertainty but also of opportunity – perfect conditions one might argue for design to make a difference.

You’re hired

Profile feature from ND125 catching up with the 2011 winner of The Apprentice Tom Pellereau

It may have been a high-risk strategy, but reality television helped Tom Pellereau to bring his product inventions to market

Many will recognize Tom Pellereau as the winner of the 2011 series of the BBC’s business reality show The Apprentice. He saw off competition from fifteen of the “brightest and best business talents” in tasks including branding a pet food, rubbish clearance, and designing a new biscuit. This was the first series of the show in which the winner gained a £250,000 investment and business partnership with Lord Sugar, rather than a ‘six figure salary’ job with one of the Amstrad founder’s companies.

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Tom Pellereau

Tom, an inventor and entrepreneur, used the investment to help bring his invention, the Stylfile – a curved nail file, to market. Building on this initial product launch, Pellereau has since expanded the Stylfile range and developed more of his ideas into commercial products.

During his school days, Tom, who describes himself as “very dyslexic”, gravitated towards the maths and design departments. After completing A-levels in Maths, Physics, and Design, he studied mechanical engineering with innovation and design at the University of Bath. “I loved that hands-on mechanical engineering,” he says. “And towards the end of the course I studied patents and how inventions came about.”

After graduating, Tom worked for the Ministry of Defence (who had sponsored him through his degree course) before moving to a design consultancy where he worked with a range of fashion and FMCG brands. Always interested in inventing, at the age of 26 Tom decided to take the plunge and to move to consulting part-time on order to focus the rest of his time on his inventions.

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The StylPro range

The idea for a curved nail file came from watching his sister file her nails. “I noticed that your nail is naturally curved and normal nail files are flat,” he comments. “I thought why not make a curve in the file. It would make it so much easier to file the nail.”

His first step was to go to a local chemist and buy several varieties of nail file. He realised that fundamentally the product was a core piece of plastic with a surface coating. He made a jig and using his oven reformed the flat plastic piece into a curve before replacing the filing covering. With these early prototypes he conducted some market research and discovered that people tended to be so pleased with the product that they were reluctant to give it back.

However, despite knowing he was on to a good idea, Tom hit the problem that so many inventors face – how to go about bringing the product to market. “The thing about inventing is that it takes so long and at the early stage there is just no money in it, only cost,” he says.

Just as Tom was about to give up on his inventing dreams and take what he calls a “proper job” he heard a radio piece about upcoming casting for The Apprentice. “I heard how the programme had changed and was now looking for people who wanted to start a business rather than just win a job,” he recalls. “The more I read about Lord Sugar, the more I realised he is an incredible product designer. He created products and brought them to market: what an amazing guy to be able to be in the same room as. I was supposed to be applying for proper jobs and ended up applying for a reality TV show instead.”

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Tom with Lord Sugar and the Stylfile

In the series final, Tom pitched to Lord Sugar a product innovation business within which the nail file was one possibility. Lord Sugar was particularly interested in the file’s potential and after ‘hiring’ Tom as his business partner, helped him to establish a business around nail care and beauty products.

Tom explains that whilst he had a good handle on the design, engineering, and manufacturing aspects of the business, Lord Sugar’s support in other areas was invaluable. “He advised on the finances – VAT, import duty and so on – and most helpfully the PR and the marketing side,” says Pellereau. “His experience of working with major retailers was hugely influential.”

Lord Sugar still has a role in the business to this day and recently, for example, engaged with buyers in the United States to promote Tom’s latest invention, the StylPro a device which cleans and dries makeup brushes in seconds. In addition to the StylPro, Stylfile and Stylfile Gel ranges, Tom has developed Timmy Tickle, an infant nail clipper which was launched with an accompany storytelling app designed by his sister Harriet Pellereau. And there are many more product ideas under development which, at the moment, cannot be divulged.

Asked the secret of being a successful inventor Tom says “a lot of hard work”. He continues: “Listening and understanding what people would like is important. Then making a couple of prototypes, going back, getting feedback, redesigning a bit and going back again. You need a thick skin and a propensity not to give up as well as creativity. I do believe that everyone has an invention inside of them, what to do about it is the tricky thing. My honest advice is to apply for the BBC Apprentice – applications are open now.”

“I would urge people to invent within a sphere they know about – or work with someone who is a specialist in their field if you aren’t one yourself.” he advises. “I would strongly encourage people to start early. It is amazing what you don’t know. Keep a safety blanket, but maybe have two or three days a week to follow your own dream as you never know in ten years it might be paying for everything. Reality TV certainly worked out for me but it’s quite a high-risk strategy!”

Monkey Business

Profile of the vibrant Spanish designer Jaime Hayon for New Design 124

There’s a worrying moment just before Jaime Hayon takes the stage at a London Design Festival event hosted by BD Barcelona. The ceramicist, artist, and furniture designer (and I’m sure there are more titles one might add to the list besides) mentions to a friend his reluctance to speak for too long saying: “it’s boring to listen to designers.” Not necessarily a ringing endorsement for his upcoming ‘In Conversation’ slot.

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Jaime Hayon with pieces from his Showtime collection

Nevertheless, neither he nor the audience need to have been concerned as Hayon’s enthusiasm proves infectious as he shared with the room (decorated, naturally, with work from throughout his career) his colourful and playful approach to the business of design.

Hayon was in London for the city’s Design Festival this September to celebrate ten years of collaboration with the Spanish design brand BD Barcelona. The relationship between the two is one of those great matches between designer and producer, with BD’s style allowing Hayon space to indulge his effervescent creativity in delivering pieces that straddle the boundary between art and design.

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Showtime Cabinet

This expression perhaps finds its apogee in Hayon’s Showtime collection for the brand. A range of pieces for the home inspired by classical Hollywood musicals sees Hayon playfully rejecting the notion that form must slavishly follow function. The Showtime Cabinet is a fine example: aside from its bright colour options, the cabinet might at first glance appear to be a fairly conventional piece. However, cast your eyes to the legs and you witness Hayon’s unique sense of fun and frivolity: every leg is different from the next as though pinched at random from another item of furniture.

Alongside a sofa, armchair, side chair, and table, the Showtime collection includes a range of Hayon’s ceramic works. These vases have a certain sculptural quality and reflect Hayon’s keen interest in fine art. “I see these pieces as little sculptures,” he says. “With BD it has always been a relationship where it was important to make something that involved storytelling. My BD stuff is more on the border of the art world, where there is more freedom to do crazy things.”

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Work for Haagen-Dazs

Although much of Hayon’s output does show this artistic and sculptural sensitivity, he demonstrates an industrial designer’s attention to detail when it comes to materials and their qualities. “Design is like cooking and a material is an ingredient for the final product,” he comments. “The behaviour of ceramics, of crystal, of metal: every one has something unique to offer. Every material becomes something you can work with to improve the quality of what you are making to make it a little more interesting.”

Hayon explains that for him the creative process begins with sketching; his sketchbook is rarely far from his grasp and his typical response to a brief, he says, is to straight away draw “about nine different things”. Although Hayon’s Spanish identity is meaningful to him, travel is also a significant inspiration; his Monkey Side Table, for instance, is a twist on furniture he saw often in South Africa that featured monkeys as servants.

“I thought ‘Wow, poor monkeys, always devoted to service!’,” he says. “I decided I was going to do a monkey, but this one is not sure whether it wants to serve you or not. You should have seen the faces on the people at BD when I first suggested the monkey!”


Monkey Side Table

Despite initial befuddlement, the Monkey Side Table, which is rendered in architectural concrete, has proved a popular piece for BD and the monkey has even emerged as something of a motif for Hayon, reappearing most obviously in his range of Monkey Mirrors for Galerie Kreo as well as cheekily springing up elsewhere.

Indeed, Hayon’s reputation, broadcast and enhanced by the success of his relationship with BD Barcelona, has earned him the opportunity to spread his creative wings into many areas of designs. He has recently created quirky ice cream cakes for Haagen Dazs and a range of limited edition timepieces for the watch brand Orolog (look closely at the face and you may well see that monkey smiling back).

“People are beginning to look for my style and I am becoming a brand in myself,” comments Hayon. “When I introduce a product with a partner, having a personal signature makes it easier for people to say that you are the right guy to work with.”

One definite element of brand Hayon is colour; throughout his career the designer has chosen to use vibrant, bright palettes (it might not surprise you to learn that an exhibition of Hayon’s work was entitled ‘Mediterranean Digital Baroque’). “One of the first things I realised [in my design career] was that people were often taking themselves too seriously,” he says. “How many square sofas can you see on the market? Do we need any more grey? Colour and the use of form are open doors to happiness: spicy colours for a spicy guy.”

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Showtime ceramics

“Yes, design needs to be functional – we are trying to make nice things and make them functional as much as we can,” he adds. “On the other hand, design must, especially for designers like myself, bring stories to life. Absolutely I’m an industrial designer – but once you know how to make things you can play with them. If you sit on my chairs you will know they are functional, but I try to bring something else to the pieces which gives a certain uniqueness.”


Style counsel

From New Design 121

Alistair Welch chats with fashion designer Wayne Hemingway, a man who is eager to share his passion for vintage culture

He made his name as the founder of globally celebrated fashion label Red or Dead, now you’re most likely to find Wayne Hemingway admiring a classic Jaguar or rifling through Northern Soul vinyl. Morecambe-born Hemingway is carving quite a reputation as an events organizer as his calendar of Vintage Festivals goes from strength to strength.

The concept is a relatively simple one. Find a venue, bring along a great range of stall holders with superb vintage clothing and wares, add a rally of classic cars, organize some top DJs and live acts, garnish with some top-notch street food and open the doors to the public to enter the vintage spirit.


All this begs the question, what actually is ‘vintage’? How does an object, a garment, or a record qualify for the tag? Surely it’s about more than simply age. Hemingway agrees, for him vintage is about age, yes, but age mixed with that most essential of ingredients: style.

Hemingway traces his interest in vintage culture to his upbringing in the 1960s and 70s in the north of England. “I grew up wearing second hand clothes because that’s all I could afford,” he says. “Both me and my wife are from fairly poor backgrounds and the whole of the punk movement, especially up north, was about adapting second hand clothes so they didn’t look like charity shop clothes.”


Wayne with his wife Geradine

Hemingway turned his passion for clothes into a business when at 18 he and his future wife Geradine moved to London and began selling second-hand clothes on Camden Market. Initially trading to earn enough to survive, their venture grew into something much larger to the point where they were taking over £10,000 a weekend. By the age of 19, Hemingway had opened his first shop.

A life-long thriftiness also plays into Wayne’s love of vintage. “Constantly buying new is wrong and you don’t need to because if you’ve got any style you can make old things look up to date,” he says. “I’m wearing vintage now, just a sweatshirt from the 80s and a pair of brown cords which are probably 70s. If I said I’d bought them in Paul Smith last week nobody would have known the difference. I’ve got an interest in timeless design – things that don’t go out of fashion.”


This ‘timelessness’ is important to Hemingway’s understanding of vintage; a term that he sets in opposition to ‘retro’. “Vintage has to be something that is still relevant because otherwise it becomes retro,” he argues. “[You can] get dressed in leggings and listen to Cyndi Lauper, but Cyndi Lauper has never been cool, it’s kitsch.”

Along with poor Cyndi, Hemingway suggests Findus Crispy Pancakes and Wagon Wheels as cultural phenomena we might safely label retro rather than vintage. “Certain foods that were around in the 70s are still relevant and some aren’t [he’s looking at you Findus Crispy Pancakes] because they have been improved upon,” he says. “If you could improve on Stevie Wonder he wouldn’t be playing Songs in the Key of Life to a sold out Hyde Park. People are not going there because it’s kitsch, because it reminds them of a time they were eating Findus Pancakes, they are going because that album is as good as it gets.”

Hemingway sees his Vintage events as the antithesis of an 80s reunion weekend which, throwing another word into the mix, he calls ‘naff’. “Naff we should leave behind,” he asserts. “Naff we should leave behind and not naff we should show to a new generation.”


He continues: “There’s a difference between vintage and just looking back. You look back so you can see the things that have a massive influence on today. To look back at the 1950s and the Festival of Britain and Robin and Lucienne Day is absolutely valid, but you can also look at the 50s and see things that are like ‘what’s the point?’”

There is certainly a point in reflecting on the heritage of automotive design and a celebration of the motor car was at the heart of Hemingway’s latest event: The Classic Car Boot Sale. Held across an April weekend in the King’s Cross area of London, the event brought together over one hundred classic cars, motorbikes, and scooters, alongside vintage traders and a curated host of design-makers. 21803113558_9844884718_o.jpg

“We started Vintage because we felt that going to festivals and events was too full of Bieber and Rhianna and hippy massages and wellbeing,” explains Hemingway. “I was a punk so grew up not liking all that crystal stuff, and in the festival scene there was a lot of that going on. We’ve always liked dancing, going out, and watching bands. One of my favourite clubs was one in Manchester where you could go into a punk room, soul room, a 50s room – some people would dress accordingly for the room. One moment you would hear Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, next it would be Marvin Gaye.”

A similar eclecticism informs the vibe of Vintage events. “Add some amazingly designed cars, good DJs, good bands and great street food and we’ve achieved a fun weekend out,” he concludes.

Matthew Arnold writing in the 19th century thought culture to be “the best which has been thought and said.” Wayne Hemingway’s understanding of vintage culture isn’t too far away: it’s the most stylish garments, the most beautiful cars, the most timeless tunes committed to vinyl. And, above all, that which isn’t naff.

On the slide

Riding the ArcelorMittal Orbit Slide for ND123

It seemed somehow fitting that on the day of the EU referendum I was preparing to propel myself into the dark unknown. At the top of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the Anish Kapoor sculpture of winding red metal that dominates the space between the Aquatics Centre and what is now West Ham United’s home ground on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, I was ready to ‘Ride the Slide’ – a souped-up helter-skelter designed by Belgian artist Carsten Holler that over the course of 178m and 12 twists plummets you the 76m from the viewing gallery back to terra firma.

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Nattily accessorised in a scrum cap and elbow protectors I pushed off with some trepidation. I’m not afraid to admit that taken aback by the speed and tight turns of the ride I screamed like a giddy teenager for the 40 seconds or so it took me to descend and emerge into the daylight. What I anticipated might be a gentle cruise to the bottom turned out to be a thrilling ride that certainly got the heart racing.

The slide is the world’s longest and tallest tunnel slide and riders can expect to experience speeds of up to 15mph during their descent – although I can attest that it certainly feels significantly faster within the confines of the 800mm diameter tube.

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Carsten Holler designed the slide at the invitation of the Orbit’s original architect Anish Kapoor, who was eager that his distinctive work of public art should be augmented by an experiential element. Holler is no stranger to such rides having conceived the giant slides that occupied the installation space in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall during 2006. His vision for the Orbit slide includes a particularly fiendish tight corkscrew section dubbed the ‘bettfeder’ after the German word for ‘bedspring’.

Construction was led by Buckingham Group Constructing using specialist abseilers provided by CAN Structures, with structural engineering work provided by BuroHappold. The Slide has been manufactured by world-renowned slide manufacturer Wiegand and British firm Interkey, who are based in Corby. Steel has been contributed by ArcelorMittal, whose original donation made possible the realisation of structure for the 2012 London Olympic Games. Polycarbonate sections of the tube allow riders to see out of the slide for certain sections of the ride, providing that is they are brave enough to keep their eyes open the whole way down.

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“Since 1999, I have built a number of slides, both free-standing and attached to buildings, but never onto another artwork as in this case,” explains the slide’s designer Holler.“Now that the two artworks will be intertwined with each other, I see it as one of these double situations that I am so interested in. I like it when a sense of unity is reached in two separate entities, and you can find this thought to repeatedly occur in my work.”

“I am delighted that my work, the ArcelorMittal Orbit at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is the site for a collaboration with Carsten Höller. I believe it will result in the making of a new work which will bring two works of art together in an ambitious way,” adds Kapoor.

Unlike the result of the EU referendum I can guarantee that this particular venture into the uncertain will put a smile on your face. And there’s no need to be too frightened, although the ride is speedy the plunge is nowhere near as steep as the dive the pound took on Brexit day.

Out of bounds

Short piece for New Design 122 (June 2016) on the Visionary Crazy Golf project for the London Design Festival which sadly failed to reach its Kickstarter funding threshold


Hole concept by AtelierBowWow

Golf hasn’t had the greatest of press recently, what with the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers deciding against allowing women to become members of the famous Muirfield course. Stroll up to the tee then a group of leading designers who in a stroke for golfing inclusivity have unveiled plans to transform Trafalgar Square into the country’s most visionary crazy golf course.


Paul Smith’s hole on the steps of The National Gallery

The project, led by fashion designer Paul Smith (a man whose association with golf you might think runs as far as smart sweaters), will see nine avant-garde holes installed around Nelson’s Column for the duration of the London Design Festival (September 16-22). The ambitious installation is seeking crowd-funding via the Kickstarter platform with backers able to select rewards including early-bird tickets to play the course and limited edition Paul Smith socks.


Hole concept by Tom Dixon

Smith himself has proposed a challenging hole that would see golfers putt up and down the steps of The National Gallery. Other high-profile designers who have devised concepts for the course include Tom Dixon, Camille Walala, and the Japanese architecture practice Atelier Bow Wow. Before her sad death in March this year, Dame Zaha Hadid contributed to the project, designing an undulating hole over two levels that traces the shadow of Nelson’s Column.


Mind the pigeon – Ordinary Architecture

At the time of writing the Kickstarter fund stood at just over £20,000 pledged out of a £120,000. So, if you will indulge another golfing pun, there’s a fair way to go and if you want to be putting amongst the pigeons this autumn it’s up to you to support the project. Plus fours strictly optional.

Microwave meals

Article for New Design 119 covering work by YouMeUs for JosephJoseph


Microwave cuisine doesn’t have a glamorous reputation: it’s all pierce the film, dinner for one, pasty innards hotter than the sun. But it doesn’t have to be that way – after all, the microwave has some great virtues, it is an easy, quick and convenient means of cooking food, and over 80 per cent of UK households own one.

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Stackable cooking system


Working with the popular kitchenware brand Joseph Joseph, London-based industrial design and consumer experience company YouMeUs devised a range of microwave cookware, called ‘M-Cuisine’, that would look beyond defrosting and ready meals, changing attitudes to the microwave and helping the brand to take advantage of what, for it, is a new category.

The products within the range include a rice cooker, a stackable cooking system, a ‘cool touch’ dish, and an omelette bowl. All of the pieces deploy Joseph Joseph’s distinctive product language of clean lines, bold colours and a dose of visual wit.

Chris Christou, YouMeUs director, explains that Joseph Joseph approached the consultancy in 2013 having been impressed by the company’s award winning work in kitchen technology, especially for the Kenwood sub-brand KMix. “It was important for us to quickly get up to speed and immerse ourselves into the homeware category and to gain a deeper understanding of what the Joseph Joseph brand stood for,” he says. “This also helped us develop a design methodology that would serve the brand.”

The research process focused on a fundamental question – why is it that microwave cooking has not changed substantively since the devices became a popular domestic purchase through the 1960s and 70s? “Our research was multidimensional. We combined both consumer insight, trends research with ethnographic research,” continues Christou. “This helped us gain an informed understanding around how we live, how we eat, where we eat, together with observational studies centred around product usage, functionality and usability.”

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Rice cooker

He continues: “We live in a culture of immediacy, spending less time and less time preparing meals, we demand convenience and eating patterns have fragmented. We felt that it was equally important to understand both how we are living and eating as well as gaining insight into the functional problems associated with product usage. This would allow us to create cookware that was relevant to today’s consumer.”

Joseph Joseph presented YouMeUs with a relatively open brief, leaving it up to the consultancy’s designers to determine product direction. The team’s research revealed that the microwave, used intelligently, can be a very precise and efficient cooking tool. Indeed, for certain foodstuffs, microwaving can be preferential to conventional cooking techniques. Vegetables, for example, typically retain more nutrients when cooked in the microwave rather than, say, by roasting.

In this sense it was the microwave’s capabilities rather than its imitations which informed what elements would constitute the product range. YouMeUs devised a stackable set that allows the cooking of a complete meal – protein, vegetables and potatoes, rice, or pasta – in the microwave. “Different foods require different cooking times, resulting in a lot of dish juggling,” comments Christou. “The stackable design we developed allows you to save cooking time by pausing the microwave and adding layers during the cooking process. A meal making powerhouse for busy families.”

With the rice cooker, rather than inventing a completely new product, the designers were interested in improving every aspect of functionality and aesthetics in the journey from packet to table. Innovations introduced include a rice paddle that also operates as a lock for the lid and the carry handle.

The ‘cool touch’ bowl and dish were designed with convenient warming and eating in mind. The product uses a double-walled structure with an air gap ensuring that the bowl remains cool to the touch. Unlike glass and ceramics, plastics are not affected by the microwave’s electromagnetic radiation so are not themselves heated. The idea was that when taken out of the microwave, the bowl could be comfortably carried around the house – perfect for casual dining or multi-tasking whilst eating your morning porridge.

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Cool Touch bowl

The range is completed by an omelette bowl. The microwavable tool serves as both the mixing bowl and cooking vessel in order to increase the convenience of preparation and reduce washing up.

In dealing with a kitchenware product for the microwave, understandably material choice was an important consideration. “When designing microwave cookware, along with the development team at Joseph Joseph we had to select materials that were ‘food safe’ with a high temperature melting point,” adds Christou. “Polypropylene was used for most of the products in the collection. The grill component in the stackable cooking set however uses an SPS polymer as it had to withstand very high temperatures associated with cooking bacon. This was a new material for Joseph Joseph and it did present some tooling and moulding challenges.”

Christou explains that during the design process he was not unduly concerned with the visual communication of the Joseph Joseph brand. Since the brand’s products are distinctive for offering a functional improvement over its rivals’ , Christou felt that creating innovative product concepts that markedly improved the user experience ought to be the priority. “We tried not to think too much about the visual expression or the form language of the object. This would come later on in the design process, once we had an idea,” he says. “Colour, materials and finishes along with some common design details helped to bring the range together.”

The range launched in September 2015 and is available in homeware retailers throughout the country.

The World of Charles and Ray Eames

The World of Charles and Ray Eames runs at the Barbican, London until February 14. Here’s my review of the show for New Design 119.


On either side of the Atlantic run parallel narratives of post-war modernism. From the blitz-bombed streets of London rose brutalism manifest in the form of the Barbican; meanwhile in the sunshine and space of California, Charles (1907-1978) and Ray Eames (1912-1988) were busy defining the stylistic sensibility of mid-century America. These two strands converge in the Barbican exhibition The World of Charles and Ray Eames, the first retrospective of the designers’ work to be held in the UK for fifteen years.


We start in dramatic fashion not with a chair or couch but a study for a glider nose cone in bent plywood. This imposing, graceful, even sculptural wooden arch is swiftly followed by a battlefield leg splint in the same material. It is a reminder that the output of the Eames Office, established in Venice, California after the newly-wed Charles and Ray relocated to the West Coast in 1941, was underpinned by the principles of industrial design and relied on testing material properties, those of plywood in particular, to structural and creative limits. The furniture pieces for which the Eameses are best known would see the application of such techniques in the domestic mileu.

Significantly, what the visitor next encounters is a cabinet containing copies of Arts & Architecture magazine with covers designed by Ray Eames. In this juxtaposition between product and visual media the exhibition, sophisticatedly curated by Catherine Ince, establishes an important crux. Namely, that the Eameses were as prolific in Letterpress as plywood. Indeed, the Eameses’ close relationship with the design media allowed them to carve a space in which to mythologize their own reputation.

There has been a recent trend for ‘World Of’ exhibitions whereby it is not only a designer’s output but the paraphernalia of their environment which is of interest – last year’s Hello, My Name is Paul Smith at the Design Museum being an example. In the case of Charles and Ray Eames such an approach is utterly justified: they embraced design celebrity and were eager that their own way of life and aesthetic taste might be a model for modern America.

Within the pages of Arts & Architecture (then under the editorship of John Entenza), the Eameses documented the design and build of the Case Study Houses 8 and 9 in Pacific Palisades – companion buildings which were occupied by Charles and Ray (8) and their long-time collaborator, the Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen (9). Architectural models of both of the houses, enormously influential in post-war building design, as well as photography of the Eameses enjoying domestic life shot for mainstream magazines are among the 380 works collected across the two floors of the Barbican Art Gallery.

The World Of Charles And Ray Eames

Of those 380 pieces it is, of course, the furniture that will sell the tickets. And understandably so, for what a remarkable oeuvre the Eames Office produced in its four decades of activity. The plywood seats of the 1940s show the Eameses experimenting with technique and form. At this point the potential for the mass manufacture of furniture was beginning to be realised and its interesting to note in the exhibition signage a surprisingly utilitarian mantra attributed to Charles that his practice was about “getting the best to the greatest number for the least.”

This is truly Arcadia for the design enthusiast. A particular stand out piece is the perfect simplicity of the 1946 LCW (Lounge Wood Chair) – a two-piece low-seated plywood chair that Time magazine named ‘the chair of the 20th century’.

The pieces narrate the evolving relationship between the Eames Office and the furniture manufacturer Herman Miller as well as, in places, revealing a more personal touches. We have a lounge armchair designed for film director and friend of the Eameses Billy Wilder – its low base is said to have been designed to make sure Wilder would not fall out of his chair if he got overexcited whilst watching his beloved televised sports. Meanwhile, bucket chairs from the Eameses’ house have been charmingly customized with cat drawings by illustrator Saul Steinberg.

Whilst many will access the Eameses through the furniture, their work stretches broadly across graphic design, painting, photography, film making, and the built environment. “The Eames Office was an intensely interesting and busy practice that used any tools to communicate any subject of interest to Charles and Ray Eames,” explains curator Catherine Ince. “You can see that visual communication was central to the Eameses’ practice: Charles was a prolific photographer, Ray possessed a tremendous eye for art direction.”

With America on the cusp of the ‘information age’, the successful shaping and transmission of a message was a preoccupation of Charles Eames in particular. Nowhere is this more evident that in the Eames Office’s work for IBM – the subject of a mid-exhibition digression on which is its worth pausing.

The computer company IBM commissioned the Eames Office to design its pavilion for the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair. The project was the Office’s most significant undertaking to date and involved not only defining the pavilion’s architecture but also crafting the multimedia message that IBM would present to show-goers.

ibm think2

At the heart of the concept was the ‘Ovoid Theater’, essentially an egg-shaped pod supported some 53 feet in the air. It was large enough to seat over 400 guests and housed 22 screens of various sizes, which displayed ‘Think’ a film created by the Eames that explored the relationship between computer science and everyday problem solving.

Visitors to the Barbican exhibition can experience a version of ‘Think (albeit scaled-down from the original) with film and static images across seven screens. The Eameses’ vision of the future is served with a slice of All American apple pie: there’s the football coach chalking up plays as a version of ‘symbol and reality’ that is likened to the wind-tunnel testing of a fighter jet; a well-to-do housewife attempting to organise a dinner party seating plan is a corollary to computer modelling; and the major benefit of accurate weather forecasting? To predict the number of hot dogs that will be sold at a baseball game.

What feels initially like a digression introduces a theme that underpins the exhibition: that the Eameses are products and authors of the American Dream. Whether it is sports or social climbing, furniture or domestic architecture, what is at stake here is progress and aspiration. It is at this point one becomes aware of a key piece which has not yet been encountered.

I refer, of course, of the Eames lounger. That recognisable combination of aluminium, rosewood ply, and leather that together with its companion ottoman speaks of executive America. It confronts the visitor as they begin the exhibition’s upstairs’ circuit. Majestically lit, organic yet imposing, the lounger demands attention. Can there be a more iconic work of furniture design.


The example secured by the Barbican shows a slight weathering of the ottoman’s leather. One cannot help but speculate as to the heels that caused such erosion – one imagines the Brooks Brothers suit, the taste of whiskey, the whiff of cigar smoke. The lounger, one of the first pieces design by Charles and Ray Eames explicitly for the high-end market, is in its own way a symbol of American corporate power.

The lounger and ottoman were released by the Herman Miller company in 1956, but not after many years of experimental development. The studies in the material capabilities of plywood and the optimal organisation of seat design through the 1940s appear to move towards this moment. Beneath the Californian smiles there was hard graft and compulsive attention to detail. As such, perhaps the lounger is the arch articulation of one of Charles’ favourite sayings, borrowed from the movie business: “Never let the blood show.”

The exhibition design by the London-based 6a architects is understated and coherent. The journey through the two storey space is essentially chronological with much opportunity afforded along the way to dwell of digress as attention demands. Quite rightly it is the furniture works that are the hero pieces, the narrative markers in the story of the Eames Office, with the multimedia visual communication output functioning as an ongoing dialogue.

One of the final exhibits is the reproduction of an extraordinary film, a question an answer sessions between Madame L. Amic and Charles Eames originally recorded for the Louvre’s 1969 exhibition ‘What is Design?’. Eames’ responses are remarkable in their succinctness – he is happy to offer one or two word answers not out of belligerence but out of confidence that he has said all that is required. Asked the titular question – what is design? – he responds elegantly: “a plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose.”

Eames’ precisely worded understanding of design is followed to the letter in the execution of the Barbican show. This is exactly what an exhibition of design ought to be. In tackling the work and careers of two of the discipline’s most significant practitioners The World of Charles and Ray Eames is simultaneously obsessively detailed and pleasingly broad. The focus on process in the Eameses’ modes of expression, whether that be furniture design, visual communications or film, invites the visitor to explore broader questions around the cultural and commercial function of design.