Interview with Ian Thompson

Winner of Sanitary Ware Design Awards

Award Winning Designer Ian Thompson shares insights


Interview with Ian Thompson at Monday 24th of October 2016:

DL: Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?
IT : I started my working career in engineering with an engineering apprenticeship, learning hands on machining and mechanical engineering. It was a great experience and I learnt so much, a lot of what I still use today. After working in engineering for a few years. I retained in Industrial Design. I was always destined to make this switch as I found I was always interested in how things work, people think and creating great solutions to those needs. I studied Industrial Design at Grays School of art in Aberdeen then at Edinburgh Napier and finally a few years later I completed my masters at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne.

DL: What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?
IT : I have always been fastinated with trying to make things truly better and by making things both by hand and also machine made. The process of design and manufacturing means those solutions can reach more people but the craft of creating those products in the design process inspires me as much now as when I first discovered the art of design.

DL: Did you choose to become a designer, or you were forced to become one?
IT : I made the switch from engineering because I found I was so interested in driving great design by putting people at the heart of how I think.

DL: What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?
IT : I’m always working on a number of ideas. I work primarily designing commercial and domestic bathroom interior products, taps, showers, baths. Personally I have a big interest in designing bags and cases for tech and the stuff we carry around with us and I have a small range of high end leather products I’m working on.

DL: What should young designers do to become a design legend like you?
IT : I really like the phrase I heard once about being a T shaped designer. At my core I focus on design but my interests and knowledge stretch out much wider. This breadth allows me to draw on many industries for influences. Also remember that you practice design, you have to keep up to date and keep hungry for new methods, knowledge and skills.

DL: What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?
IT : I think its all about attitude – design works really well in a truly collaborative environment and you have to be open to working with lots of different specialists and be open to both pushing ideas and listening and changing course when you need to drive great design. It can also be about standing firm as the champion of design quality but this position has to be handled sensitively.

DL: What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?
IT : I’ve been lucky enough to work on some great projects that have had the greatest support from the highest level in the business. This kind of support has meant that its been possible to convince them to invest in the project and create truly great design that has not only resulted in great products and services but also created, culture change, built market reputation and even elevated brands to success in new market areas.

DL: What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?
IT : I’ve been lucky enough to work on some great projects that have had the greatest support from the highest level in the business. This kind of support has meant that its been possible to convince them to invest in the project and create truly great design that has not only resulted in great products and services but also created, culture change, built market reputation and even elevated brands to success in new market areas.

DL: What would you design and who would you design for if you had the time?
IT : I would love to do a men’s fashion range based on the journey of the urban commuter. I think there are some great opportunities to apply product design methods to a fashion collection. In my daily practice I most enjoy developing systems, where a product is a combination of physical hardware enriched with software and a service to deliver the total experience. Connecting all those elements together in a cohesive experience is where i like to challenge myself and the companies I work for.

DL: What is the dream project you haven’t yet had time to realize?
IT : I have a dream of a starting a design focused business which is a combination of interior design, interior products, bags and lifestyle products all based in a café, restaurant, social space with art and music events in the evening.

DL: What is your secret recipe of success in design, what is your secret ingredient?
IT : I think working the process and doing the hard work to get to great solutions is key. I don't think there is a short cut you just have to keep going and work through road blocks and find success.

DL: Who are some other design masters and legends you get inspired from?
IT : Keep an eye on the masters, there are some great foundations but recognize the new thinking that comes from young designers.

DL: What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?
IT : At the moment I have two key pieces that I like, I recently bought a mid century McIntosh wooden sideboard which has a simple beautiful handle detail. I think its a really underrated piece, plus I have memories of the factory near where I lived in Scotland from when I was a child. The other is the 50 Manga chair installation by Nendo. The power of the repeated object is incredible.

DL: How could people improve themselves to be better designers, what did you do?
IT : Keep thinking, keep practicing, remain open to new ideas and new methods.

DL: If you hadn’t become a designer, what would you have done?
IT : I guess I would have remained in engineering or done something in film or probably food. Food is another great passion of mine.

DL: How do you define design, what is design for you?
IT : Design is the process of crafting a solution from an insight, observation or need.

DL: What helped you to become a great designer?
IT : Empathy, vision and energy to keep going are good traits for designers.

DL: How do you think designers should present their work?
IT : At the highest level possible but consider your audience their learning styles and personalities and tailor to suit.

DL: What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?
IT : There are a few big system-thinking projects for the commercial washroom space in the pipeline to help support sustainable building design.

DL: How does design help create a better society?
IT : Design can impact society in a number of ways – a product can change consumer behavior for the positive or design can help change the way a business thinks resulting in reducing negative impact on the environment. There are many ways.

DL: What are you currently working on that you are especially excited about?
IT : There is a great project that combines some great technology with some exciting CMF materials in a new wellbeing area. We have a long way to go but it's a great project.

DL: Which design projects gave you the most satisfaction, why?
IT : The Rada Intelligent Care Range is truly a game changer in healthcare washrooms and it will impact so many people during their time in hospitals and medical clinics.

DL: Where do you think the design field is headed next?
IT : I look forward to seeing new thinking from young designers.

DL: What is your life motto as a designer?
IT : Being cognisant to realise when you are at the point when less would be better.

DL: Do you think design sets the trends or trends set the designs?
IT : Both are driven by and drive each other.

DL: What is the role of technology when you design?
IT : Technology can be a driver for design but not always. Technology is also often hidden away in a product to make it more accessible or acceptable.

DL: What kind of design software and equipment do you use in your work?
IT : I use Rhino and NX for 3D CAD and Adobe for other tasks. I’m getting into using an iPAD for a lot of tasks so there are a load of Apps I’m trying out.

DL: What is the role of the color, materials and ambient in design?
IT : It's everything in design, it's how the personality of the product or experience is brought to life.

DL: When you see a new great design or product what comes into your mind?
IT : I contemplate what journey it’s been through to be created.

DL: Who is your ideal design partner? Do you believe in co-design?
IT : I enjoy collaboration with many people and different types of teams and even co-design as a process with consumers and end users. I am always looking for new ways to stretch myself and apply my skills and methods to new business opportunities.

DL: How did you develop your skills as a master designer?
IT : I have over 15 years of experience in the business of brand, product design, engineering and manufacturing development and each project brings unique knowledge and learning. I thrive on self-improvement and enjoy every new challenge that new jobs and projects bring. I like to think my design thinking is one of my biggest strength and will continue to grow.

DL: How do you feel about all the awards and recognition you had, is it hard to be famous?
IT : It's a great honor to win awards and I was excited to win the platinum A’ Design award this year but I continue to believe it's the impact my designs have on the people around me that is the greatest measure even if it goes unrecognized to most.

DL: What is your favorite color, place, food, season, thing and brand?
IT : Classic bright white, Edinburgh is a great city, Tonkatsu in Tokyo replicated back home, I love the winter for snowboarding but summer for eating outdoors, I’m really into biking at the moment so my Jamis road bike is number 1 and Gustin is my go to brand for really good rare denim.

DL: What makes your day great as a designer, how do you motivate yourself?
IT : Music is key to a great day, it's a huge motivator for me. A playlist for every mood and occasion.

DL: When you were a little child, was it obvious that you would become a great designer?
IT : I was always creative so it may have been obvious it would do something of that nature but I spent most of my childhood pretending to direct and act out made up movies so something closer to film making perhaps. I guess all the prop design and making would have suggested a young designer developing skills.

DL: Please tell us anything you wish your fans to know about you, your design and anything else?
IT : Happy to talk design anytime so get in touch.