Design Legends ("DL") had the distinct honour to interview legendary designer Hemal Patel ("HP") for their original perspective and innovative approach to design as well as their creative lifestyle, we are very pleased to share our interview with our distinguished readers.
HP : I studied Product Design and Engineering as an undergraduate at Loughborough University, and then Design, Manufacture and Management as a postgraduate at Cambridge University. After my studies I worked as a manufacturing engineer at a multinational for a short while, before leaving to start up a design-led interior accessory brand called HeadSprung! I continue to run that company but last year I founded Studio Hemal Patel as an avenue to explore my creativity a bit further.
HP : From a young age I have been very creative, and I love the idea of creating something new from nothing. I also think design can help make the world a happier, better place, so I keep on designing, hoping that the next project will take me closer to my goal of creating something that really matters.
HP : I chose to become a designer. At a young age I wanted to be an Architect, but in my teens I stumbled across product design and the idea of creating something from nothing and having people use that which I created seemed so appealing to me. In fact, it still does.
HP : I design anything 3-dimensional. Up until now it has been mainly interior accessories, furniture and lighting, but in the future I hope to design a bit of everything - electronics, transport, architecture, landscaping, the lists goes on and on.
HP : Work hard and never give up - sooner or later things will work out. But, to get there faster, there are a few things you can do: get experience in a design firm, when working on new projects always try to look at the problem from different angles, try and push boundaries, don't take 'no' for an answer, be observant, keep an open mind, sell yourself and your work, don't be afraid of failure, don't work in a vacuum, have faith in yourself.
HP : Ability to be flexible, be adaptable to change, be able to approach problems in different ways, to have a deep desire to improve things, be observant, an eye for detail, ability to get in the mind of the user, commercial awareness.
HP : A great design is something that solves real problems, that is simple to use, that can be made efficiently and affordably, that is sympathetic to it’s user and environment, and it is something that looks beautiful.
HP : The value of good design is improved living, both physically and emotionally. Everyone should invest in good design to make their lives easier or happier or more fun.
HP : If I had the time and the resources I would love to design something meaningful that solves real world problems, like helping to solve the terrible conditions the homeless endure, or improving water access for people in developing countries.
HP : My dream project would be to design my dream house. From a young age I wanted to be an Architect and in recent years it has been my ambition to design my own living space. I’ve actually designed sections of the building in my mind, but I’m yet to figure out how they all fit together in one, coherent solution.
HP : Always ask yourself is this worth progressing, has it been done before, can it be done differently and better, have I exhausted all other options, and what’s the goal we are trying to achieve? I ask these questions continuously, at every stage of a project, to make sure we are pushing ourselves as much as possible.
HP : My current design idols are the Bouroullec brothers and Stefan Diez. I love the the forms that the Bouroullec create, and I think Stefan Diez is pushing boundaries in design beyond just the aesthetic. My idols of the past are Noguchi, Panton, Hans Wegner and the Eames. I admire them as they were at the forefront of design, and their works stood the test of time.
HP : There are many designs I love but the 3 that come to mind are: Konstantin Grcic’s Muira stool for Plank because of it’s contemporary styling and use of materials; the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman by the Eames for their unparalleled comfort and aesthetics and; the Noguchi coffee table by Isamu Noguchi for its clever design and minimal use of materials.
HP : The Ooob Doorstop is probably my greatest design that has made it to market. I like it because it is deceptively simple, but incredibly functional, ergonomic and beautiful. It is also price accessibly which is very important to me.
HP : Never settle, read widely, keep an open mind, work hard, never give up, don’t be afraid to fail, try new things, embrace change, push yourself.
HP : Either I would have been an architect as I love buildings and the spaces we use and live, or I would be a restaurateur as I love food.
HP : Design is the process of creating. It is the link between the abstract and the tangible, physical world. For me, design is about change. Sometimes it is about creating from new, sometimes it is about improving on what's existing, and sometimes it is about being different. If deployed with positive intent it has the power to improve lives, elicit favourable emotion and effect beneficial change. But, if used negatively it can be detrimental... So, as a designer it is incumbent upon us to do good, for the designer and for the planet.
HP : My mum has been my biggest supporter. As a teenager when I first told her I wanted to become a product designer she didn’t know what that was, but she blindly accepted my decision and supported me in my studies and career. Even today she’s proud of the products I create, and she even helps me with my work when I’m overwhelmed.
HP : Perseverance and drive, keeping an open mind, being fastidious in my research, a thirst for knowledge, my competitive side and my engineering foundations.
HP : Getting my work recognised, understanding how the industry works, finding the right partners and suppliers, understanding the market, networking.
HP : Every piece requires its own dedicated method of presentation. Sometimes trade shows are good, other times an online or print marketing campaign is required, and sometimes exploiting your network will get results. However, whatever option you select a designer should never underestimate the important of great product imagery.
HP : We are currently working on several seating pieces, and some lighting. For the seating we are trying to move beyond traditional wooden frame construction, but its proving difficult to source suppliers that have the capabilities we require. For the lighting, we are experimenting with using the latest technologies, so a lot of development work is needed.
HP : I don’t have an ultimate goal, as progress in technology, society and user requirements mean that our work has to constantly evolve to remain up-to-date. However, on a personal level, if I can design my own house then I can retire happy.
HP : People expect something new and different and boundary pushing.
HP : Design has the power to solve real-world problems, to make life easier and happier and more fulfilling.
HP : We are designing an armchair that employs a type of construction that is not seen in this type of furniture. It’s a very pie-in-the-sky design, so we don’t know if we will actually succeed, but we will give it our best shot.
HP : The first product I designed, the Ooob Doorstop and Bookend) was probably the most satisfying project I have completed for several reasons. The design is simple but clever and beautiful. It was also the first product I successfully brought to market by myself and self-funded. Also, there were no external expectations or pressure, so I could fully embrace and enjoy the experience.
HP : I'd like to see the big players proactively work with up-and-coming designers instead of just working with the established names. I think this partnership could be very fruitful, both creatively and economically.
HP : I think the design field is headed in a greener direction. The effects of our work on the environment is playing an increasingly important role, not just in terms of production and waste, but also reuse and end of life. I also think that design will become more collaborative because technology and society is moving so fast that the cross fertilisation of ideas and methodologies will aid better design. Finally, I think design will become more democratised, allowing more and more people to take their own ideas and make them a reality.
HP : This varies on every project. The simple ones can be finalised quickly, but the larger or more complicated ones can take years to finalise.
HP : We always start by establishing the parameters of the project and defining the problem. Only once this is done can we begin to identify avenues of research and possible solutions.
HP : If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well.
HP : I think design sets trends, but often there is a delay between the two as it takes time for the ideas and themes to be absorbed and accepted by the market, and become part of the zeitgeist of society.
HP : Technology is supremely important. We use the internet for research and communications. We use CAD to model ideas, prototyping to develop them further, machinery to test, and manufacturing equipment to make. Without technology we couldn’t do what we do.
HP : We use 3D modelling software to model ideas, 3D printers to prototype them, and machinery to test and manufacture.
HP : Colour and materials are hugely important in our design. Materials allow us to define the use, purpose, manufacturing processes, longevity and environmental considerations of a project. And, colour, allows us to adapt and customise designs to market requirements.
HP : The particular question a person may ask about our design is not so important to us. What is important is the fact that they ask a question at all, because it shows they wish to engage with the idea on a deeper level, to understand a particular facet of the design or the thinking behind the whole project.
HP : When I see a new great design I always think, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
HP : An ideal design partner is one whose strengths compliment your weaknesses, and whose weaknesses your strengths compliment. They are open and communicative, and always willing to try new things and push boundaries. They need to have a positive mindset and not shut down ideas because they are new or ‘out-there’ or have never been done before. I believe in co-design as no one person knows everything and working together create synergies that can result in great, innovative design. For co-design to work each party needs to bring something unique to the table, and there needs to be a mutual respect for each other’s knowledge, experience, skills and views.
HP : All people have an influence on my work as I can learn a lot from everyone. I try to remain open and observant, and this informs my work in many different ways.
HP : There’s no particular book that had an effect on my design. My experiences tend to inform my work.
HP : I am constantly reading and researching materials, technologies and processes. I like to understand historic designs, and I like to learn about new avenues of development and exploration. I get most of my information from either the internet or visiting trade shows focused on industries related to design. For example, I visit lighting technology shows, component shows, materials and manufacturing engineering shows, etc.
HP : I would like to meet Leonardo Da Vinci. He was one of the greatest minds ever to live, an artist and an innovator, and he did so much in his life. I’d love to talk with him to understand him on a deeper level - how he thought, what his motivations were, why he did what he did, etc.
HP : The awards and recognitions are nice but I try not to let them affect the way I think or the person I am. Also, I'm not famous, so it's not something I can really comment on.
HP : I don’t have a favourite colour. My favourite place is my bed as I feel warm and secure and comfortable. Mt favourite foods are pizza, chilli paneer and Thai green curry. I love summer because of the warm weather and there are more chances to go and explore nature. I don’t have a favourite thing, but I cherish any gift my brother as ever given me as I owe him a lot. I don’t have a favourite brand.
HP : Quite often the best ideas I have is on the toilet. I’m not sure why that is, but maybe it’s because that’s when I’m most relaxed and I can switch off from work and let me brain be free.
HP : The feeling when you are working on a project and you have that brainwave that not only solves the problem, but elevates the design above even your own expectations. That feeling is awesome and is the best part of my day.
HP : No, I’ve always been a bit of an introvert, tending to keep to myself… so, I never expected for my work to get ‘out there’ for others to see.
HP : I think our planet is doomed from an environmental stand point. With consumerism raising the effects on the planet will become more and more devastating. If we don’t start to change in the next 10 years I honestly don’t think humans will be around on earth in one thousand years.
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