Last month we welcomed Richard Bell & David Powell to the ContemporaryLab Design Team.
With such exciting work to offer, we were delighted when they said they wanted to join ContemporaryLab on their journey to be the best design graduate collective around. So why not get to know them better yourselves too?
Be inspired, get excited - there's new talent in town!
How would you introduce yourself to our readers who may have not come across your work or before?
We are Richard Bell & David Powell. We specialise in fun, contemporary and desirable batch-produced products that are made by hand in Great Britain.
Can you talk a little about your design process?
We take inspiration from everywhere so our workshop is usually a hive of activity working on concepts and prototypes for products. Once we get a few sketches and models together we usually have a sit down and chat through the project with each other.
This usually opens the door to the development stage which can take months to get right. During this time we refine the concept and begin talking with manufacturers around Sheffield and the UK to work on production plans and costings.
We carry out a great deal of market research and try to find a niche to help market the product. While we await final prototypes and final products, we work on the branding and packaging of the product. Usually there is some form of in-house assembly and quality checks which take place at our studio to make sure each product is perfect.
What comes first - the materials or the design idea?
It can happen either way around. Usually I (Richard) have a concept or idea first and then look at the most suitable materials but occasionally I come across a material or process which intrigues me and play around with concepts to incorporate this. For example I designed the ‘Myosotis’ notice board after playing with the brief of being able to manufacture a complete product within a 2 mile radius of our studio.
How do you choose your materials?
We spend a lot of time making sure we use the best possible materials for each product. All of our products are manufactured in the UK and we make a real effort to use local craftsmen from around Sheffield. Having a rich history in steel, much of our work incorporates this material as there are vast opportunities and processes right on our doorstep. We also get all timber elements for our range handmade in Sheffield. Every woodworker we have chosen to work with uses FSC certified timber for each of our products. It is very important that anyone we choose to work with shares the same vision and values regarding sourcing materials responsibly.
What part of the process excites you the most?
This is an interesting question that has changed slightly over the past 18 months. There is no better feeling than when you have that initial brain-wave for a new product and can’t wait to get in the workshop and begin sketching and modeling. However it has also become massively exciting to see someone buy a product that you have designed, developed and had manufactured. It is a great feeling to know that we now have products all over the world that we have designed that people have chosen to furnish their homes with.
What are your values and ethics when it comes to designing?
Every piece we create has a story behind it which is made real by the craftsmen who help develop it into a final product that maximises sustainable processes and materials. We put a great value on these people and have beenable to learn and develop our own skills massively by collaborating with people in these fields. We put a great emphasis on manufacturing as locally as possible and are very proud of being from Great Britain, The North as well as Sheffield and Newcastle.
From all of your pieces which is your favourite and why?
My favourite piece we have done is ‘Myosotis’ the magnetic notice board. It is a product which uses simple but effective processes. We spent a great deal of time refining the finer details and a lot of effort went into market research into colour schemes and marketing. We got a great response when we showcased the product at ‘London Design Festival’ last year and have gone on to sell a lot more than we had expected. We are now working on adding new colour options to the range which will be released very soon.
I think this was a great follow-up to the ‘Bubble Tank’ as it backed up our intent to produce contemporary products that are interesting and desirable which are driven by process. It also felt like the next step as we have gone on to produce and sell these in much greater numbers.
What are the benefits of being a designer-maker?
The great thing about being a designer-maker is that you are always playing and learning along the way. There is constantly the excitement and intrigue to work on new projects and you get to follow them through to every last detail. In order to understand our range we need to fully understand each product so we can make it the best it can be. Once we have developed a final prototype ourselves we hand it over to expert craftsmen to make in batches. This ensures that each unit is made to the highest quality possible.
What are the disadvantages?
I wouldn’t really class it as a disadvantage because I think I have the best job in the world but we have to work long hours everyday and you never really have a day off. There is always something that needs doing and it takes a long time to get the balance right. Having said that you have to be prepared to put the hours in to make everything a success and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
What do you enjoy doing apart from designing and making your products?
I see design more as a lifestyle than a job which means I am always on the lookout for new things. I try to lead quite an active lifestyle so like to get outdoors when I can whether it be by foot or on my bike. I enjoy travelling and try to fit this in with exhibitions we are doing around the world. Last year we showcased in Serbia which was an amazing experience! Other than this all the usual things which include food, music and friends.
If you weren't a designer what would you have liked to be?
If I hadn’t become a designer I think I would still be working in the creative industry. I think I would have worked in advertising, typography or graphic design. These are a few other things that I am very interested in and enjoy.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in design?
‘Do good things’ and believe in yourself. You have to be passionate about what you are doing and collaborate with others as much as possible. There are a lot of very talented people out there and it is important to help each other reach their potential. Networking and collaborating with others has been hugely beneficial to us.
Who is your favourite designer?
Its hard to pick one designer as there are a number of designers that we are big fans of. We worked in the same studios as Daniel Schofield for quite a long time and I really like the aesthetic style of his products. Some others I like include; Thomas Heatherwick, Konstantin Grcic, David Irwin and the guys at ‘Deadgood’ and Max Lamb.
And finally, what is your favourite colour?
My favourite colour at the moment is Teal or RAL 5021 to be precise. Although I spend a lot of time researching potential colours and every so often I see something new that inspires me!