17 September 2015

Industrial designer Benjamin Hubert founded his eponymous studio in 2010. Five years later, he is relaunching the company as Layer, a design agency specialising in socially-led design.

Hubert trained in industrial design, graduating from Loughborough University in 2006 with a degree in Industrial Design and Technology. Initially, his studio specialised in material-driven and process-led design, creating furniture and lighting for companies that include ClassiCon, Moroso and Ligne Roset. Yet Layer marks a sharp departure from such an approach.

“We will continue to develop objects for the interior, although our aim is to do less, better,” says Hubert in explanation of the transition. “We will still develop some interior goods – some chairs and some products to do with how we live in our homes and the workplace – but that will only make up 20 to 25 per cent of the business… Fewer frivolous objects and more necessary ones.”

As Layer, which officially launched as part of the London Design Festival (LDF) this weekend, Hubert will redirect the studio’s focus toward experiential projects in both physical and digital forms. A significant proportion of the projects undertaken by the agency will be socially-led and human-focused. “The aim is to have a voice in using design as a more powerful tool, rather than just for luxury goods,” says Hubert. “That is the area where design is most powerful. I think designers should have a responsibility to move the world forward in the most smart and appropriate manner.”

During LDF, Layer is launching three products: a collection box for cancer charity Maggie’s; a smartphone application and wearable to monitor your carbon footprint for The Carbon Trust; and a modular, acoustic partition system to facilitate flexible workspaces for Australian textile and interiors company Woven Image.

Hubert and his team will now work on long-term collaborations with brands such as Nike, Samsung, Braun, Oral B, and BMW, as well as design brands including Herman Miller and Fritz Hansen. There will, he says, be an increasing focus on digital projects. "I suppose we have been talking about the dematerialisation in some of our work," says Hubert. "It is a bit of an evolution of that where we are dealing much more in digital now, rather than always delivering hardware as a solution to a user's need or issue."

“Not to be too grandiose but we are interested in making a big change,” says Hubert. “That doesn’t necessarily mean working with a huge brand but with forward-thinking companies. Some of the companies we work with are very, very small and some of them are these big, influential brands. But what we are really interested in is people that want to use design as the most powerful and tangible tool that it can be, not just to create the next piece of hardware to sell.”

As a result of the rebranding, Hubert’s team will expand: “basically recruiting a broader sense of expertise.” Rather than employing predominantly industrial designers, as Benjamin Hubert Ltd did in the past, Layer will rely on the expertise of engineers and specialists in user interface, technology and design rooted in ethnographic research.

“It basically becomes much more research-based," says Hubert. “We do much more research in terms of the way people are living, the way people feel about things and transforming what people think they want, to what they need. Essentially it is much more global.

"You have to really think about things. For example if you introduce a mobile phone as a global product, how does that resonate with the developing world? In the same respect how does it resonate with somebody in London? There is a lot more global research in terms of how people live all over the world, whereas a piece of furniture is a much more linear piece of design.”