Made for 100% Design

Of Mentors and Protégés


3 September 2018

In 2018, the 100% Design trade show appointed the design writer Barbara Chandler to curate a new display for its next edition. Prompted by the fair’s beginnings as a launchpad for emerging designers, Chandler was asked to select seven designers who had launched their careers at 100% Design in the 1990s, before tasking them to select a young designer whose work they admire.

Located at the entrance of London’s Olympia exhibition centre, the resultant display, titled 100% Forward, will present visitors to the show with a showcase of works by promising emerging designers. To explore this mentorship scheme, Disegno invited 100% Forward participant Simon Pengelly to meet with emerging designer Daniel Schofield, whom he has chosen to champion, at his Brixton studio.

Simon Pengelly There’s a definite link between those of us who started at 100% Design many years ago, and the up-and-coming talent who we’ve chosen for 100% Forward. I selected Daniel, for example, because his work has a maturity about it, which is especially impressive in this day and age when design has become much more about celebrity. There’s a temptation for young designers to create something with bells and whistles, but actually pragmatism and respect for material and process is a more mature approach which shows commitment to the long term, rather than to the moment. I think that is to be applauded.

Daniel Schofield I sometimes wonder, though, if I suffer from not doing big shouty products.

Simon I have had the same doubts my whole career, although you’ll find that you will start to be drawn into a place where the need for commerciality becomes more important. To stay in business, you'll find that some decisions will be made for you. Strangely, now is the time for you to experiment, before you have employees and mortgages to pay.

Daniel For the first few years of my career, I’ve been trying to figure out what sort of designer I am. I'm still trying it out – and I'm not sure you ever really know – but when I look at designers who have been going for longer than me, they seem to have a sort of house style. You can look at a product and know it’s theirs. Do you find that comes with time? Are there certain decisions you make when designing a product that is you?

Simon Some designers have a stronger visual identity than others, and I personally think that the identity of a product should be far more about who you’re designing for than the designer. I was in my early forties when I felt that everything was starting to click, so you're way ahead of where I was at your age. Unquestionably. You say you're still trying to figure it out, but I think you already have.

Daniel I think these kind of mentoring projects would be great to see more of, though. It can be quite hard to get going in the industry and a bit of direction would be useful. My first few years have essentially been learning trough trial and error.

Simon I think mentoring is not about directing someone; it's about answering questions to help people make up their own mind. With students, it's more about instilling in them the confidence to trust their gut, because gut feeling is vastly underrated. That’s perhaps an easier thing to say after thirty-odd years of practice, but it's all about recognising a feeling and not overworking things. Often, the first or second thing in a sketch book is actually the best.

Daniel I think mentoring can only be a good thing though. You don't really hear of these type of initiatives in the design industry, so maybe the 100% Forward initiative is something that the industry should pick up on as a whole. I mentor at the Hallam university in Sheffield, and it’s been quite a nice addition to my design work. Quite often I work on my own in the studio, so it's nice to get out with a group and bounce around ideas. It seems that what students need most is practical support in terms of developing their work, but for me getting ideas on financial matters would be very useful for where I am today. You don't really get taught the business side of design in university, which is one thing I'm still trying to get my head around. I feel like that's something which someone with more experience would be able to direct me through.

Simon I've muddled my way through that bit. The design industry, and especially product and furniture design, is a bit of a black art. Every contract is different and I still make a lot of mistakes with them. You constantly have to swap between your creative and business hats.

Daniel Did you have a mentor?

Simon Well, my father was a designer, so I started cabinetry when I was eight in his workshop, and that's what really grew my passion for it. I then worked for Sir Terence Conran in the beginning of my career, and occasionally he'd come in and scare the bejesus out of me because I looked up to him so much. There's a lot of little things that I've learned from people, however: knowledge about materials, knowledge about process, but above all knowledge about people. You have to understand how someone is going to use a product and how humans relate to objects physically and emotionally. This is something I recognise in your work already. You have the ability to key into something that is very hard to articulate and to balance of all these aspects. It's a very emotional thing, design. There's a degree of it that simply cannot be taught because it's innate.

Daniel In the past few years I have been analysing my own work a lot, trying to figure out what I’m about. Like, writing my "About" page on my website is really hard, but I think it's a good thing for me to do because it helps me consider what my values are as a designer. One thing that I've become wary of is to not be too specific, because things always change – I'll develop and probably change.