‘What design practice means to me’

In a recent talk delivered by Rachel Sleight, we learned about her career so far as well as some ongoing projects.  The discussion was based around Rachel’s design practice and how this can vary depending on the designer’s priorities.

Rachel designs, makes and sells one-off, high-end leather accessories through her brand burnbank leather.  The brand is still in its infancy but talking to her about how she has constructed a brand and product philosophy was really interesting.  Something that I really liked was how it is clear that her personal ethics have translated into the brand and her design practice.  For example, Rachel mentioned that she didn’t like flashy brands that show off big logos so her branding is kept discrete. She also has a big environmental concern and is therefore very thoughtful in her use of materials.  Other aspects of her philosophy involve wanting to eliminate waste, using very high quality materials and small scale production as well as wanting to create timeless designs.

Creating an ethos is important to every product because it impacts so much about the final object or service.  The price, quality, manufacturing methods, materials and the scale of production all are completely controlled by the design philosophy and practice of the designer.

I think that a huge part of developing a design philosophy is about defining who you want your user to be.  This decision immediately sets out guidelines on factors such as price, size, colour and quality for the product to be designed around.  Rachel’s brand is still small, allowing her to involve the customer in the design process.  She works with the customer to reach a result that is both ideal for that particular person but also in keeping with the brand.  I think that this method of design is really interesting but there are definitely cons. For example, the time demand that design like this takes means that she can create very few products which obviously impact on revenue.  Getting this balance right is tricky and I really like how willing Rachel is to allow her brand to evolve and improve over time.

Rachel stated 3 key factors that create a good ethos behind a product. Firstly, knowing the value of your product to the user.  Secondly, having awareness of competitors and lastly, having a clear and defined identity.  There are many benefits of having a good awareness of, and respect for your competitors, you can learn from them as well as striving to be different from them.

As mentioned already, having a strong design philosophy and ethical practice is important in every industry.  When thinking about designing for future urban environments, I think that a lot of important factors will be to do with environmental ethics. Designers will need to create things that use energy responsibly, are made from sustainable resources and won’t cause damaging waste when it’s life is over.  I think that longevity of design is really important in urban environments and I hope that this is something that current and future designers take extra consideration of.

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