Marc Newson, one of the most accomplished and influential designers of his generation, was born in Sydney, Australia in 1963. After spending his childhood travelling in Europe and Asia, he started to study jewellery and sculpture at Sydney College of the Arts. During that period, he had already started experimenting with furniture design and, after graduating in 1984, he was awarded a grant from the Australian Crafts Council, and staged an exhibition - featuring the Lockheed Lounge - at the Roslyn Oxley Gallery in Sydney.
Today at 45, Newson has already worked across a wide range of disciplines to create everything from chairs, household objects, a bicycle and a concept car to restaurants, a recording studio and interiors of private and commercial jets, for clients based in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia.
Marc Newson is currently running two studios; one in Paris and the other in London where he had set up Marc Newson Ltd in 1997 as a larger studio capable of tackling more ambitious industrial projects.
Could you please tell us briefly how your interest in design started?
It is not something that I ever thought about being or becoming – I just have always liked to make things and to discover how things are made. I started off by designing jewellery at college in Sydney – and for my final piece i designed a chair – and my tutors accepted my explanation that it was like a piece of jewellery – as it is ‘worn’ close to the body. It progressed from there…
How would you define Marc Newson as a designer today?
I see myself as a troubleshooter –a problem solver – a gun for hire – a fixer of design problems.
What does design mean for you? Is it a profession; is it a lifestyle, or both?
It is my job –it is not a lifestyle – I just do what I do. The vast majority of my time is spent working hard on a very practical level. Design is still a very pragmatic occupation. It’s not like the music industry or the art world. It’s more like being a carpenter.
Where does the inspiration come from?
These days I am inspired by the new technologies, materials and processes that I come across in the course of my work.
You are saying that you are lucky since your design approach is subliminal. Could you please share with us briefly your most memorable experience(s) which had great influence on your current design approach?
As creative director of Qantas Airways I have been able to immerse myself in the aviation industry for the past few years. Working on the interiors for the new a380 superjumbo was a fantastic experience. I am in awe of all the incredible advances being made in the aeronautics industry. It is without doubt behind the technological development of design - in terms of materials, software, engineering…
Your projects range from cars to interiors. Do you prefer to work individually; or do you set a team depending on the project you are working on? If we speak about a team, could you describe players of your ideal design team?
I seem to have what I consider to be the perfect design team at the moment – it works for us. Myself, 2 or 3 design assistants – an architect, some freelancers… depending on the project. Also in the studio we have several administrative staff, a pr person, and interns.
Do you involve project owners and users actively in your design process?
Yes. There is a brief. I interpret the brief and there are regular meetings to keep the client informed. But each project is different and has very different requirements in terms of time, research, strategy.
Do you have a specific method or planned work chart for your design process?
Which industry do you think is the most interesting one to be working on?
I actually enjoy working in different industries – that is how I learn. I enjoy the challenge of every brief. Although I have to admit that I find the aeronautics industry to be particularly stimulating.
There is a common belief as Italy is the homeland of design. Do you think that there is such a geographical differentiation over the design world? If yes, where would you position yourself?
I think that now there is less specific geographical differentiation than there used to be, basically because the world is a smaller place and more homogeneous. I like to think of myself as a citizen of the world – free of any geographical ties.
What do you think has remarkably changed in design world in the last decades?
The use of computer, everything from cad to rapid prototyping.
Currently; designing for the developing world is becoming a visible issue. You are known as a problem solver who mostly designs for the luxury market. What is the main reason for you to choose that direction?
I don’t choose it – it chooses me!
Once you had mentioned: “my hope is that design will not simply become a commercial catch-phrase, but come to define something that implies quality and improvement”. How do you define the successful design?
For me as a designer it is vitally important that I create objects that people form a bond with. Objects that you love to have around and you don’t really know why… objects that you keep with you for the rest of your life. I like the idea of high quality products that you never want to replace or need to replace. Objects that will be repaired and continue to work and be current and classic. An object like that is a successful design.
Form follows function?
They are both equally important.
Do design and art have to support each other?
I look at the phenomenon in the world of the recently termed “design art” with a certain degree of bemusement. The fact is that I am a designer who has been creating these kind of works (simultaneously with my industrial work) since I was a student at art school over 20 years ago. It is only in the last couple of years that it has become a profitable exercise. The current trend – the so called 'design- art' is largely due to the overflow from the art world. But I am glad that design now has an arena of its own.
We have seen many competitions so far, where participants were asked to imagine and create objects for years like 2020 or 2050. Where do you imagine the future of design and designers?
As I have stated before – designers are problem solvers – I would like to think that designers will always strive to improve on what already exists and to be aware of what the world needs in terms of design. Speaking for myself – I feel strongly that it is my duty as a designer to look to the future and to try to imagine how things will be – and strive to push the boundaries that extra bit further.
What should the priorities of design education be?
To teach students how to make things, and for them to observe how things are made.
Do you conduct any projects in collaboration with design universities?
Not as yet – although I mentor students from Australia in our studio– from the Qantas ‘spirit of youth’ programme.
What are your advices for novice designers?
Always make things.
...culture that inspires you?
Japanese – both ancient and modern
...country that you want to live?
Japan or possibly Ithaca in Greece (when I am much older…)
...cuisine that you like most?
...drink that you prefer?
Dom Perignon vintage champagne
...painter that had influence on you most?
...writer that you like most?
...kind of book that you prefer?
...movie you like most?
...director you like most?
...style of music you listen to?
...your own design you like most?
All of them – actually!
...design you like most?
A human being
...designer that you respect most?
This interview was made by Hazal Gumus and Koray Ozsoy in November 2009. Designophy ©