The UK Design Market

November 23, 2020

Acting Editor Sarah Cullen sat down with UK-based product designer Michael Anastassiades for an insight into the UK lighting product design industry and how it has evolved during his career.

Starting his career in product design late in the game for a designer, Anastassiades has proven that all you need is determination and passion to be able to create a success story for yourself.  “I always wanted to do something creative ever since I was a kid, but if you were to ask me when I finished school, I always wanted to be an artist. But, unfortunately, my family didn’t support that idea because they thought the chances of being a failed artist are much higher than any other profession,” Anastassiades reflects.

“So, I needed to get a job and it was easier to get a job as an engineer than as an artist. I went to engineering school at Imperial College and when I finished my studies I decided that – okay –  I got what I needed and now I want to try something else, and that was when I went to the Royal College to study a Master’s in Design; this changed everything for me. I still had a lot of work to do. I was feeling like the odd one out, everyone else on my course had at least four more years of design education.”

It was at this time Anastassiades established his studio in 2007, where he made the decision to pursue design for industry and explore its relationship further.

“Sometimes, when you need to prove something it makes you work harder rather than just simply getting exactly what you want all the time,” he tells darc. “There will be a point where things are so easy in your life that you don’t even have to work hard for them.”

It was also at this time that the UK lighting industry was shifting into a realm of new technology with the phasing out of incandescent lighting and the introduction of LED. “I felt it was a little bit unfair, the timing, having invested so much, it was a little bit too much of a radical sort of move that they discontinued the lamps before they even had any quality replacements. The quality of illumination of what was coming out was really bad and what was actually being killed was the whole poetry of light, in its temperature and its glow, everything about it was really beautiful,” he says. “Companies started becoming more proactive in trying to find a replacement of all these lost qualities. And later on, when I started working with Flos in 2011, I realised that working with a big manufacturer meant that the opportunities to actually produce your own lamp, in the sense of specifying your own LED, was possible to produce in larger quantities. So, I started becoming a little bit more hopeful as to how quickly things could improve.”

When considering styles or themes that may identify the UK design market, Anastassiades determines the fact the region is so multicultural and multi-influenced by a variety of designers from a range of backgrounds is what makes UK design what it is. “British design doesn’t really exist. The fact that there are a lot of international designers that are based in the UK, makes it difficult to pin down what British design is. And, especially in lighting, I think the lighting industry, in terms of designers, is defined by the people that actually produce lighting.

“You could say in places like New York there was a strong lighting scene that existed, in the sense of style of lighting that they were producing. Designers like Lindsey Adelman, Jason Miller Bec Brittain, David Wicks etc. somehow all came out around the same time and were doing very similar things, influencing each other and coming up with a language. It was quite specific that you could label it as New York lighting design. But I don’t think anything similar exists in Britain.”

Looking at current trends in the UK, he identifies brass and spheres as typical recurring elements in designs. “I started using brass 15 years ago in a lot of my fixtures and I remember receiving very negative comments from people back then about why I was using brass – it’s an old-fashioned material. And I said, how can you call a material old fashioned? A material’s a material and there’s beauty in every material – whether it’s chrome, in a sense of its finish, or a brass or another finish, it’s all material. So, the idea of me using brass at the time was because it had this beautiful warmth and the colour was reflecting light in a very beautiful way. But now it seems that all of a sudden, the whole market is full of brass objects, it’s translated into absolutely every single field. It’s interesting how people get influenced and how they change their minds as well, which really surprised me.

“I don’t believe in things being phased out because my whole approach and philosophy in design is about timelessness. The idea of making a material out of fashion or out of trend is irrelevant to me. If you look at all those beautiful plastics and especially in Scandinavia where they use brass a lot and iron mongering, all this stuff is still relevant today and looks incredibly contemporary, even if they were designed or made 60 – 70 years ago.”

When looking at the future of design in the UK, much like most sectors internationally, the market has inevitably been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. “The future depends on so many different things. On the economy and the way the world is going – the whole Covid crisis – it’s something that you never could have predicted, so anything can change, but I really believe that people will always have a need for physical things.”

And, like the majority of us, Anastassiades also experienced the sudden jolt of lockdown in the UK and had to make adjustments in his personal and professional life.

“It was challenging I guess, like for everybody. But at the same time, I think quite cathartic. I mean, we had to learn new ways of working, so it was very educational. We have to shed a few fixations that we held in the past about how things needed to be, and we all of a sudden became flexible and more receptive. But we have to adapt and learn new ways of working. As a creative, I always like to make things physically, so in the beginning, I was suffering because being at home and not having the right tools or the space for things was very frustrating.

“But it did make me question a lot of things in terms of my role and the way I do things. I think it naturally raises questions – do we really need so much around us – constantly designing more and more? And I think it even made me feel stronger and more focused about my vision in a sense of the designer really raising those questions.”