The Marc Newson lecture, V&A, London.

It clashed badly with Neville Brody’s D&AD lecture (sorry Adrian), but Marc Newson’s Q&A at the V&A raised some nice big teasers for the design world, many worthy of remembering.

Interviewed fluently if a little lightly by the great Chris Frayling, Newson displayed the mark of the international designer who has thrown of the shackles of his Australian birthplace to make the world his home. Despite close ties to the homeland and his big client Qantas, he currently works in London and spent several years working out of Paris.

Newson’s client list boasts a pretty dazzling array of work, from his Kelvin40 Concept Jet (Fondation Cartier), to his EADS Spaceplane design (pictured), the Pod Bar in Tokyo and the Alufelt chair, he has turned his minima-futurist hand to furniture, store and restaurant interiors, a road bike, a bottle opener, perfume and lighting for the Sydney Olympics. Only the likes of Starck, Arad and possibly Dixon compare in terms of contemporaries, but great fame has evaded him.

“I’m nothing like as well known as a Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin”, he points out, and he”s right obviously and a bit puzzled. Why Is it that to be a world class designer is not to be worthy of recognition from the big bad world at large? Why does the public want to be identified with some cultural activities over others?

Design probably does have a general communications problem (surprisingly). The thing is, design can get close to a big public, but only if it serves a big public. Conran, Dyson and to some extent even Ive are widely recognised not just because they’re ‘mediagenic’ or ‘designer as brand’ but because their work changes the way lots and lots of people live or think about their lives. Maybe the secret is in there, or thereabouts. Gareth Williams has some interesting ideas on this in his talk too.

Mike Exon, November 25, 2009

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