Yesterday the Guild I am a member of had a speaker visiting, Emma Sheldon. A young textile designer from a 'mixed media' background and an MA from the Royal College of Art, she spoke about her career so far and her current work in the automotive industry.
This was a very interesting and stimulating talk. She talked through her early steps in the knit and fashion industry, where she had tried various things in the fast paced culture on the New York Fashion scene.
Her student life had carried her to collaborative projects with automotive designers which had given her a profile in the industry where she now works. She has been involved in high-profile projects for Audi, Aston Martin and Jaguar-Landrover. This seems at first sight to be a far call from her experience of developing laser-cut, pleated synthetic surfaces in textiles, but actually she explained the design and collaborative process that they work through and it became clear that the design principles she learned at college she applies in the 'blue-sky thinking' environment in car design. She still uses mood boards to stimulate visions of client's needs, she works on experimental pieces to work out techniques, textures and stretch the process and she collaborates in a group of 6 textile designers to create the whole design concept of a vehicle range from colour finished, metal fittings, upholstery both front and back and any other visible surface it seems.
Interestingly she also described some of the struggles she had had on the way, how she had worried about knowing the detail behind the engineering of any design ideas she helped developed. Some where on the way she had realised though, that actually she does not need to be concerned about the engineering problem, and that that is part of the dialogue between the visual and textural design and the engineering questions that this may give rise to. She was appreciative of everything she was learning and it seemed she was open to new approaches. Her talk showed me that this is a core skill of the designer - that we need to be open and experimental with what we do. That we should never rest and just try something, even if it is just for the sake of the experiment itself.
In the final section of her talk she also made it clear that however 'high tech' her samples looked - and they were grey, metallic, plastic pieces, her actual pleating method was by hand. I am guessing she probably used the computer to design waves and details in the laser cut elements, but it was clear that the craft itself was on an equal level with the tools she employed. She said that a key thing she learned at art school was to learn the skills and craft itself and then one can break the rules, and this seems to have put her in a strong place in what she now does. I enjoyed this talk very much, it reminded me of why going to see student work and new design is always valuable and stimulating for carrying our own work forward.