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Interview with Graham Hepburn

Home > Designer Interviews > Graham Hepburn

Editor Frank Scott (FS) from DesignPRWire has interviewed designer Graham Hepburn (GH) for A’ Design Awards and Competition. You can access the full profile of Graham Hepburn by clicking here.

Interview with Graham Hepburn at Sunday 7th of April 2013
Graham Hepburn
FS: Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
GH: I started designing, as many children do, drawing cars and boats. The faster and sleeker the car or boat the better. I dismantled most of my toys to figure out how they worked and then learned to put them together again. I am lucky to have a father who is an engineer, and with his patience and enthusiasm my art and design skills improved as I grew up. I enjoyed painting and drawing and took advantage of my fathers large workshop to design and make sculptures, sail-boats, motorboats and all sorts of wheeled vehicles. I went on to study mechanical engineering at the University of Cape Town where I learned the technical side of design, design analysis, materials properties and many other useful skills.

FS: Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
GH: Hepburn Design Studio opened its doors in mid 2008 in response to a design project which was too exciting to ignore. The project involved working on a high end nightclub in London and was a great success. Whilst working on projects for various clients, we decided to develop our own furniture range. From sketches to CAD to prototyping, pieces started to take shape. Finally our first finished product was ready so we entered it into the A'Design Award Competition!

FS: What is "design" for you?
GH: "Design" for me is a creative process. It is not solely the concept, nor is it pure engineering. I believe that "design" is where a concept is pulled, pushed and tortured through the constraints of the materials, physics and the engineering into an object, piece or machine which is more beautiful, elegant and refined than it was ever conceived to be.

FS: What kinds of works do you like designing most?
GH: Furniture always provides a great design challenge as the parameters are so specific and the function so established that it really requires bold thinking to find something new. My favourite works are usually one off items of furniture. These items are quite often intended as mock-ups of an intended final product and are roughly hewn in the workshop. Once finished, they have a hurried functionality and beauty that grows on me. I usually end up happy with the one-off prototype and never make the intended final product!

FS: What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
GH: My favourite design? Where do I start? There is the Pininfarina designed late '60s Ferrari Dino. The classic J-class yachts. The elegant simplicity of the Barcelona chair. The VitraHaus and many of the contents! This could take a while...

FS: What was the first thing you designed for a company?
GH: A two piece food can seam-cutter. Simply put, a device which is mounted in a drill press and accurately cuts one layer of tin off the outside of a food can lid, thus opening the can whilst allowing the lid seal integrity to be inspected. Very Mechanical engineer!

FS: What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
GH: I honestly do not have a favouritre material. I enjoy working with traditional materials like timber, glass, leather and slate. I also like to experiment with more modern materials such as glass fiber and other composites. Blending modern and traditional materials, such as in the Boletus coffee table can create amazing contrasts and is really interesting to experiment with.

FS: When do you feel the most creative?
GH: I used to be a night owl, feeling my most creative in the very early hours of the morning, but this is not sustainable (for me not the planet!). It also does not give one very much time to get any creativity onto the page as inevitably one eventually has to go to sleep. These days I find I can tap into my creativity when I need to. I can sit down, clear my head and start creating. Some days are better than others though. Occasionally creativity will strike and I just have to get my thoughts down onto paper before they evaporate.

FS: Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
GH: As an artist, I always start off designing from the aesthetic point of view. The object has to look good, that is paramount. Once the looks are there, my engineering side kicks in and attempts to make sense of the physics and practicality of the design.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
GH: It is exciting and daunting to have a blank sheet of paper in front of one. I find starting to scribble on the paper breaks any creative spell hanging over the sheet and from there on it can be a very enjoyable time. Compromising (every artist's worst word is "compromise") on a design can be challenging and can be difficult to accept.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
GH: I am generally very happy with the results. Occasionally I may spot something that I wish I had done better, but that is part of the process.

FS: What makes a design successful?
GH: There needs to be some appeal to the design, something special. Why should someone choose this design? Is it more beautiful than any other? Is it better made? Is it cleverer?

FS: When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
GH: Would I want it? Is it beautiful? Does it do what the designer intended? Does it do this well? Will I remember the design? Is it more rubbish for a land-fill in five years time?

FS: From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
GH: Designing for sustainability is key. For a product to be sustainable, all aspects of the product need to be assessed thoroughly. Materials need to be carefully selected and manufacturing processes need to be considered. In an ideal world, all products would have zero impact on the environment to manufacture, have a low carbon footprint whilst getting to their destination, and have an infinite life-span. In reality, this is almost impossible to achieve, but it is always good to keep ideals in mind whilst designing.

FS: How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
GH: "Design" is always evolving, which makes being a designer such an exciting career. Most processes, products and designs can be improved upon. There is a constant evolution in technologies and it is important for designers to constantly push the boundaries of these technologies.

FS: When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
GH: Keep an eye on my website and twitter feed for upcoming events.

FS: Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
GH: I get inspiration from outdoor activity. I walk my dog in the countryside and we have a favourite route which takes us around an ancient iron-age hillfort. Without consciously thinking about it, this always gives me a creative boost, having the wind (and rain, I live in England) blowing any cobwebs out of my head. This allows good clear headed time for problem solving and creativity.

FS: How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
GH: I would describe my style as "modern" but think there is a traditional feel to many of my pieces. I enjoy blending modern and traditional materials to create harmonious visuals.

FS: Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
GH: I live in Salisbury, England, but grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. The design ethos of the two countries varies greatly and this allows me freedom to draw from both.

FS: How do you work with companies?
GH: I have worked with many top architects and have developed good relationships with them. When they have projects which they feel my design skills can add to I get a call or an email.

FS: What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
GH: Companies should look at a designers portfolio and where possible visit installations, building or galleries to get a good idea of the style and quality of the designer. It is always good to meet the designer and discuss experiences and projects.

FS: Can you talk a little about your design process?
GH: I like to sketch out concepts in ink and with pencils. I add and change colours whilst repeating designs, varying constraints and exaggerating features. I will make models and explore materials. Finally I will model the concept in CAD and create renderings and animations. Once I am happy with CAD modelling, I will create manufacture drawings for a prototype to be made.

FS: What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
GH: This is difficult! I guess they are: my Parker 51 fountain pen, Alfa Romeo 156, GP14 sailboat, MGB GT, Boletus Coffee Table!!

FS: Can you describe a day in your life?
GH: Wake up and feed the dog. Make coffee for me and tea for my wife. Check emails and eat breakfast. Work through morning, designing and correspondence. Lunch, visit workshop and work on prototypes, walk the dog, dinner, relax.

FS: Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
GH: Relax. Take your time.

FS: From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
GH: There are many aspects of being a designer, some good, some annoying and some bad. When designing for a client it can be incredibly frustrating having to alter designs to someone else's brief or instruction. When designing for oneself one can be too critical or worse, not critical enough.

FS: What is your "golden rule" in design?
GH: If there was a "golden rule" I would want to break it, so no "golden rule" for me.

FS: What skills are most important for a designer?
GH: Creativity, patience and persistence

FS: Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
GH: Pen and paper. Charcoal and pencils. Coloured pens, coloured markers. Big sheets of paper. Clay, cardboard, wire, glue and wood. I model on a few different CAD programmes.

FS: Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
GH: I find that once a few sketch ideas are put down, the concepts remains in my head. They mature and evolve over a few weeks until I am ready to continue with the next stage of the design process. The final capturing of the design in CAD, model or accurate sketch is a quick process and is just a physical presentation of the design. I cannot really manage this process as it is a natural progression, but it is useful that it happens without me specifically thinking on the concept, whilst going about the rest of my life.

FS: How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
GH: Anything from one day to two years and counting. I have found times when I want a piece of furniture to fulfil a specific task, within various parameters and to meet a general aesthetic. I've sketched a design in the morning, made the article in the afternoon and installed it before the evening. Others started years ago and are still works in progress on the drawing board.

FS: What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
GH: "Can we have it with no joints?" I have designed many architectural features from architect's concepts, and this question is always raised. The answer of course is "Yes." Followed shortly by "but can you afford it?".

FS: What was your most important job experience?
GH: One of my most important work experiences was when I decided to take over the management of an installation I had designed which was not going to plan. I had to pull things back into shape and get the project back on schedule.

FS: Who are some of your clients?
GH: My clients have included private collectors, bar & nightclub owners, composite companies, pattern-work companies, architecture practices etc.

FS: What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
GH: I enjoy concept design and prototype manufacture most as these items are relaxing whereas the detailed design can be exhausting!

FS: What are your future plans? What is next for you?
GH: I intend to continue making the items in the furniture range of which the Boletus coffee table is the first item to be prototyped.

FS: Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
GH: I tend to develop designs by myself but enjoy working with other designers from time to time.

FS: Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
GH: I have the range of furniture which I am working on, but cannot give any further clues as to what to expect next.

FS: How can people contact you?
GH: It is best to email me on graham@hepburndesignstudio.co.uk. Otherwise anyone can go to my website www.hepburndesignstudio.co.uk and go to the contacts page and give me a call.

FS: Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
GH: Please visit my website at www.hepburndesignstudio.co.uk and add me on twitter @GrahamHDS.


FS: Thank you for providing us with this opportunity to interview you.

A’ Design Award and Competitions grants rights to press members and bloggers to use parts of this interview. This interview is provided as it is; DesignPRWire and A' Design Award and Competitions cannot be held responsible for the answers given by participating designers.


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