Interview With Conway Lloyd Morgan on European Design

European Style and Design
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Which country has most influenced your work?

I work mainly as a writer and to some extent as the art director of books. I think that there is, particularly in publishing, a general European experience which filters down to different countries in different periods, so there isn’t one single country but there is perhaps the tradition that comes from Swiss and French fine book making, which has been particularly influential on some aspects of my work, working also with designers such as Jean Nouvel and Philippe Starck has also been really important for me.

In which European country does it seem to you that design is of the greatest interest?

I think that depends on your definition of design. If you are talking about graphic design I think that there is an extremely strong tradition in Britain, if you are talking about automotive design or about furniture one would be talking about Italy, if one were talking about product design it would probably be Germany. So there are different answers according to different design areas really. 

Is there a way in which the various countries could co-operate to make research and progress in the design field?

I think that is happening already, you could almost call in the “Shengen agreement”. The fact is that with the achievement of the European idea you will find a designer from London working in a studio in Munich, you will find a designer from Norway working in Milan.

I think that this Europeanization of design on a practical level is happening very successfully – there is perhaps also a need for events which allow the European view of events to find a focus. Very important in this regard are conferences, joint publications and also joint university programmes which are beginning to be developed.

What role can private industries and public entities play to increase the value of design?

They can buy more of it. It’s as simple as that. 

What is needed is for the private sector to realise the value, which it is increasingly beginning to do, both for itself and in commercial terms and for the public sector through education and through its own policies to develop and awareness of design in the general public which will keep European design active and involved and working within a milieu in which design is understood, appreciated and supported.

In an era of globalisation can one speak of a European and national design character?

There is a historical difference between the development of design in Europe in the twentieth century through such institutions as the Bauhaus, through the post-war rediscovery of design in Italy for example where design was very much led by ideas as compared to the American design experience where design innovation with Raymond Lowey, Walter Dorwin Teague and others was led by and driven by the market and business.

In that sense there is European sensibility towards design which is very special. I think that maps less and less to the character of the individual countries because design is increasingly seen as a teamwork activity and these teams can be formed, as I was saying before, from people all over Europe and indeed from people all over the world.

What is the actual role of design in society and in the economy?

Ha! How long have you got! Well, I think it is role that should be central because we are always inevitably engaged with design. Whether it is the clothes we wear, the chairs we sit at, the tools we use for our work, the ways in which we spend out leisure, the way we express ourselves at home by how are homes are decorated.

Design has this fundamental role, it is probably not so well appreciated, there are too many people who buy bad fake furniture because they don’t know that there is good modern furniture that they could afford and would actually allow themselves to express themselves better, for example, and if that kind of awareness, which goes back to what the public sector can do about design.

If that kind of awareness develops, design allows people in society to be creative, to express their own creativity and their own personality and that feeds back into a contribution to the economy and in the current state of world economies, with manufacturing capacity disappearing out of Europe, Europe’s design skills base is going to become more and more important as well.

Has the role of design changed over time?

I think that there are lots of people who would like to think it has, that it used to be a luxury industry, and then became a fashionable industry a bit like pop music or football and but in fact design has always been about supplying the necessities or the step beyond the necessities of food and shelter which have allowed people to express their own feelings and personality, to become self-empowered, to become individuals within the mass group and luckily that role has not changed because it a fundamental and important one.

Do major things exist that design should be taking on?

If I knew the answer to that I wouldn’t be writing on design, I would be doing it. I think that there is a huge challenge with the change from industrial to electronic to digital culture and that is going to provoke all kinds of changes that we can’t now perceive in the next 5, 10, 15 years. It is going to be a very exciting time to live in, the digital world.

This item you are creating to be posted on the web would not have been possible 5 years ago and would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. So what I think is the theme that design is going to have to engage with, and which it always has engaged with, is change. And those changes are becoming more profound and the world of design is becoming much more exciting as a result.

Written by Simon
I am a published writer, journalist and photo-journalist. I have an MA in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales and my journalism has been published in a number of UK national newspapers including 'the Observer'. I have life long interest in creative design, art and function and this website is an exploration of that in all its forms and guises.