Michael Anastassiades: 'Working for yourself is the ultimate test'

Designer Michael Anastassiades shares the top 10 lessons he’s learned since opening his own design studio with Pamela Buxton

1. The Royal College of Art (RCA) changed everything for me.  I’d come to London to study civil engineering rather than something more creative because my parents said I needed to do something that would help me to get a job. I did enjoy it greatly and don’t regret taking a slower path, but once I got to the RCA, all of a sudden I found myself in a creative environment. I’d never known what an art school was like before and it was quite overwhelming as an experience with all these different courses under one roof. In a way, my actual industrial design course was irrelevant – I didn’t really enjoy it. What mattered more to me was the experience of being at the RCA and interacting with all those disciplines.

2. My design education began after I graduated. Graduating from the RCA was just the beginning. Most of my colleagues had done a foundation course, then three years of creative studies in their field, then a two-year master's and all I had was a civil engineering degree and two years of master's. My design education was too short. I felt pretty much unemployable. I had my own ideas, so thought it was best if I set up by myself as that was the only way I’d be able to work things out. In my life I always say that because I never really know what I want to do, I start by figuring out what I don’t want, and then arrive at what I do want through a process of elimination. I used the years after the RCA to continue my research into what design could be, and was particularly fascinated with the role of electronic products in people’s lives, and the relationship between product and user.

3. Working for yourself is the ultimate test. You’re really trying yourself out. First, there’s the pressure of surviving financially in a very expensive city. Coming from Cyprus and trying to make a career abroad without a backer, the pressure on me was enormous. You really have to think very seriously about what you’re doing, but I’ve never regretted a moment. If you have a feeling of what’s the right thing to do, you have to do it. I’ve always taken very small steps, so there was never a big jump, although setting up my own lighting brand was probably the most significant moment in my career. I wanted to make sure that everything turned out exactly how I wanted – I didn’t want to comprise. I was only able to keep my design so pure and focused because I spent 15 years teaching yoga, which I greatly enjoy, to financially support my design work.

Arrangements, by Michael Anastassiades for Flos. Image Credit: Germano BorrelliArrangements, by Michael Anastassiades for Flos. Image Credit: Germano Borrelli

4. I have a passion for designing for industry. After the RCA, I did a lot of collaborations with Dunne & Raby, which were very popular – we ended up exhibiting at the MOMA and the V&A – but the work wasn’t available for production. At the same time, I was wanting to design real objects – the sort of products that we live with, and I was intrigued with the idea of designing products that could be mass produced for industry.

5. Lighting is a beautifully poetic medium. I decided to focus on lighting design and set up my own brand in 2007, because no company would want to work with an unknown designer. I believed if I focused on just one thing, I could do it better. Lighting is very different to any other product for the home. It has this unique ability to live in two settings – 80 per cent of the time it’s off, and 20 per cent of the time it’s on. These are both very different scenarios and you have to design for both.

The starting point for me is the glow, the shadows it casts and how it relates to the object and the space around it. It’s quite a complex product, and that’s why you have a duty to keep it simple. I always feel that there is a parallel between jewellery and lighting, even though one relates to our bodies and the other to space. When designing lighting, I feel you have to work so that it becomes concentrated and really precious, just like jewellery. For the Arrangements collection for Flos, the concept is to give creativity back to the user by giving them the freedom to do whatever they want with the different elements.

6. Nothing is new. It’s important to acknowledge that nothing is really new and that as a designer you’re probably not the one who will come up with something that will change the world. But we can reinterpret. My approach is to think what I can contribute that will bring out a different view.

Overlap, by Michael AnastassiadesOverlap, by Michael Anastassiades

7. The sphere is the ultimate primal form. I keep coming back to it. We’re surrounded by them, so it’s a familiar form. When you have a familiarity, you have a different relationship to it since the initial introduction has been made already. The challenge is how you then reintroduce the form in a way to make it interesting.

8. I look for timelessness in design. As designers we have a duty to contribute new products that will have a lasting quality, and I look to achieve these qualities in my designs right from the beginning, through forms that are simple and timeless. It’s interesting when a product was designed in, for example, the Forties but still looks so relevant and contemporary. Time will tell if I achieve this in my work but the intention is there– to make something that feels contemporary over and over again and remains relevant to how we live. That’s really fundamental.

9. My home is my laboratory. I recently moved my studio out of my home simply because we couldn’t fit any more of my work in there, but it’s still my laboratory. I live with my objects and try them out during the design process, and now that I’m designing furniture, I can do the same with that. I like the challenge of designing furniture and achieving those same qualities of timelessness.

Arrangements, for the Flos shoowrromArrangements, for the Flos shoowrrom

10. It’s nice to be appreciated. As human beings, we’re all surrounded by our insecurities and are looking for some sort of approval. Since 2011 I’ve worked with Flos, and that has given me confidence that I’m doing something right. It’s flattering when someone comes up to you and says they like what you do. It makes you smile when you are appreciated on that level, although the work is still a challenge. You need the right conditions and people around you to create, and I’m really happy doing what I’m doing in partnership with Flos.

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