Great ideas at work

A flash of inspiration or a thought-out, structured process – where does great design come from and how do product designers, interior designers and architects keep their ideas flowing? To mark the launch of Desso’s online application Create your own AirMaster, Ludwig Cammaert sits down with colleagues and peers to explore how creative ideas are born, how they work day to day and what makes them tick

I find inspiration everywhere,’ enthuses Sarah Trickett, head of design at interior design practice Modus Workspace. ‘Sometimes it’s just the juxtaposition of buildings and the way light falls on a particular aspect of it, other times it is the colour of a fabric. I’m constantly taking photographs to add to a library of items and recording environments that will help provide inspiration for future projects.’

Indeed, it seems collecting and storing inspirational items and images is key to creativity – as is exploring, reading and listening to others and what they have done and challenges they’ve faced. Danielle Zandonadi, project architect at ESA Architecture, explains that it helps to just walk about and take in what’s around you. ‘It can simply be the angle that a piece of steel protrudes out of the ground on a building site or a beautiful picture of nature that triggers a new idea or concept,’ she says.

Materials are also key, and everyone agreed that they are all real collectors, forever picking up bits of fabric, carpets, artefacts in different textures and colours to help trigger the imagination and fresh ideas.

Ludwig Cammaert, design and technical development manager at Desso, and Anne Marie Piscaer, designer for Desso, have a very structured approach to creativity – or the ‘fussy front-end of the business’ as they have termed it. In regular meetings, Desso’s design team brings 50 to 60 ideas and germs of ideas to the table for discussion. Each is discussed, clustered and themed. The team also invites an external expert to join in the discussion as a ‘sounding board’.

The panel also agreed that covering the ‘basics’ and visiting exhibitions, galleries and trade fairs to keep their finger on the pulse was an important part of the job – everything from 100% Design to EcoBuild and big European fairs such as IMM Cologne, BAU Munich and Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan – as well as the Architectural Biennale in Venice, of course. This is where they can find inspiration from the latest thinking and inventions and see how these can help give them a different perspective on a brief. But Trickett adds: ‘There is nothing like a deadline to help you come up with good ideas fast. We did a pitch last year with a very short lead time. We had just a couple of days to turn our concepts around, and the adrenalin and focus that comes from being in such an intense environment really helped propel our ideas. Not only did we come up with some great concepts, but we also won the pitch.’

She adds: ‘Sometimes you just have too much time to think about a scheme and get a bit stuck. That said, I’ve had some of my best ideas in the shower, not thinking about a brief at all. I guess it’s all in the mix and ultimately we work with what we have.’

Being able to just let the creative juices flow is perhaps many budding architects and interior designers nirvana, but when it comes to creating a scheme for a client, the tighter the brief the better, it seems. ‘The dream brief would be from a client who loves great design, wants to be surprised, and gives a detailed brief about their requirements. So the better I understand what is driving that, the easier it is to find the right solution for them. Others have an idea in their head about what they are looking for – likes and dislikes – and then the briefing process is all about unlocking that,’ says Trickett.

Zandonadi agrees, but also adds that this is a very personal stance: ‘I prefer a structured approach to finding the right scheme and ideas to make my clients happy, though everyone works differently of course. Some of my colleagues like nothing better that a blank canvas to work on and a completely free rein – no strict budgetary restrictions, no planning to consider and plenty of space. Naturally, reality isn’t like that, but many crave that kind of freedom of expression.’

Creating new concepts is only the beginning of the process. Feedback and input from others is a key component of any successful scheme, and Trickett, Zandonadi and Piscaer all agree that this is an essential – albeit sometimes painful – part of the design process. Zandonadi explains: ‘When you have been working on something for a long time, it is crucial to get input from colleagues. It is easy to get carried away with a particular idea that you really like, and by testing it on others you not only make sure you are still meeting the brief, it also helps enhance the scheme when you see it through someone else’s eyes.’

Desso has taken this approach to the next level and prides itself on working closely with the interiors design and architectural community through its Circle of Architects community, which was instigated in 2007. The idea behind it is to obtain feedback on new concepts and ideas in the early stages of development, both face-to-face and on the online platform. Piscaer adds: ‘Naturally it is essential that our customers are excited and inspired by our latest schemes and innovations, and showing them our ideas early on in the design process allows us to tweak our concepts while still pushing the boundaries.”

Desso started its Circles of Architects sessions in 2007, which involved holding regular meetings with groups of 10 to 20 interior architects from all over the world to get feedback on new concepts and ideas in the early stages of development. Desso works closely with these architects and has launched an online community on Facebook to continue this dialogue and give everyone the opportunity to share their thoughts, and together discover new perspectives and innovations long after sessions have finished. FX readers are invited to join in the conversation.

This article was first published in fx Magazine.

Working on something exciting? Submit your project to Design Curial.

Submit project to DesignCurial