The innovative designer fuses familiar objects with technology to strikingly beautiful effect
Paul Cocksedge is a designer with a contagious enthusiasm for his craft. New concepts, innovative technology and interesting visuals fascinate him and fuel his constant desire for investigation. ‘My job is a joy, really. I can’t wait for Mondays,’ he says. ‘It’s not a nine-to-five job; creative people are always thinking and your senses are heightened when you get that really exciting brief.’
His ability to fuse striking contemporary design seamlessly with mind-boggling technical ingenuity has enabled him to produce important products and installations for Swarovski, the Victoria & Albert Museum, Flos, Sony, Yamigiwa and Established & Sons, with each project very different from the last in terms of aesthetics and production. ‘Each project is a new beginning, which is a vulnerable and intense way of working. But my main priority is being truly relevant, producing something right for the brief and right for now. Otherwise I’m just not interested!’ he asserts.
It is his refreshing sense of childlike curiosity and excitement for the unknown that has fuelled a constant stream of unique and memorable projects. In Milan this month, Paul Cocksedge Studio will team up with Flos and BMW in an exhibition inspired by the lighting technology used on the latest BMW 6 Series Coupé with LED external lights. The lighting and car brands have brought in Cocksedge to tie their partnership together with light. His new product with Flos, a lamp that emits light from the surface of the shade, will be central to the concept. ‘The show will use light in a way that’s illogical,’ he teases. ‘It does something special and surprising while remaining understated, pushing new technologies and creating a sense of mystery.’
Cocksedge has become accustomed to working with such high-profile partners. For him, the most important element of this latest collaboration is the people involved and their approach to design. ‘The collaboration is a delightful mix of things. Adrian Van Hooydonk [director of BMW Group Design] and Piero Gandini [president and chief executive of Flos] are both really creative people so, when working together, we speak the same language,’ he says. ‘It’s not a business exercise; the most important thing was creativity.’
This approach has prevailed throughout Cocksedge’s career, which is peppered with famous industry figures. After reading industrial design at Sheffield Hallam University, Cocksedge went on to study design products at the Royal College of Art under Ron Arad, who is still an ‘inspiration’ to him. Impressed by Cocksedge’s innovative ideas, Arad introduced him to fashion designer Issey Miyake and lighting designer Ingo Maurer, the latter inviting him to exhibit as part of his Milan Design Week show in 2003. It was there that Cocksedge exhibited Styrene, a lampshade constructed from polystyrene cups; Life 01, a vase that lights up when a flower is put into the water (which was later developed for Flos) and NeON, glass vessels filled with gas and charged with a current, which produce a vivid glow in darkness. This piece also won the 2003 Bombay Sapphire Prize.
The concepts exemplify Cocksedge’s ability to fuse familiar objects and timeless ideas with advanced technology, engaging people on a more personal level. ‘Life 01 has complicated circuitry and exciting technology but, in the end, it is about the flower controlling the light and the flower isn’t going to go out of date,’ he says. The same principle applies to Watt?, which consists of a sheet of paper to which a simple light fitting is attached. The light is switched on when a graphite pencil draws a line on the paper, connecting the electrical circuit. His NeON piece also showed an accessible and honest aspect to his work. ‘NeON was an important piece for me because it pushed what was possible with glass and electricity but it also showed me how design can be incredibly complicated while appearing to be so simple.’
After launching his work on the international stage at Milan 2003, Cocksedge set up a studio in London later that same year. He works in partnership with fellow RCA graduate Joana Pinho, who handles the company’s business management and strategy. The studio is commissioned to create lighting products and installations, employing up to 10 people depending on the scale of each project. ‘We’re moving into the stage where people trust us now, which is great,’ he says. ‘Clients trust me to think of something that’s up to a certain standard and that people will enjoy.’
The studio’s most recent installation is Kiss, which was unveiled in Milan last year and then appeared in Covent Garden Piazza over the Christmas period. It features a Christmas tree with lights that are switched on when a couple kisses under the mistletoe — another example of Cocksedge’s blend of natural experiences and inventive technology. ‘I know not to be seduced into using new technology unless it is relevant to the idea, otherwise it won’t last the test of time,’ he says. ‘Kiss does need new technology and light but essentially its about kissing and how it can transfer electricity.’ There are plans for Kiss to travel to other locations around the world.
Far from being restricted to conceptual lighting installations, Cocksedge is also working on some jewellery pieces, a ‘more commercial’ lamp and a furniture collection. ‘A good designer should be able to design detail, space and experiences; jump from small to large-scale projects and from complex electronics to simple shapes,’ he says. ‘It’s lovely to jump across the spectrum of design, it makes you feel free.’
This article was first published in idfx Magazine.