Designer File: Mark Pinney's top 10 design tips

Founder of architecture and design practice Mark Pinney Associates, architect Mark Pinney shares his top 10 design tips with Pamela Buxton

1 There’s no line between architecture and design.

We have an architectural approach to interiors. We tackle the same problems, in the same way. Whether you’re designing an art gallery or a car park, you still need to apply an equal level of scrutiny to find a good, rational, design solution.

2 Architecture challenges you intellectually as well as technically.

All through school I thought I wanted to be a civil engineer, but after I was persuaded that it wasn’t right for me. I thought about architecture instead and fell in love with it at college. It’s so varied. In any one day I can be thinking about design, engineering, law... any number of topics that architecture crosses over into. That breadth of demand on your intellect is something I’ve always found stimulating. Designing gives you the opportunity to meet a vast range of interesting, sometimes challenging, people, which is one of the things I love about the job. It’s certainly worth getting out of bed for in the morning!

Shop in the new V&A extension was a project for Mark Pinney Associates, which specialises in luxury retail, hospitality and residential sectors. Image Credit:Ellie Pinney PhotographyShop in the new V&A extension was a project for Mark Pinney Associates, which specialises in luxury retail, hospitality and residential sectors. Image Credit: Ellie Pinney Photography

3 You have to be a good communicator.

It’s not only about understanding what clients want, but about communicating that wish and design to the rest of your team and to the contractors that will be building it. You have to be able to motivate people to work with you, and for you.

4 Drawing is an international language that people don’t necessarily appreciate.

Everyone can understand drawings. It’s a dying art these days but it’s a fantastic skill to have and one of things I always try to encourage. If you want to understand a detail, just try to draw it, because if you can do that, you’ve probably internalised how it works.

Another project for the practice was the Salon de Parfums in Harrods... Image Credit:Ellie Pinney PhotographyAnother project for the practice was the Salon de Parfums in Harrods... Image Credit: Ellie Pinney Photography

5 Classical design can teach you a lot.

It’s not necessarily something you should shy away from. If you can understand the complexities of the classical, you’re far better equipped to tackle contemporary design.

6 Keep your eyes open.

It’s important to really look at your surroundings. Having visual awareness isn’t something that architectural education can teach you – an awful lot of people don’t have it even after seven years of study – but it’s invaluable for the job.

7 Be a fixer, not a moaner.

For a lot of retailers, flagship stores will in effect become showrooms where you try things out but don’t necessarily buy them and cart them home. Change also offers the potential for new models to be developed, which is what we’ve always done. We’re currently working with Wedgwood on the idea of a food and beverage offer where its china can be presented in use. We’ve built three pop-ups and Wedgwood is now looking at sites for permanent outlets.

With another brand, we’re looking to create a retail experience that’s more of an event, where you go to be immersed in an environment that’s in itself stimulating, interesting and maybe challenging.

But the reality is that more and more conventional retail environments will struggle. We’re already looking at other uses for some shopping centres – maybe as residential, or commercial, which is potentially a force for good, as it will push limited areas of retail that are still required back from out-of-town locations on to the high street.

...and a pop-up for Wedgwood. Image Credit:Ellie Pinney Photography...and a pop-up for Wedgwood. Image Credit: Ellie Pinney Photography

8 Speed has changed the design business.

Everything is now fast track, particularly in the retail sector where land values are so high. Once a client has a property they want it to be trading as soon as possible, so the whole process gets condensed. When I first started out, design was a written correspondence process that before fax limited its pace, then emails speeded it up. Now we’re probably doing projects in six months that 20 years ago would have taken about a year. While this can be a good thing, the pressure it can put you under isn’t. Clients expect far more detail and far more visualisations than in the past. The biggest challenge is always maintaining the quality of what we’re developing, and giving the service we want to our clients. This is particularly important since all our work comes by recommendation and reputation.

9 Our supply chain has gone global.

Thanks to the Internet, we now utilise a supply chain that stretches around the world rather than just in the UK, or possibly Europe. At the Victoria and Albert Museum, for example, we recently finished a shop with a freestanding display system, half of which was built in Shanghai. It’s been a big change for us. This extended supply chain allows us to give options to clients that before they wouldn’t otherwise have had.

10 Surround yourself with people who share your passion and commitment.

My best advice to new designers is to make friends with people – I’m still working with people I met in my 20s and 30s. You should look to develop a network of contacts that will sustain you and sustain them. That’s not just other designers, but all the other people who go into making projects happen, whether its clients, project managers, engineers or contractors. Help them, and they will generally help you. It’s all to do with building relationships.

Mark Pinney is an architect and the founder of Mark Pinney Associates, an architecture and design practice with a particular expertise in the luxury retail, residential and hospitality sectors

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