Jay Osgerby: 'Objects have to justify their existence'

Designer Jay Osgerby shares with Pamela Buxton the top 10 lessons he’s learned since establishing Barber & Osgerby

1. We’ve never felt the need to be independent egos. Edward [Barber] and I started working together as students at the Royal College of Art, mainly because we got on, and we’ve never stopped. You do have to learn how to collaborate with one another. We started out with a studio in a shared flat and worked all day until we dropped and then did the same the next day. It was intense. But I’d recommend it – it’s a brilliant way of working. The challenge is finding someone you can get on with who is on the same wavelength. We feel we work better together, and really benefit from misunderstanding each others’ drawings, and then serendipitously finding a third, often better, way. Working in isolation, it would be easy to go slightly mad. But when you have a trusted collaboration and friendship, it stops you whirling out of control.

2. Loop Table in 1997 [for Isokon Plus] set us on our way. That was our breakthrough moment, and that success gave us the confidence that we were doing something right.

Bellhop table light (2018) for Flos by Barber OsgerbyBellhop table light (2018) for Flos by Barber Osgerby

3. Grow slowly. Our career has felt like a 20-year walk at an incremental, slow rate without too many sharp ups or downs. As a result, we’ve managed to keep pace with how the studio has developed.

4. Don’t silo creativity. Edward and I have always enjoyed working across multiple disciplines. We like the idea of a campus of different departments like there was at the RCA, and we’ve tried to recreate that in our studio with architecture, interiors, exhibitions and product design. Now, through our new collaboration with AKQA, it feels like we have the most almighty digital department joining our campus. It’s really exciting and feels right for where we’re at now.

Ecco floor-standing mirror (2018) with ultra lightweight glass, by Barber OsgerbyEcco floor-standing mirror (2018) with ultra lightweight glass, by Barber Osgerby

5. We don’t believe in judging designs on a screen. We spend a lot of time working with sketches and models and prefer to understand objects in the room in 3D, when you can see how they occupy their space, rather than on a screen. Our most recent exhibition, One by One held at the Josée Bienvenu gallery in New York, explored the unpredictable nature of clay and glazes and the space for serendipity in contrast and as an antidote to our precise work as industrial designers.

6. Make the most out each material’s attributes. Get the very best out of whatever material you’re working with. For our new plastic Bellhop lamp for Flos, for example, it was important that we made it the most beautiful piece of plastic it could be, so that it feels almost like a glazed ceramic surface, akin to the Danese products of the Sixties.

Ballot chair by Barber Osgerby, launched in 2017 by Isokon and pictured in the Isokon workshop. Image Credit: Barber & Osgerby StudioBallot chair by Barber Osgerby, launched in 2017 by Isokon and pictured in the Isokon workshop. Image Credit: Barber & Osgerby Studio

7. Enthusiasm and passion matter. We sometimes take on jobs purely because we like the people behind them. This was the case with Mutina, a ceramic tile company. We weren’t particularly looking to design in this area but we were so taken by their passion for what they did that we were compelled to say yes. I love that we regularly meet fascinating people who have got where they are because of their belief in what they do.

8. Live in the day you’re in. We don’t do a lot of looking back or planning. We have faith in the process of what we do, and that things will work out. We both just take each day and product as it comes so that we can really focus on the job in hand.

Brea seating (2018), designed by Barber Osgerby for DedonBrea seating (2018), designed by Barber Osgerby for Dedon

9. Everything you do in design is about collaboration. It’s all about listening to other voices. But while you need to compromise as part of the technical process, that shouldn’t be part of the client dialogue.

10. Objects have to justify their existence. If you’re not creating something kinder or better or smarter, it’s not worth doing it at all.

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