Top 10 Design Tips from Marta Nowicka

Interior architect, Marta Nowicka, shares her top tips in design...

All Images: Vvojtek Ketz

1. Understand the historical context
It’s essential to understand the contextual background of the project’s site when you’re designing. Discovering the timeline of its key historical events unlocks the secrets of the building and reveals the functional and economic reasons as to why it is the way it is today. By understanding these, you can respond to the site in a more sensitive and cohesive way and connect with its layers of history while creating a new, contemporary guise.

2. Tell a story with your design
It’s really important to develop and communicate a design narrative in order to take the client on a journey with you through the design process. Narrative keeps all of us on track. It helps me as a designer to be rigorous and not to dilute or compromise the design concept. And if there’s a clear story to the design, the client can buy into it so much more easily. In our new offices for visual FX company Cherry Cherry for example, we had the NoHo Bar idea of a 50m-long bar that undulates through the space-changing form and use as it goes. In our Shoreditch live-work studios for two artists we referenced both Marina Abramovic’s The Artist Is Present and Donald Judd’s 101 Spring Street studio in New York. And when we designed offices for dotcom hosting company some years ago, we created a narrative of Surf and Turf inspired by the company business, and ended up with a grass lawn meeting room.

3. Keep on going
Design ideas tend to evolve as they require development. I keep on sketching and sketching to evolve the design narrative, and in turn we in the practice explore all design options so that when we arrive at a design solution I know we can commit to it. Design development takes a lot of time and you have to let it do so. I’m lucky that our practice is not too commercial and hence has all the time needed to think and develop ideas.

4. Art helps clarify my creative process Art, sculpture and creative culture in general allows me to verbalise and visualise what I’m feeling and designing. I always use a variety of art references while designing that inspire or reflect what I’m feeling about a project. These form part of the presentation to the client and gives them a reference for how we arrive at the design solution. Sometimes this may be a very abstract reference that describes a mood, sometimes it’s a more obvious reference to something like a storage solution.

Details of the design for Cherry Cherry. Image - Vvojtek Ketz
Details of the design for Cherry Cherry. Image - Vvojtek Ketz

5. Enjoy the process
The journey to the solution, as well as the final product, is the joy. Projects can take several years so you have to be able to enjoy the process and learn to embrace the different challenges along the way. It can be particularly challenging when you’re wearing the different hats of client, designer and main contractor at the same time, as I often do. Patience is key, as is a healthy smattering of impatience, which is really important for getting the job finished. It’s a balance and tussle between the two.

6. Develop your own design language
I have a design language and way of working that has developed over the years and which I am still honing as each project feeds back to inform it further. You learn over time what works and what doesn’t, and clients appreciate that knowledge and experience.

7. I thrive on variety As a designer I’ve worked on an enormous variety of scale and project types, from large commercial to small residential buildings, furniture and products. This variety keeps the practice fresh and vibrant. We work for clients and also on our own development projects as [new development company] Dom, which means house in Polish.

Details of the design for Cherry Cherry. Image - Vvojtek Ketz
Details of the design for Cherry Cherry. Image - Vvojtek Ketz

8. Parties are part of the creative process
We love a good party. We always design and host a conceptual party for Clerkenwell Design Week – it’s another way of being creative. The theme for the past two years has been Pole Dancing – first it was a pun on Pole dancing where we hired traditional Polish dancers in costume to dance to DJ Normski. The second year we hired a pole dancer with a couple of poles to do moves with the audience – the boys were super keen and it turned into a bit of a pole-off between them.

9. Teaching is design gym I have always taught and engaged in design education throughout my working life. Teaching is a creative workout and is really important for the brain and your creative flow. It clarifies my beliefs and challenges my ideas. Currently I am external examiner at The Cass and have been involved at Ravensbourne, Falmouth School of Art, London Metropolitan University, Kingston University and University of Central England over the years.

10. Design is a way of life  As a student, design was a way of life and consumed me day and night. Nothing has really changed. It is still a way of life for me – I think about it all the time and am constantly evaluating design as I live my life. I have a live/work unit so have fused and integrated my life into my work. Or is it my work into my life? I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Marta Nowicka. Image - Vvojtek Ketz
Marta Nowicka. Image - Vvojtek Ketz

Marta Nowicka has more than 25 years of experience in the design sector. She studied Interior Architecture at Kingston University and set up Nowicka Stern in 1994 followed by Marta Nowicka & Co in 2003. Earlier this year she launched development company Dom. Clients include visual effects company Cherry Cherry, gallery owner Karsten Schubert and artists Gavin Turk, Michael Landy and Gillian Wearing.

Progressive Media International Limited. Registered Office: 40-42 Hatton Garden, London, EC1N 8EB, UK.Copyright 2023, All rights reserved.