Nicola Osborn of Basha-Franklin shares her journey and insights into the world of creativity.
Can you pinpoint the thought, whether yours or someone else’s that led you to a career in design?
Was it the fact that I grew up with parents who consistently rebuilt their houses around us? Was it in my blood? Or was it the frustration of never finding myself in buildings or spaces that truly inspired me?
It wasn’t a sudden eureka moment, but rather a subconscious calling that set me on a journey of choices.
Creative and design careers remained a mystery to me throughout my early education. I attended highly academic-focused state schools that paid little attention to the value of creativity.
Having persevered through four A-levels, it wasn’t until I received an off -the-cuff comment from my art teacher; ‘If anyone wants to carry on doing art or design at college, these courses are available,’ as he threw some A4 leafl ets onto the group table. It was then that I realised I could leave sixth form for art college. And so I did. And that led me to an art degree that was rooted in fine art and design.
It was a true art and design education that went beyond the confi nes of a textbook. It changed how I perceived and absorbed the world around me and taught me how to understand and express my vision. I firmly believe that this education helped shape how I view every situation, how I approach problemsolving, and how I constantly challenge the status quo.
Since graduation, my life has been filled with a multitude of adventures through various creative jobs that demanded innovative thinking until, finally, my journey led me to the world of interior design.
The Boston Avenue Methodist Church located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, demonstrating a fine example of art deco style of architecture. Image Credit: Tyler Thomason / www.Shutterstock.Com
In terms of the design and architecture industry, what do you consider the most radical era or pivotal moment?
Creativity and design constantly evolve through global and societal influences, with ideas flowing between various styles like Art Deco, Bauhaus, Arts and Crafts, mid-century, and Postmodernism.
These interconnected movements shape the creative landscape. But it’s also people’s behaviour and lifestyles that drives design progression, resulting in pivotal moments that leave lasting impacts, such as the post-war generation – their mindset had a huge impact on how people led their lives.
Modernism emerged from an expectation of the moral and material reconstruction of a world devastated by war – much like the state of things now as we face multiple global impacts. Th is approach serves as a tool to strengthen a collective identity and artistic expression, shaping the emotional life of the user. Art and architecture combined gives new meaning, creating spaces that represent a sense of community, in addition to function and technique.
Mid-century Modernism, with reinforced concrete and plastic technology advancements, revolutionised architecture and inspired an aspirational future. But now we face new challenges.
We are standing on the cusp of an exciting era in design and architecture. Th e technological revolution profoundly impacts the design process, providing insights into construction techniques, materials and human behaviour within built environments.
Our pocket-sized computers connect us to the world every minute of the day, reshaping design possibilities. Embracing this transformative era is both exhilarating and promising as we explore endless, innovative opportunities.
Which radical thinkers have been inspirations to you in your career?
Patricia Urquiola, Herzog and de Meuron, and Dame Vivienne Westwood.
Nicola Osborn, AEC Creative Director at Basha-Franklin
Who are the radical thinkers who inspire you now? (Not necessarily forever or for a lifetime – just now!)
Sophie Pender, a British social mobility campaigner, activist and founder of Th e 93% Club – which supports university students from state schools to find employment – and Kate Griggs, an entrepreneur and founder of the charity Made By Dyslexia. Kate has been shifting the narrative on dyslexia and educating people on its strengths since 2004 – she’s played a pivotal role in putting dyslexia on a global stage, making a diff erence to millions of lives.
Not only are these relevant to my personal journey, but brilliant examples of how marginalised sections of society are smashing through the glass ceiling to make a difference and change the status quo.
Who outside the industry can architects and designers learn from?
We can learn a lot from lawyers who, as an industry, are brilliant at recognising their value – and putting a price on it! Unfortunately, architects and designers seem to have lost their voice and influence when it comes to this, and it’s wrong.
As experts and specialists in our field, we excel at tackling complex issues with enthusiasm to embrace change fearlessly. In fact, we thrive on change, as it is the essence of our work. We find comfort in the uncomfortable, and our innate problemsolving abilities and forward-thinking mindset often lead us far beyond our clients’ current expectations.
As a sector, we need to demystify the concept of design and present a collective voice that showcases the true ‘value’ of creative thinking, because what we do adds value to our society, communities, and businesses.
What will lead the way for more radical thinking in your/our field?
An empowered collective voice that can articulate and command our value. We need to be able to challenge the status quo and revolutionise conventional practices.
With increased investment in design, we can positively impact the design procress, promote sustainability and foster future design leaders. Though our minds overflow with innovative ideas, realising them requires courageous sponsors and bold investors.
I also think that the age of the ego is dead, and collaboration is critical. More and more, project solutions are multiplex, requiring deep thinking across multi-faceted specialisms. Enabling dynamic and fluid collaboration provides progressive results.
Could you recommend a book/article/blog that inspired your thinking?
TedTalks. With hugely varied content, it feeds my curiosity of life and gives me access to a diverse understanding of the world – without an agenda.
Recent ones I have enjoyed are by: Cordae and how a ‘Hi Level’ mindset helps you realise your potential; the Secret Ingredients of Great Hospitality by Will Guidara; The Anti-CEO Playbook by Hamdi Ulukaya and Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Lee Duckworth.
Could you name two buildings/pieces of furniture that you consider radical designs of their time, or perhaps still to this day?
Built in 1994, the Kandalama Hotel, Geoffrey Bawa’s Architectural Masterpiece in Sri Lanka, was ahead of its time. Radical then because it fused modernist design principles (that have not aged) with inherent respect for the local culture, landscape, and environmental sustainability.
The Millennium Bridge is also radical because it challenged traditional bridge engineering and architecture by appearing to float on the river, and it was the first pedestrian-only bridge in London. The connection between two London icons, the Tate Modern and St Paul’s Cathedral, the Millennium Bridge is so simple, yet it has become an icon in its own right. The long views and big sky moments in the city is a great experience, and I also love the miniature artworks that are painted onto the gum that has been pushed into the grated walkway – that’s radical thinking right there!
Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit, on the importance of passion and resilience to achieving success
I think best with… (e.g. my hands/a pencil/ with a computer)
Music is incredibly powerful, and my music algorithm reflects that with its eclectic and diverse selection, spanning across genres and time.
I cherish everything from original rock & roll vinyls from the 50s, to mash-up masterpieces that blend multiple genres into one captivating tune. The dynamic nature of music and its ability to reinvent itself while incorporating various influences fascinates me.
If a song elicits an emotional response, it is instantly added to my playlist. Lyrics matter to me; I admire the skill of songwriters who can tell captivating stories and elevate poetry into their music.
This eclectic approach to music discovery and exploration mirrors how I approach design and everyday life.
I think best… (e.g. first thing in the morning/ last thing at night)
Away from my phone!
I am a morning person who hits the ground running. I’m best in the spring and summer, waking up when its light – the long days keep my energy levels high.
If I am trying to unpick a strategy or solve a complex problem, then deep immersive focus is great, but the eureka moment – the ‘stand back and see from an alternate perspective’ – happens the minute I move.
The approach to St Paul’s Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge in London
I think best when… (e.g. in a gallery/at home/ outside/over drinks/with friends/on the bus)
My headspace doesn’t require a specific go-to solution; it’s everywhere and throughout my day. My brain can thrive in most places. Processing visual cues and information simultaneously comes naturally to me, even while thinking of other things. I relish energetic conversations and collaborations, finding clarity both in loud and quiet spaces.
Walking is when my thoughts flow seamlessly, but I also love a crowded wine bar, whether with friends or alone, I feel energised and imaginative. I actually enjoy my commute, using it to tackle to-do lists, work through thoughts, and catch up on personal tasks. My mind is always active!
The thought that keeps me up at night is…
Hoping that my kids will have the tools to face and navigate the problems previous generations have created. The climate crisis is real, and we are on the back foot.
Change and adaptability will be a constant for them, so I think about ways to prepare them to be nimble and flexible, knowing that the old rules don’t apply in their situation. How can we leave our kids a legacy that is a platform to succeed?
The thought that gets me out of bed each day is…
What will today bring? Bring it on!
Do you like to think with, or think against?
Both! Continuous dialogue enables me to exercise my empathy and see things from all perspectives. Listening helps me to understand every angle and develop solutions.
If you weren’t a designer/architect, where do you think your way of thinking would have led you?
Since my time in retail, brand experience has captivated my interest – understanding and being able to influence the overall perception that customers have when interacting with a brand. Branding encompasses all touchpoints throughout the customer journey, spanning advertising, digital marketing, products, and customer service and I love how allencompassing it is.
Either that, or a sociologist. The study of human behaviour and interaction really fascinates me. Analysing social, religious, political and economic groups, organisations and institutions, and examining how they influence and impact people, now and in the future, is so interesting.
The DMC DeLorean, made famous by blockbuster movie Back to the Future
Could you describe radical thinking in three words?
Uncomfortable. Disruptive. Exciting.
What’s the most radical thing you’ve come across today or this week?
In my opinion, radical thinking should inspire awe and excitement, and science-fiction does that for me. So, the race to create the first flying car has got me hooked.
Since seeing the DMC DeLorean rise from Marty McFly’s drive in Back to the Future, which was set in the year 2015, I have felt cheated that I can’t just fly my car to the office all these years later.
But there is hope. At the time of writing this article, the Armada Model Zero has just been awarded a special airworthiness by the US Federal Aviation Administration. Th e prototype electric (no fossil fuel) car has the sexiest design so far, with true sleek, futuristic qualities that resemble a super car.
The Armada Model Zero can go from driving to flying by launching straight up into the air like a drone. Suspended in the centre of the carbon fibre frame is the passenger cabin, which can fi t up to two people (my son would be first in line for shotgun!) and is set on a pivoting gimbal platform. Once in the air, the vehicle’s entire frame rotates sideways by 90 degrees so that what was once the front and back of the car becomes two wings on either side of the cabin for maximum speed (genius!). Th is one has all the gadgets and scifi credentials – the downside is that it only goes 25mph on the road.
Rumours are, we’ll have flying cars by 2030. If that is the case, we have a lot to do to facilitate this in our airspace to even make this close to a reality, but I await with much excitement!