Radical Thinking

Vicki Holland of Ward Robinson Design shares her journey and insights into the world of interior design.

Can you pinpoint the thought, whether yours or someone else’s that led you to a career in design?

In my opinion, I was destined to be a designer. My father was an architectural technologist, working from his studio at home. In my early years I would often mimic him at work, drawing house plans sat at a drawing board amused by his array of stationary, stencils and Letraset. At secondary school I was given an aptitude test challenging my reasoning, approach to learning, critical thinking, interpretation and judgement, resulting in recommendations of a career in design. Reflecting on the list provided of various design professions from graphic design to fashion design, I was naturally drawn to interior design. This was shortly followed by an inspirational talk, where we were asked to set a goal, write it on a piece of paper, carry it around and look at it each day. My 13-year-old self wrote down the words ‘The world’s best interior designer’. The note didn’t last longer than a few days, but something had started to sink in that I was going to be an interior designer. Perhaps the world’s best was ambitious, but it set me on a path to where I find myself today.

In terms of the design and architecture industry, what do you consider the most radical era or pivotal moment?

I think it would be art nouveau because of its beauty, inspiration from nature using both organic and geometric forms, but more importantly its deliberate attempt to create a new style more expressive and fluid than previous eras.

Which radical thinkers have been inspirations to you in your career?

In my early design career, I was inspired by many influential, predominantly female architects, interior and furniture designers, such as Zaha Hadid and Andrée Putman. In the past decade, however, a key inspiration in my career is that of my son. Having him radically changed my perception of my career. I wanted to show him how important it is to follow your passion. It was also a trigger in making me much more aware of how influential design is in contributing to a better future for the next generation, especially in terms of the impact on the environment.

Not necessarily forever or for a lifetime, but who are the radical thinkers who inspire you now?

This one might be a bit different, but I would say Lady Gaga. Although known mainly for her music, she is an incredible creative talent and her ability to grab attention when it comes to redefining fashion and setting new trends for society has captivated me over the past years. Lady Gaga is an inspiration, for her music, for design and for embracing her identity. I think everyone can be inspired by her achievements and artistic flare.

Lady Gaga isn’t just an icon of the music industry; her creativity percolates into other fields in design

Who outside the industry can architects and designers learn from?

I would have to say in my career to date I have learned the most from and will continue to learn from the people I am designing for. To give an example, having completed schemes for dementia care patients, designing from a different perspective and engaging with the end user of a project to fully understand their needs makes for better design. If a space looks beautiful, but is torturous for those using it, we haven’t done our job. Aligned to this, we need to continue to work alongside researchers in the prospective field whether its neuroscience, inclusivity, climate change, etcetera, to inform our work and keep us up to date with modern thought approaches specific to the project we are working on.

What will lead the way for more radical thinking in your field?

Technology has changed nearly everything about the way that people in society exist and function. As technology advances, so will design. Technology is constantly improving day-to-day life, solving problems such as ‘How can we work more efficiently?’ ‘How can we improve communication of designs?’ ‘How can we be more comfortable?’ This is where virtual reality, digital design resources and the creation of smart home and workplaces are a real benefit to the future of design. Furthermore, technology will play a crucial role in how our industry addresses sustainability and the creation of healthier spaces.

Could you recommend a book, article or blog that inspired your thinking?

Discovered on my reading list at university, Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language is probably the most notable book that I feel has inspired my thinking.

Could you name two buildings or pieces of furniture that you consider radical designs of their time, or perhaps still to this day?

The first would be the Up5_6 chair and ottoman by Gaetano Pesce, which is an iconic piece of furniture inspired by the female form. It’s a stunning piece, but what is more compelling is Pesce’s explanation of the design based on the image of a woman as an unwilling prisoner of themselves and depicting the ottoman as a ball and chain. My second choice is more modern and a building – Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, simply because it’s bold and innovative.

Complete this sentence: I think best with…

Definitely with a computer. The ability it gives me to review and edit allows me to process my thinking and be more efficient. It also allows me to work up designs quickly in 3D, benefitting the design process, whether that’s my own thoughts or in the communication of the design to others.

Heydar Aliyev Center, in Baku, Azerbaijan, by the inspirational Zaha Hadid

I think best…

First thing in the morning (although to some people this would be considered late at night). If I need to get my head into something, I make sure I go to bed early and wake up around 3am to 4am. I think best in my own space, when the house is quiet, and I can guarantee free space for a few hours to think clearly and allow for more creativity.

I think best when…

If I can’t wait for the morning as my previous response, I think best by going for a walk. This isn’t always possible and very weather dependant, but I find taking a break and a short work outside is amazing for focused thinking and it allows me to be more productive once I’ve returned to my desk. If the time simply doesn’t allow (as is often the case), a cup of tea is a sure way to focus my mind and think best.

The thought that keeps me up at night is…

I don’t tend to allow thoughts to keep me up at night; once my head hits the pillow, it doesn’t take me long to fall asleep. I consider this a great skill. I do, however, have moments where I wake up during the night, with thoughts of whatever the current project is that I am working on. Often, the thoughts simply can’t wait to be acted upon, which is how I find myself thinking best in the early hours of the morning.

The thought that gets me out of bed each day is…

The realisation that I get to do something I enjoy each day… the opportunity to learn… my son; he is an early riser. My desire to be a good role model for him, to show him the importance of working hard, but also having enjoyment and fulfilment out of the career path you choose.

Inspiration can also come in everyday discoveries, such as the modern marvel of biscuit tea

Do you like to think with, or think against?

As a designer, challenges often arise but I always try and find a way to make it work. In different scenarios this could be considered thinking ‘with’ or ‘against’ the problem. In general, the projects I enjoy the most are the ones that challenge my thinking against the norm, allowing me to be creative in the attempt to achieve unique design solutions.

If you weren’t a designer, where do you think your way of thinking would have led you?

It’s hard to imagine myself in a career that isn’t design-based, especially as my mind was made up at such an early age. If I reflect on my current interests, I like to travel, and I have always had an interest in languages and technology. Perhaps these interests may have led me to an interesting career, perhaps an international digital entrepreneur?!

Could you describe radical thinking in three words?

Inventive, revolutionary, captivating.

What’s the most radical thing you’ve come across today or this week?

I am ‘wowed’ by things on a daily basis. This week I discovered ‘jam and toast’ tea, it’s like breakfast in a mug. That’s pretty radical, but not quite as radical as ‘biscuit tea’, which actually tastes like you have dunk biscuits in your tea, without the added calories.

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