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The Roses Design Symposium

By The Drum | Administrator

November 8, 2002 | 6 min read

Non-drip pasta. Yes, that’s right, non-drip pasta. If good design translates to simple ideas that make a difference, then Paul Priestman is the greatest designer I’ve ever met.

As the founder of Priestman Goode, he’s been involved in everything from designing Virgin’s new trains to Monsters Inc cameras for Fischer Price/Mattel. All very impressive, I’m sure you’ll agree, but with his pioneering pasta he appears to have achieved the equivalent, in culinary terms, of re-inventing the wheel.

Looking like a thick person’s Trivial Pursuit counter, the spoked circular shapes catch any wayward sauce – thus preventing that familiar “crazed cannibal” post-meal look, where shirts are unflatteringly splattered and your mouth looks like you’ve been eating orange lipstick out of a trough. Its revolutionary credentials are further compounded by the genius of the packaging, where the pasta is packed in tubes, not bags, with individual servings marked clearly down the sides. Superlatives fail me, readers, they really do.

This year’s Roses Design Awards Symposium, in association with the Liverpool and Manchester Design Initiative, provided the venue for my dumbstruck reverence, with talks from Priestman and five other leading design luminaries. They were: everyone’s, including the government’s, favourite designer, Michael Johnson of Johnson Banks; Phil Dean, MD of multinational design house Attik; Pete Thomas from Unilever’s packaging design technology centre; Alistair Sim of Love Creative; and Stephen Izatt, MD of acclaimed London hot-shop 4i. Each was talking loosely around the theme of “winning and growing”, addressing an attentive audience in Manchester’s beautifully reborn City Art Gallery.

With such a line-up, Priestman’s edifying efforts in the medium of pasta were but one of the day’s many highlights and, incidentally, just one of his too. He also introduced the crowd to his desktop fan, where every moving part is made out of fabric. Which, as eccentric as it sounds, actually marks another truly beneficial design concept, as a) there’s no danger of injury from the rotating blades, and b) if they get dirty (which they won’t do) they can simply be removed and stuck in the washing machine.

His rundown of the much anticipated £1.9 billion Virgin train project also demonstrated how his firm blends such innovation with strong commercial acumen. “Our remit was to have an overview of everything the customer comes into contact with,” he explained. “The intention was to create something that would get people out of their cars and onto trains. With this in mind, the design was absolutely key to the re-launch – to put over a strong feeling of modernisation, of newness.

“We handled all the detailing from the seats to the power-points, through to the onboard service. It was a huge project, but there was a sense of fun about the whole thing,” as illustrated by the fact that the first train the agency designed was aptly christened the “Mission Impossible”.

After further tales of his team’s exploits in the First Class section of Boeing’s new A380 Airbus, a snip at only 1 billion Euros each, and his plans for Heathrow’s Terminal 5, set to be the biggest building in Europe, Priestman left the stage with applause ringing in his ears. Leaving us with the impression that this man must shout Eureka! more times in one day than most of us do in a lifetime.

Although Priestman’s endeavours were clearly “winning” and his company is undoubtedly “growing”, his speech didn’t address the theme quite as rigidly as Michael Johnson’s effort. Johnson endeared himself to the audience straight away, in typically effacing manner, with the line, “I feel very aware that I’m going to be seen as some posh twat from London, but I’m not. I’m from Derby.”

Johnson’s primary concern seemed to revolve around “sometimes winning, trying not to grow”. He revealed, to audible murmurs of surprise, that his decade-old company is not the leviathan that its reputation suggests: “There are only six people at Johnson Banks,” he smiled. “This is not a huge company and I’m trying hard to keep it that way.”

The reason that the firm can remain so compact and yet involve itself in so many projects of lofty prestige, is that Johnson is a committed advocate of collaboration. Running his hands through his ample head of foppish/rock star hair, he explained, “We work through collaborations with other agencies, where effectively we provide the glue for those collaborators to work with. We’re the point of call for the client, but we bring in agencies with specialist skill sets when required. I sometimes call it the iceberg effect, where we’re the tip the client sees, whilst you’ve got a whole structure working below.”

He was asked if this could be problematic when maintaining brand consistency in projects, and replied candidly. “If the central glue is good enough it should hold the work in place. But yes, it can be a problem – but it shouldn’t be if you choose the right collaborators. We try and call on the best people in the respective fields, people who understand what we’re trying to achieve and can work within that framework.”

Business insights aside, the audience was also treated to a host of Johnson Bank’s output, with the surreally irresistible Parc de la Vilette work (a renowned art/sculpture park in Paris) sticking out like a crazed Dali/Magritte collaboration amongst an exhibition of Renaissance classics. Johnson’s dubiously un-PC French impression was equally well received.

Remaining in the realm of the surreal, Attik’s stunning Noise books formed the backbone of MD Phil Dean’s entertaining and passionate symposium turn, as he revealed how the eclectic mixes of creativity that constitute each Noise act as a “designer’s catwalk”, parading the creative couture they’re capable of tailoring.

By showcasing such talent the books have helped attract business of the magnitude of MTV, Toyota and Coca-Cola. In doing so they’ve also fuelled Attik’s growth into an agency that, in Dean’s own inimitable words, is “below the line, above the line, through the line and all over the fucking line.” A priceless appraisal that spread infectious laughter throughout the audience.

With the other talks covering issues such as starting up (Alistair Sim), valuable business advice (Stephen Izatt) and inter-departmental collaboration (Pete Thomas), it’s fair to say that the second annual design symposium appeared to have something for absolutely everyone. And I’m not just talking about the non-drip pasta.

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