The Drum Research The Drum Designerati

Design inspiration: From building a Raleigh Chopper to studying da Vinci, what led designers to their career?


By Gillian West | Social media manager

January 27, 2015 | 8 min read

As The Drum seeks to identify the top design individuals in the UK in its second annual Designerati, some of the designers from the 2014 list tell us what led them to take up a career in design.

No two people follow the same route into their ideal career – for some, it takes a while to discover their passion, while for others it’s clear cut from early adulthood.

As The Drum searches for this year’s Designerati – a list celebrating the UK’s top designers – we caught up with designers from last year's list to discover who or what inspired them to get into design. From ‘crisp peddling’ dads to building a Raleigh Chopper, design talent reveal their inspirations.

Nominations for the The Drum’s 2015 Designerati are open until Friday 30 January. You can nominate an individual here.

Richard Seymour, co-founder, Seymourpowell

I wanted a Raleigh Chopper when I was a kid, but my parents couldn’t afford one… so I made my own. A hacksaw, a hammer, a shed and my brother’s welding kit allowed me to chop the shit out of my sister’s old bike and convert it into a badass lowrider, with the Sturmey Archer gear changer mounted vertically on the crossbar, and a billiard ball on a stick, to give the correct ‘four on the floor’ look. It was rubbish. But it was exciting rubbish.

The wonderful thing about growing up in a mechanical world is that you could change things. Fix things. Imagine improvements and then create them in the kitchen. I’m still trying to work out who had the biggest influence on my desire to design and make; was it Brunel or Valerie Singleton? Whichever. Once you’ve tasted Humbrol and sticky-back plastic, you never look back.

Spencer Buck, chief creative officer and founder, Taxi Studio

My dad was/is my inspiration. Not a designer himself or remotely creative (he’d forgive me for saying), but an area sales manager for KP Crisps. He knew a great deal about brands – as a salesman, that was his job. He always spoke of ‘product’ first, ‘brand’ second… and his wise words have stuck with me throughout my career: “You can create a crap product with attractive packaging and sell a shed load once. Or you can create a great product with great packaging and have customers for life.” Not bad for a crisp peddler, still true today, and something we remind our clients of.

Steven Bonner, creative director, Steven Bonner Ltd

I fell into design as a career and there was no real defining moment of clarity that led me down this path. I knew I wanted to do something art-based and found a course that would let me in – my knowledge of design as a profession was very limited at the time, and as a result I knew nothing of its history or the people who made it.

I simply got through the course as best I could and found that the real inspiration started once I began working. To my shame, I was never an avid design historian; I relied on the work readily accessible to me – comic books, record covers, and magazines. Through that came knowledge of people like Frank Millar, Vaughan Oliver and Neville Brody, and they are the people who inspired me to improve and seek out more. I see inspiration as a constant trickle. I'm always learning.

Jon Davies, creative director, ButterflyCannon

It is quite a clichéd response, but the one man – no, let’s call him a genius – that inspired me to be a designer was Leonardo da Vinci. When I was 13 years old I had to do a study on him. Now today I can’t remember if it was for my art or physics class, but this blurring of the lines is what fascinated me about him. A person who was as adept with understanding the mechanics of the body or a flying machine whilst being capable of creating the most beautiful pieces of art could be nothing but an inspiration.

This ability to mix these subjects started me off on my hunt for a career that would channel my own interests in these two supposedly opposing disciplines. I ended up studying industrial design, which in turn led me into the world of design consultancy where I have been plying my trade for the past 25 years.

I still love the unique creative challenges we face every day. Whether it's creating a perfume identity so desirable it stops people in their tracks or working out the opening mechanics for a luxury whisky box, it all comes down to the same original inspiration of mixing the creativity of art and science. I will never leave a legacy like Leonardo but I am at least enjoying myself in an industry I plan to spend the next 20 years in.

David Godber, group chief creative officer, Elmwood

In short, my father was my inspiration. He was always in the business of solving problems. He's an inventor, an engineer, an electronics expert and a businessman. He had a lot to do with the energy business and back in the day he even invented one of the approaches to 3D television. But really what he showed me was that there was a lot of fun to be had with solving challenges and problems, and that there was nothing that couldn't really be overcome with application, dedication and often with the need for some lateral thinking.

He also taught me to look beyond the problem for the root cause, because what presented itself was often just a façade behind which many other issues were often hiding. He also referred to work as either "project or process", and candidly the project side was fascinating, and the process side? Well, it was often just repetitive and dull, so why would I want to spend my life there? I also had a specific interest in philosophy and the human condition, and particularly in the field of behavioural economics.

Richard Seymour once said that design was there to improve people's lives (or something like that). And that's what a career in innovation, R&D and design has brought me. I can best describe this as a rich tapestry and a seemingly endless supply of changes and challenges to constantly stimulate my extremely low boredom threshold. And a peer group who are super bright and a joy to be around. Why would I want to do anything else?

Simon Manchipp, executive strategic creative director and founder, SomeOne

Surely being a designer is the best job on the planet? You work within many sectors, meet amazing people, travel to fascinating places and best of all, always try to leave things better than you found them. It’s immensely rewarding and rapidly helps you become one of the more interesting people at the party.

It was living with one of two of these people that inspired me to become one. They installed a questioning point of view, a thirst for solutions, a love of craft and a desire to continually collaborate with people and processes to get to original and exciting ideas.

Frankly I had very little choice — I was always going to be a designer, I always wanted to be one. Who were those people? My mum and dad. Both designers, illustrators, educators, artists. It was easy. Why would I want to do anything else?

Clive Grinyer, customer experience director, Barclays

I fell awkwardly between science and arts as a teenager but had a vague idea I would be an engineer or a ‘public artist’. Idling around the art department I came across a pile of ‘design’ magazines. On the cover was a mains plug. It was a shock to realise that someone had designed something so mundane, defined materials, cost and whether it was comfortable, beautiful and safe. To write an article on something so functional and celebrate innovation and aesthetics in a plug was amazing. I didn’t think I could be a designer at that point but the realisation that the world was there to be designed was a powerful moment of epiphany and I left me with a desire to find out more…

Yesterday Dan Germain, Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway, Jonathan Ford and more shared their design inspirations.

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