'Designers are a result of gripes. It's what we do' – Back Chat with Wayne Hemingway

Design icon Wayne Hemingway waxes lyrical about rebuilding the UK’s oldest amusement park, bringing cities together and why the inequality gap is his biggest gripe.

How are you and what’s keeping you busy?

I’m just coming down from two of the toughest but most uplifting projects we’ve ever done – both of them very unusual design projects. We got the first stage of Dreamland Margate open a few weeks ago. We’d been working on the project for four years and it was a tough one, working with very small budgets to open something that is an international visitor attraction. But it was such an important community project because it was all about people power. In the last 72 hours, most of our team only had an hour and a half of sleep. We’ve also just designed and curated an event called Transatlantic 175 in Liverpool, which 250,000 people turned up to – it broke a world record. It was one of the most emotional events in terms of public participation and diversity and bringing a city together. Liverpool as a city had its biggest reach around the world – the tweets reached 1.9 billion people.

What are your gripes at the moment?

Designers are a result of gripes. That’s what we do. Our philosophy is that design is about improving things that matter in life, and that’s the only thing we do. The biggest gripes are about aspects relating to housing, so we do everything we can as designers and campaigners to make that better. I suppose that’s the biggest gripe at the moment – the inequality gap – which is no bigger than in where you live and how you live.

What are you loving at the moment?

When I can, I’m enjoying the weather. I haven’t been home or seen my dog for two weeks, so when I get home tonight I am going to get her lead and get down to the beach and we’re going to run and run and run.

If you had unlimited resources, what one thing would you sort out?

Fresh in our mind at the moment would be to continue with Dreamland in Margate. I would like to give it the love and attention it needs, if we had the many millions needed to have a development company that could work on lower margins and show other developers about leaving a legacy and place making, and about doing something that isn’t just about profit.

Where do you find inspiration?

It’s always the same for us; it’s always about something that pisses us off. I think that’s true for most designers, or for a lot of the designers I know anyway. We’re not the kind that would wander round an art gallery and be inspired by a painting.

Who inspires you?

From an education and urban design point of view, Sir Peter Hall. From an ability to organise and pull herself up by her bootstraps, my mum, who passed away this year. She was a single parent who held down three jobs at one time to help me, so that’s an inspiration. And then Mrs H – we’ve been together since we were 18. She’s an unbelievable worker and hates to think we haven’t tried our utmost do something – she’s a perfectionist. Designer-wise it would be Robin and Lucienne Day, for their aesthetic and the fact they stuck together, a bit like me and Gerardine, I suppose.

Which project do you wish you had worked on?

I don’t really do that envy thing, but I’d like to have been involved in what happened in 1951 with the Festival of Britain and the legacy of the South Bank. It must have been an amazing thing, to do something of that scale and with that much modern thinking so soon after the war.

What’s your last word on the industry?

We’re kind of aside from the industry – we don’t subscribe to any magazines or go to any events. It was the same when we owned Red or Dead. It’s not that we’re antisocial, we’ve just always put family before doing stuff. The only thing I would say is that the power the industry’s got at the moment is amazing because the government finally realised what percentage of GDP we account for and it’s very significant. The biggest growth in employment has been in the creative industries for two years in a row now. So people shouldn’t forget about how important we are as an industry.

This feature was first published in The Drum's 22 July issue.

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