From saving the Kemistry Gallery to backing Terence Woodgate's lighting – how top designers are using crowdfunding

Lynda Relph-Knight is The Drum's consulting design editor and the former long-serving editor of Design Week. Follow Lynda on Twitter.

There’s nothing new about crowdfunding. Every 3D design graduate worth their salt is bidding to drum up cash to bring their final-year project to market. It’s just too tough otherwise to get their products to market. Wooing would-be clients takes an age and crowdfunding can shorten lead times and give you more control – if you can attract the punters.

It’s a route being taken by charities too. Hence it is no surprise to see the Save the Kemistry Gallery campaign engaging Kickstarter as a means of raising funds. Since the Kickstarter bid went live late last month, some £10,000 has been raised towards a feasibility study to make it a national centre for graphic design.

The Kemistry Gallery is a natural for crowdfunding, given the myriad of local graphics groups and individual designers who benefit from its small, but well presented world-class shows. If each were to make a small donation, the gallery set up by prominent moving-image designer Graham MacCallum and producer Ricky Churchill who run the eponymous studio will be saved from closure.

The threat is real as the Kemistry is edged out of its building in London’s Shoreditch by developers, but it sparked the idea of creating a national graphics centre, with the resourceful Liam Fay-Fright of The Well leading the charge for Kemistry. At the time of going to press, the campaign was closing in on its £15,000 target.

More pertinent going forward though is that crowdfunding is coming into mainstream design practice. Take the bid by furniture great Terence Woodgate to fund his Solid LED lighting range through Crowdcube. With the call for support going out on 10 November, a week later Woodgate had already already raised some 58 per cent of his £150,000 target through 38 equity investors – and the tally is rising.

Woodgate is at the top of his game. A Royal Designer for Industry, he has worked for European furniture manufacturing giants like Punt Mobles and Established & Sons, but he has opted for a new approach to funding and greater control. As co-creator of the awesome Kevlar table, dubbed Surface, with racing car designer John Barnard, he is known for innovation not just in the work, but also how it is achieved.

Product designers in particular tend to challenge the status quo. Swiss-born California-based designer Yves Behar is a case in point. Apart from bringing us Jawbone and other lifestyle products, he is famed for the way he has ‘designed’ many a Silicon Valley start-up from product to service and even supply chain, giving a richer meaning to the notion of ‘service design’, which is gaining traction in the UK. But Behar is considered a rarity on these shores.

With established designers of the calibre of Woodgate, Paul Cocksedge et al appealing directly to their public to get their designs to market, crowdfunding can only gain in reputation and reach. It could certainly be come a standard means of funding prototypes to test design ideas.

But watch this space. Guys like Behar and Woodgate aren’t content with fitting into a system, however new and unfamiliar it is. They’ll be looking to create new fundraising models before too long. Indeed, Behar is already in there.

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