Embody 3D had the great opportunity to talk to Richard Liddle, industrial designer from Cohda Design which has been branded as a ‘punk rock eco design firm’, I guess not everyone can say that. Cohda seems to blur the line between fine art and industrial design to deliver some truly creative and beautiful products to make them one of the best and freshest industrial design studios out of the UK in the last 5 years. In this interview we learn the processes of Cohda, and where they draw inspiration for their products. For more information please check out: www.cohda.com!
Article by Embody 3D – Twitter – 19.03.2010
Hi Richard welcome to Embody 3D and thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. To get started could you please give me a quick introduction to yourself?
Thank you, I’m Richard Liddle an industrial designer based in the UK. Ive been called a ‘punk rock eco designer’ quite a few times by the press which seem to have stuck, but I suppose it’s a fairly good description of what I do and how I work. I established ‘Cohda Design” in 2006, and we now create our own range of products and furniture with a contemporary Eco slant. We launch these at the major design events such as Milan, ICFF etc. We also work on projects for various clients in addition to our own product range. Someone has just shouted at me to say “don’t forget to say you lecture’, so yes I lecture from time to time also when work allows.
Cohda Design is a relatively new business on the design scene. Could you tell me about some of the challenges in establishing your own design studio?
Yes we are new on the scene and its very difficult to find your place in an extremely completive market, but thankfully after trying to follow the heard a little too much when we first began, we then realized if we were going to get recognition we needed to head in our own direction and working with our own style and design language. One of the challenges for us is trying to not repeat the history of design and add to it. “That sounds pretty good, ill keep that quote.”
I would say, don’t worry too much about what others are doing, yes you need to place yourself well in amongst your competitors, but if you have long term design/ business goals and objectives, go your own way. It’s not always easy, as trying to launch something unique is like walking a tightrope, but the rewards are worth the challenges.
One piece of advice is be careful whom you share your IP (intellectual property) with and don’t exhibit, email, show or discuss any of your ideas, without some IP in place, especially if it’s of large future value. You don’t need to spend huge sums of money, and if your work was produced as part of a degree or college course then you have the protection of the institution. However once you release it to third parties, it’s no longer yours.
What college/university did you attend for you Industrial Design degree and what was your experience there like? How do you feel some of the classes prepared you or didn’t prepare you in working in the design industry?
I studied a BA hons @ Leeds (UK), an MA @ Northumbria and an MPhil @ the Royal College of Art (London), and a Business Course @ Durham University. The experiences were mixed, both good and bad.
Nothing at University can prepare you for Industry, whist I was studying I made sure I worked on independent projects, worked in various production factories and tried to find as many intern placements I could. Even with business modules, advice and guidance from a college course, there’s nothing like the buzz, pressure and excitement of applying your skills to real world situations. Sometimes you make mistakes, but you learn quickly and don’t make them again. I look at some of the interns we’ve had in the studio here and it is a little bit of a baptism of fire, but they love the excitement of it. My advice would be to try and collect as much external experience as you can before you leave Uni, its tough but worth the effort. The first 6 months of experience are also the hardest to get, so be persistent, but not annoying.
When a student submits their portfolio/CV at Cohda Design, what do you look for in an applicant? Alternatively do you have any pet hates or information students should avoid in their portfolios?
Well firstly we get a lot of CV’s at Cohda and its often difficult to distinguish between them. Most of them show usual strong visuals and renders and various interesting product/furniture ideas. However they contain a lot of conceptual design work, and when you work in industry you can quickly work out if its based in reality or not. Anything is possible on screen, but translating it into reality isn’t always as easy. So I like to see feasible projects/ designs, also I like to see physical making skill being used in portfolios. Id much prefer to see and image of a half finished well made product in a workshop than a perfect finished render. As if you can work with your hands and understand materials and manufacture processes, then the designs will develop. You can’t design without the knowledge of the material and process. Most designers can make an attractive render, so show us something different and get our attention.
Do you have any general advice for students who are studying industrial design? What skills should they develop and learn?
Making skills, study materials processes and get your hands dirty. Don’t neglect the computer based 3D world to do this, but you need to have a strong knowledge of both. Once you understand the processes and materials, then you can challenge them, and that’ s when it gets exciting.
What would you consider to be the best and worst aspects of being a product designer?
One of the best things about working as a product designer I find, is being told ‘its not possible’, which I love. I get it a lot. It did surprise me how often I was told this when I first started designing, but when this comes up now I take it as a positive as It generally means that I’m onto something new. I’m not saying that anything is possible, but most people aren’t prepared to explore an experiment. So as a designer when you put some time into proving its possible (either a process, a new product or new material combination) there’s a lot of personal satisfaction.
Some of the worst aspects can be the pressure and responsibility; it’s a very competitive world. Like any business, timescales and budgets have to be met and far more time can be spent on business logistics than actual design.
Are there any iconic designers that you use as inspiration or mentors that have guided your design philosophy?
I wouldn’t say guided particularly, but I have been fortunate enough to work with and be tutored by some of the designers that I admire as both creative and business men, such as Tom Dixon and Ron Arad. But my icon has to be lighting designer Ingo Maurer, who I was fortunate enough to receive a call from after I presented a new lighting concept in a London Show a few years ago. Which was very kind of him.
What is the typical design process you go through to create products at Cohda Design?
I don’t think there is a typical design process, depending upon what the project is and who were working for this can be approached in various ways. However regardless of brief, we always go through a series of initial research, design and development, prototyping, experimentation, material and process selection, market research, and then you get into the wonderful world or pricing, tooling and other business costing.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the design industry in the United Kingdom? Has it changed? Where is it heading?
I think as with the economy it has slowed considerably, with buyers making more informed choices, but there will always be a place for well-designed products. Its just extremely competitive at the moment and this is set continue for the foreseeable future. However as an industry there is a shift toward environmental products, a more conservative use of materials.
Could you tell me about some of your latest projects and focus at Cohda Design?
Not in too much detail I’m afraid, but we are reaching all manner of materials and processes, including interactive LED lighting. We will be launching a series of new products from this research later in the year. We’re also looking at motion capture to influence some new products, and the most basic of materials Cardboard is producing some interesting results in the studio.
The Re-Vive table range could be described as being highly progressive and experimental design; it is almost like an art piece trying to say something to the user. What is the story/inspiration behind the Re-Vive table series?
Well the idea behind the Revive series of products was trying to solve the problem of shipping heavy furniture around the world at both a high monetary and environmental costs. We initially were asked to produce a new table design, but in producing a new design in either (a) recycled materials, (b) an energy efficiently manner didn’t really assist in reducing these Eco problems as much as we had hoped. So after a lot of research we found that most people posses something that could make a serviceable table top, all they needed was a leg that could be attached easily without skill or tooling. So the Revive legs were born. The 4 legs allow you to create a very durable ECO table in your own style. All you will require is a flat panel to attach them to. This could be literally anything you may have lying around.
They can be attached and removed within seconds and without the need for any expertise or tools, all that’s required to attach the legs is squeezing on the legs handles and they’ll clamp down firmly onto any flat surface. They can be removed just as easily with a simple release handle. So we are supplying the means to create, not a new product, we leave that up to the buyer.
You exhibit some of your newer products at the Milan Furniture Fair, ICFF and 100%, how important are these trade shows in advertising your products to new markets?
Yes there very important to get new products into this events and gauge public reaction to the new designs. We work with various retailers who sell Cohda products on our behalf, but its good for us as company to see the public reaction first had, rather than relying on this being fed back from our retail chain. Also as new company it’s about raising our brand awareness as well, like the recently released ‘Green-ade’ logo we created for 100% design last year; which has now become our core branding.
What are your thoughts on managing the relationship between design and manufacturing in your business?
Its imperative, both go hand in hand. Getting both design and manufacture to work in harmony will result in a valuable, unique, marketable product. If they’re imbalanced either way, then something went wrong in the design process.
In the UK there seems to be a growing trend of outsourcing manufacturing to Eastern Europe and China because of lower labor costs. What are your experiences/thoughts in this growing market trend?
Yes this is still the case that outsourcing manufacture continues to grow, but it’s driven by price and demand. At Cohda we still manufacture all of our products in the UK, but various companies who are eager to create our products cheaper and faster on our behalf have approached us. It’s something that we have decided not to do, but if we decide to manufacture outside of the UK with key partners, it must be in a very ethical manner. Maybe if we find such partners we would consider production out of the UK, but not at present.
Richard thanks for taking the time to talk with us here at Embody 3D. Do you have any last thoughts for the Embody 3D readers?
Yes! Come and join us on Facebook and share your thoughts and ideas with us, (www.facebook.com/cohda) or more information can be found on our website – www.cohda.com
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