My little bit on the side: The secret life of designers

What happens when designers need a change?

Zaha Hadid, architect

Celebrated for her intense, avant-garde design, the British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid recently stepped out of her comfort zone to team up with the innovative footwear brand Melissa to create an acutely sculptural, yet usable, women's shoe. "I've always wanted to expand what I do," she says. "I want to build my repertoire; to take from one discipline, and apply to another. I've often thought about the possibility of moving into other areas of the industry, but had no idea that I could interpret and apply what I was learning in regard to architecture, in so many different ways." The collaboration with Melissa was, then, an appealing prospect: "I'd known of the brand for some time," she says, "and I've always really loved shoes, generally. A few years ago, I was invited by Melissa to work with them on a pair of our own creation. We've worked closely ever since, to produce something visually amazing, but also wearable. Any shoe can look good, or be comfortable, but creating something fun and versatile, but also – in many senses – practical, was a challenge. One of the heels of our shoe-boot is shorter than the other, so on top of the visual design, we had to work hard on the logistics of making that aspect work. The main goal, after all, was to create something one could walk on. It's been amazing to see it transformed from a free drawing to a prototype, which will be available in a range of colours – matte or iridescent – and can be worn on the beach, or with black tights or colourful socks, to achieve many different looks. This was such fun to work on; branching out from my usual methods was exciting."

Jonathan Adler, ceramicist

Manhattan-based ceramicist Jonathan Adler launched his career with a range for the smart department store Barney's. Fifteen years later, he was again enlisted by Barney's to create a range of ornaments for this year's Christmas collection, which follows the theme: Have a Hippy Holiday. "Peace and Love was the motif for 2008's seasonal message," he explains. "And it was an amazing project to be involved with. There is something fantastic about having a set assignment. Fine artists, unlike applied artists, suffer from their freedom. But having a concrete mandate, such as this, fosters the creative process without leaving too much room for interpretation. As an applied artist, I have a wide visual vocabulary to call on, which helped me push above and beyond my initial expectations on this project. Once I was told the theme, I went to my studio and worked on some prototypes. I didn't want to get into a 'back-and-forth' debate about the design. Thankfully, they're very good at giving you space and put a lot of trust in their designers, so there was never any mention of changing anything. I'm thrilled with the result, which is a bit different and groovy. There's a slight Pop Art reference in the 'peace' sign – and for the 'love' aspect, there's a nod to Robert Indiana's iconic Love sculpture. My work is about evolution and extrapolation. Because my style is so eclectic, I have many references to work from. Every assignment I do helps push me a little further forwards."

Jasper Morrison, furniture designer

A chair made from cork? That wasn't part of Jasper Morrison's master plan. Until 2004, when he was working on a chair design with Rolf Fehlbaum, CEO of Vitra. Chairs were Morrison's stock in trade, but a change in material was on the agenda. Quite by accident, in the pursuit of comfort, he discovered a new, and unexpected, resource: cork. "The first prototype I submitted was a much simpler shape, like a chair carved from a cube. There wasn't anything 'wrong' with what I'd produced, it just wasn't very comfortable," he says. He knew there had to be a change in tack when Fehlbaum, in no uncertain terms, pointed out that it looked far too "heavy".

"It's rare to receive any critical comments, as a designer," Morrison says, "but when someone whose opinion I value so much suggested we find a lighter, more interesting shape, I had to make more effort than usual. I faxed the final sketch to Fehlbaum with a note explaining that I liked the form of the revised design: it looked like something an Inuit tribe might have made, not that they'd use cork! It was all rather inspiring."

Orla Kiely, fashion designer

Since launching her label 10 years ago, Orla Kiely's designs have attracted attention from both high-street retailers and the art-world. A string of collections for the likes of Marks & Spencer and Debenhams under her belt, as well as her own brand and diffusion range offering handbags and accessories, Kiely's bold, colourful prints eventually caught the eye of Tate Modern. Focusing on specific exhibitions on display at the gallery, she produced a series of exclusive ranges for the Tate shop. "It started in 2004," Kiely explains, "and ideas emerged from spending time walking around the Tate. The first project stemmed from a temporary exhibition, which had a Sixties feel to it. The art of that time had a lot to say about science fiction, and what the future had in store. I wanted to include a martian print: a clean graphic, with a quirky twist. From this, we created cute little purses, a foldaway shopper, badges and notebooks." And this collection led to another. "The second operation was even better and brighter than the first. It was loosely attached to the Bauhaus movement, so we created a graphic colour study, phasing through to a geometric form. And now we're on our third collaboration." This one was rooted in the Tate's permanent collection and required an abstract approach, which challenged the designer's usual methods. "It was a good thing to do in that sense," Kiely says. "To work on ideas inspired by a loose concept, rather than focusing on a specific theme, as we had done with the previous collections. It was a fun and satisfying challenge."


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