Creative Industries: Seven of the best for Britain: Developing designers

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The Independent Online
RICHARD SEYMOUR and Dick Powell are not nearly as well known as, say, the fashion designer John Galliano, the architect Lord Rogers or even the corporate logo specialists at Wolff Olins. But in many ways they are more influential, while what they produce is certainly much more familiar to the public at large.

For the pair - "one hairy, the other smooth", as one profile put it - have through their company Seymour Powell designed such everyday household products as kettles, food processors and toasters. But their talents do not stop in the kitchen. They can also turn their hands to trains and motorcycles - the latter a passion for both men.

Like many product development companies, though, much of their work is done for overseas companies. Their first break, soon after the company was set up in 1984, came when the French company Tefal called them in to design a kettle on the grounds that electric kettles are peculiarly British. This led to the first cordless kettle and a host of work from the company. Television viewers will also remember them - more recently - designing an updated BSA Bantam motorcycle to a commission from a German company, while they have recently helped Minolta of Japan develop a range of cameras aimed at the family rather than the serious photographer.

Indeed, they have worked for a number of Japanese companies, including a current client, the electronics group Casio. Not that it is always easy. Mr Powell has said that the Japanese are constantly trying to rationalise design, while "we depend on being illogical".

Working for such a variety of clients has helped give Seymour Powell a higher profile than perhaps its size suggests - still only about 25 employees after 14 years in business - that it warrants. But it is also fair to say that the company gets a lot of attention simply through still being around.

Many design companies became big in the 1980s, but they resisted the temptation because they have no interest in running a big business and making a lot of money. "This company was founded to let Dick and I do what we wanted to do," says Mr Seymour, adding that this is a "quicker route to happiness" than doing something you do not much like in the hope of making enough money to spend your leisure time doing what you enjoy. "Turnover is vanity; profitability and quality of life are much more interesting," he points out.

Not that this means that the company is against developing in new directions. Both Mr Seymour and Mr Powell have long realised that a lot of what companies value them for comes down to what they refer to as their "weather satellite approach". By working on various products, they have acquired a good grasp of where the world is going and - as the Millennium approaches - companies are increasingly interested in their take on the future.

Accordingly, they have recently been joined by James Woudhuysen, a well- known academic and practitioner in the forecasting field who has a brief to develop that side of the business. Combining their industry knowledge and insights with the data that Mr Woudhuysen, an old friend, will collect should prove a "potent combination," adds Mr Seymour.

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