With several new launches rolling out over the next few months, the British designer spoke to Design Anthology UK about why simple design endures the best, working on an international scale, and the pros and cons of lockdown
DESIGN ANTHOLOGY UK: What are the main preoccupations behind your work? What hangs it all together?
DANIEL SCHOFIELD: It’s always evolving but I think there are recurring themes like simplicity, honesty, empathy and trying to solve problems, but doing so in a really simple but engaging way, while still leaving space for that moment of realisation or humour and excitement. The overall aim is to create objects that age well and stand the test of time.
I recently got given a load of old Designs of the Year books from 1986 – 2007; they’re not published any more, but were produced each year and edited by a different designer. It was really interesting to see what was happening at the time, but also to see what still looks fresh and has aged well, and what is still selling and in production. It seems to me that the simplest designs have fared the best, and it reinforced the ‘simplicity’ route for me.
DA: Is it actually quite complicated to achieve that simplicity, though?
DS: I think it’s a process of reduction to get to that nice balance where the object still gives enough, but also is simple enough to have that understanding and immediacy. This often takes a sort of confidence as I think society often teaches us that more is better. A nice example of that is the ceramic Mag table for Conran: the aim is to let the material take centre stage, then the details are designed around making the product as robust as possible, so removing any sharp edges that might be more susceptible to chipping off.
I think it's a process of reduction to get to that nice balance where the object still gives enough, but also is simple enough to have that understanding and immediacy. This often takes a sort of confidence as I think society often teaches us that more is better
DA: You always seem to get the best out of any given material – is that often the starting point for a product?
DS: Thank you! I think the Ore tables for Ercol are a good recent example of that. Ercol asked me if I could increase their material palate, so I was looking for something that would really complement their beautiful woodwork. I ended up going with sand-cast iron as I think the honesty of its manufacture and history complements the timber production. There is also a textural element to sand-cast metal that plays nicely against wood grain. Functionally it helps weight the base and keep it steady and allow for a smaller base so can tuck nicely up to sofas or each other.
DA: Do you always develop a product in the same way?
DS: It’s a real mix, but the starting point is always pen and paper. I carry little sketchbooks everywhere with me and usually work on concepts on the bus or train (or used to – now it’s at home more often!). A lot of my work is often a response to a material or process, so investigating that is also an avenue. Once I have a concept I think is worth progressing I usually jump between the computer and 1:1 scale mock ups, usually made of card and scrap wood. This really helps refine the details and scale.
DA: What have you been doing the last few months, and how has your working practice adapted since lockdown?
DS: Well first I panicked as everything I was working on got put on hold which left me feeling a bit deflated and uncreative. So I took some time to brush up on my computer skills and photography, and work on my website and branding – things that I’ve been putting off or not had the time to do. Then when things had settled down I got back in the rhythm of designing and feeling creative, and have been working on lots of new projects – quite a few desks, in fact, which is directly linked to the current situation.
Everything is so uncertain, which is frustrating, but also exciting as change is happening so fast right now. I do miss sitting down with people I’m working with and drawing ideas or details; I think that’s very important for how I work. Also visiting factories and workshops, which are always inspiring.
DA: What have you got coming up for the rest of the year?
DS: I’ve been working on a sofa and armchair for SCP for about a year now. It aims to help bridge the live-work environment, both in the workplace and at home, which could be quite timely! There is a small space-saving desk for Japanese brand Ishinomaki Laboratory [pictured top right]. They are a really interesting brand that set up after the earthquake in Japan to give employment and also furniture back to local villages. They do a lot of charitable work and everything has to be designed around the idea of localised manufacture, so using standardised materials and fixings. The desk leans against a wall, but can also be fixed back to back to stand freely, making larger work areas. I’m interested to see where this one ends up and gets used.
The Danish brand Please Wait to Be Seated are producing the Crofton Stools, which I launched at Salone Satellite, and they are set to launch the production version at [Danish design show] Three Days of Design in September, they will be in a range of colours and with upholstery. There are some desks I’m working on for Conran which are at the other end of the spectrum to the Ishinomaki Laboratory one so that gives a nice balance. They are also producing the Stopper Lamp, a prototype cork lamp I made a while ago. I’m also working on some seating for a new Portuguese brand called Mor who are working with some designers I really admire, so that’s exciting.
DA: You’ve worked with a lot of stellar British brands such as Another Country and Benchmark, but seem to be going international – was that intentional? Is it different to working with a home-grown company?
DS: I don’t think it really was intentional, I just want to work with brands that share my values and produce good quality work. I seem to be working with lots of Danish brands at the moment though which I enjoy. Scandinavia obviously has a great design history, so I find they have a very confident approach which is quite reassuring.
Working with Ishinomaki Laboratory has been interesting. As they are in Japan we have never met, so it’s all been done over email, Zoom meetings and sending pictures of sketches to each other. It’s a different way of working, but I’m enjoying the challenge.