Home Institute talks to British designer Sebastian Wrong about designing products for Wrong for Hay, a collaboration with Danish homewares brand, Hay, and the drive to create something different.
HI/ How much does being in London effect the products you’re producing for Wrong for Hay?
SW/ London is a global village. It’s a bit cheesy to say it, but it is. It’s culturally very diverse and multilayered whereas Copenhagen is not. Copenhagen is fantastically cultured, classic, beautiful. It’s not chocolate box nice, it’s just Scandinavia. Whereas London is much more colourful. And being a person who’s spent many, many years here, of course that inspiration, exposure and diversity rubs off on what I do.
HI/ There’s professional networks, friendship networks, things that get created in the pub over a pint, and things that get made within business environments. What’s the breakdown of personal relationships and commercial relationships among the designers you work with?
SW/ Everyone I work with, I know. For me it’s very important to have a good personal bond with people. I don’t want to work with people I don’t get on with, because I don’t think that’s necessary and it makes the experience much harder than it needs to be. Ultimately, we have to deliver a successful and commercially viable product, so everything is subjected to the same rigorous product development. How I meet the designer or how I’m introduced to the design can be in different ways. It could be a student, it could be a friend. It could also be a piece I saw many years ago from another company. There are a lot of businesses that aren’t capable of taking a design forward to market for many different reasons. Designers, unfortunately, are suffering because of it. So there’s also an opportunity to migrate products from one business to another.
HI/ Where do the issues lie in bringing a product to market and what are some of your advantages?
SW/ There could be many different reasons for a product design getting stuck. One excellent advantage I have in starting a new brand with Hay as a business partner is that we have a very good sales and distribution team in place to plug into. The premise of the first discussion I had with Rolf and Mette Hay was around lighting. They wanted to get into lighting but they’d never done that before. Rolf’s DNA is furniture and Mette is from a retail and accessories background. Lighting is obviously a different typology.
HI/ Why did Hay approach you specifically, do you think?
SW/ They approached me because they wanted to do more than just lighting, they wanted to do a new brand, a UK brand, that has distance from Scandinavian associations. That’s more about what I’m interested in. I’m not exclusively a lighting designer. I actually trained as a sculptor, I didn’t train as a designer, so I have a very eclectic eye and an interest in many different things. I can realise the value in working with the designer Nathalie Du Pasquier or the artist Richard Woods, who I’ve worked with and collaborated with for many, many years. It’s about having the confidence, the nerve and the opportunity to present things that maybe are a little bit different.
HI/ When you’re working with artists like Richard or Nathalie, do you notice a different between their approach to designing products compared with someone who perhaps has trained in design?
SW/ No, not at all. Someone like Nathalie is well versed in design as well as art, similar to Richard Woods. These are two very good examples of professional creatives who manage to bridge from the non function to the function very well. Of course, Nathalie’s background in design is far more pattern-based, whereas Richard’s is more object-based. But his work still came from a background in printing. They both respect and understand well the need for functionality to go into design and that’s the clear difference between art and design: art is non-functional, design needs to function.
HI/ And yet both can say something about the world or say something about our time, which is where Wrong for Hay is quite clever in that the objects do have a perspective on the world that comes through.
SW/ Yes, there are some that are a little more accelerated than others. The Cloche Light is a great example of a design that is classic in its language – it’s very Bauhaus, like an homage to – but it’s also a little bit weird in it’s unbalance.
HI/ What is it that you would like to see more of in the world and what’s your design criteria?
SW/ We don’t need anymore chairs or lights. So if a product is going to be born or conceived, it has to add value on some level. And this value needs to be or can be measured on a number of different criteria – it could be its aesthetic value, it could be innovative, it could be a fantastic price … we have to be quite clear about what a product is able to deliver. It’s very easy to design something that is very, very beautiful and costs an obscene amount of money. It’s challenging to design something that is very, very beautiful and that is also competitively priced. That’s what we have to strive for.
HI/ What motivates you to do what you’re doing?
SW/ My motivation is having the eye, the confidence and having the belief in myself to take an idea and see it through. I guess you could say it is egotistical, or rigorous, or stubborn. It’s also an ambition to succeed in doing something different. I’m desperate to support and cultivate a collection of objects that could be purchased by anybody, that is memorable and lasts the test of time in terms of its value. I would love to appeal not only the design elite or the well-informed cultural consumers; if we could open our products up to the mass market, I think it would be a great opportunity to enrich people’s lives and homes.
Sebastian Wrong is the creative director of Wrong for Hay. He studied sculpture at Norwich School of Art before forming his own manufacturing company in 1996 and was a founding member of Established & Sons. He also teaches at the Royal College of Art and is the creator of The Wrong Shop.