In January of this year, I launched the confessions of a design geek bursary which gave five new designers their first experience of a trade show, along with mentoring, photography and exposure. Over the months since, I’ve been catching up with the shortlisted designers to find out more about their experience. This week it’s the turn of StolenForm aka Ali Amer and Christian Marsden…
What’s the most important thing to know about you?
Ali: I really believe that active listening is at the core of my reality. It has been the greatest value to most of my experiences, allowing me to assimilate and put into practice a wealth of information. This has developed into StolenForm, keeping me open, transparent and engaged within the industry.
Christian: My background is in craft, which is a passion I’ve had for as long as I can remember. The studio and workshop environment is where I most like to be, besides touring around foreign cities with friends. I will always have this interest in working with materials and new methodologies.
How did you feel when you found out you’d been shortlisted for the confessions of a design geek bursary?
Ali: I felt like I was in a library containing all my excitement. Breaking the silence was a great feeling; everyone around me was extremely supportive. When I had digested the initial feeling, the reality of being at a major tradeshow event alongside some of the leading brands in the industry was a fantastic opportunity for us.
Christian: A great sense of appreciation and reward, knowing that people who love design had noticed our product. The timing couldn’t have been better as we had only launched the business a matter of months previously. I knew it was the perfect opportunity to gain exposure for our brand at such an early stage of our business.
What did you get out of being part of Home London?
Ali: More over those three days, than the six weeks of previous trading! Meeting my contemporaries was hugely advantageous, it not only brought us out of our studio to exhibit and share our work, more importantly it allowed us to connect with people very quickly. I noticed my learning curve accelerate during the tradeshow; everybody around me had such divergent perspectives of the industry and the relationship of their own design practice.
Christian: Real face-to-face time with retailers is very important, we had a lot of interest for orders, which is the best situation we could have hoped for.
Having the product on display at our first trade show was a great feeling. It was an opportunity to review our journey, from first production to our future pipeline products eventually by its side.
What have you got planned as a result?
Ali: For me this has really brought into question our initial strategy, giving me what I needed to steer our business model. It has opened up various routes and networks to growing our design practice further.
Christian: Relationships are very important to us, it’s the way we stated our own partnership and we will continue to develop relationships with others. New designs and products are also on the agenda next, we have some exciting new developments that were currently working on, we can’t wait to share them with everybody soon.
What inspires your designs?
Ali: Creating an opportunity to solve a problem where there were no solutions before. Problems come in equal weight – it’s accidents, misinterpretations and failures that inspire me to create. It’s a large part of my design process, finding a solution.
Christian: Just stepping out my front door, there is a bounty of inspirational treasure. The urban environment is a strong part of our brand, and we never tire of looking at it. We are constantly observing new objects, impressions and signage. From moments stood sheltering from the rain under a bridge (which after a while seems surprisingly comforting) to looking out of the tube window at a world only known by service men and drivers. We are all aware of these environments, but we often overlook them – it is precisely these types of situations that drive my designs.
Talk me through your design process from initial idea to final product?
Ali: We start a journey through the city until we have a selection of potential ideas for product. We return to the studio and experiment with our findings, whether they’re cut outs in our sketchbooks, online documents or getting tactile and deconstructing real objects. Then we apply comprehensive product research, from competitor analysis and trend products to materials and functionality. We finalise a few initial ideas and produce maquettes for our market research stage. The results of that research take us into the second stage of prototyping, where we create moulds and develop finished products for quality control and retailer feedback. We then finalise a product and send to our mould maker, Tony, to produce a master mould, block mould and working moulds ready for manufacturing. Finally we give the go ahead for Diane (our manufacturer in Nottingham) to produce the final labour intensive product ready for dispatch.
Describe a really good day and really bad day in the life of StolenFrom?
Ali: When all the variables of the business are happening simultaneously and in harmony I really feel I have developed my own ecosystem – that is a great feeling.
A really bad day would be when the internet decides to launch a revolution and lower its bandwidth, leaving me with buffering circles and a frantically twitching index finger!
Christian: A good day starts with the luxury of time for a long breakfast and the paper. When this happens, I know it’s Saturday! I would start every day by leaving the house to go climbing if I could. After which, I would suggest to find a city pub to discuss some creative ideas over a good pint of ale. A pastime I’m fully committed to!
The bad days. These days, often on a rainy Monday, where it typically consists of book keeping, filing and cleaning the studio. Not exactly what I jump out of bed for, but it certainly needs my time.
What are you most proud of?
Ali & Christian: Definitely how we’ve both merged the process of business and design as a couple. It’s completely transformative to a practice that was just seen as an expression, it now has multiple threads and routes that are part of a larger model. We’ve harnessed and deployed the experience we picked up on the way, making mistakes and debating the course of our business, bringing out the best performance in both our abilities.
What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking of becoming a designer?
Ali: Just act! Act now! There is no beginning, middle or end, your narrative journey to becoming a designer travels full circle – its not formulaic or in steps. Just one small action creates enough to start off, whether it be visiting a gallery or scribbling ideas down, a little action can be just the catalyst.
Christian: An obvious port of call would be to understand the field of design you want to go into, and to produce a portfolio that explains who you are as a designer. Networking is worth its weight in gold, if it were tangible. Experiences like Home London are stepping stones along the journey, they help clarify your vision and give you the confidence that people out there appreciate what you’re trying to do.
What’s your favourite colour?!
Ali: Clearly a circumstantial question, it whole-heartedly lies with my capricious self, colours are individually characteristic to any one of my senses, all vying to hijack for dominance. However for the purposes of showing my true poison, it has to be charcoal grey, almost black.
Christian: Ali has taken grey, so I’d have to balance it with either yellow ochre or jade.
Further reading for the especially geeky:
Having established confessions of a design geek in 2010, Katie Treggiden has gone on to a career in design journalism, writing for titles such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, Elle Decoration, Stylist, Design Milk and Ideal Home. In 2014, she launched Fiera, an independent magazine dedicated to discovering new talent at the world’s design fairs. Her second book, Makers of East London, was published in 2015.
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