This is the fifth in a series of interviews with young designers identified by the Design Council as “Ones to Watch“. Felix Bell‘s Brick Bottle is an everyday drinks container with a potentially life-changing second use. The empty container, when filled with sand or soil, transforms into a construction material, designed to build fire, flood and earthquake-resistant shelters for refugees in disaster and conflict zones, using it’s interlocking design. Felix’s project was selected in the Social Impact category alongside architect Neil Michel’s Civic School, a 24-hour school for both public and pupils; and Chris Natt’s Blastproof which aims to reduce landmine-removal injuries.
What’s the most important thing to know about you?
I love science and people who make the time we have on the planet more sustainable for everyone.
What inspires your work?
As designers, we have the power to be at the forefront of social and environmental change. I want to make a difference.
Talk me through your design and making process.
I always dedicate a lot of time to research. The research never really stops, it carries on throughout the design and development process. You have to have a full understanding of your subject matter before you can start designing. When I finally get pen to paper, my approach is like taking on a puzzle; the function, material and manufacturing process have to work together. The function of my design usually drives the aesthetics.
What’s your favourite part of the process?
I love the freedom of idea generation but also the detail that goes into problem solving when a product is being developed.
What’s your favourite tool and why?
The 3D printer. It has brought, and will continue to bring, manufacturing into people’s homes, creating a new open-sourced way of designing and producing products. Currently, the 3D printer is treated like the personal computer was in the late 1970s – people thought it was cool but they couldn’t comprehend what it might be used for.
Tell me about a really good day and a really bad day in the life of Felix Bell.
A bad day, or even week, is when I just don’t do anything. I set out to reach a goal and by the end I have achieved nothing – it’s really depressing. However, it’s great when I finally solve the problem I have been stuck on and I realise that the day or week I thought I had wasted was actually really useful. It’s an interesting cycle.
What defines good design?
This is a hard question. But I would say good design is when someone can make a product that is socially driven, environmentally responsible and of course economically viable.
What are you most proud of?
So far, being part of the team that designed the benches for the 2013 Manchester International Festival. We designed them so we could cut the highest number of fins out of the the sheet material we received. Our design resulted in less than 0.8% wasted material per board. The material we used was Stokbord which is very durable, water resistant and made from 100% recycled plastic. The final product was economic, functional and environmentally effective, without compromising the quality of design.
What advice would you give to an aspiring designer?
There are a lot of designers and even more products out there. Understand why you are designing and for what purpose and your products will stand out. Be able to justify the existence of your design and ask: “Is this what I want to bring into the world?”
What did it mean to you to be selected as one of the Design Council’s Ones To Watch?
I am honoured to be chosen as one of the “70 to watch” and to be associated with other outstanding designers featured alongside me. It was also gratifying to see people’s appreciation for functional design as well as the aesthetically pleasing designs, although I think function in itself can lead to extremely beautiful products.
And finally, what’s your favourite colour?
I would say black, but that feels like a cop out, so Pantone 7408C [a warm yellow].
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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