interview :: ella doran

Katie | November 29, 2016

Ella Doran is an award-winning designer, who pioneered the use of digital printing techniques, and specifically the application of photography onto functional, everyday objects, when it was first developed in the 1990s. Now an established designer in her field, she champions the design industry’s shift towards sustainability and a circular economy. Editor Katie Treggiden caught up with her to find out more…

What's the most important thing to know about you?

I am a passionate person who cares about good design, people, and the materials we use and engage with. I like to think globally and act locally and I love to create designs for everyday living with a particular focus on the interior space.

interview :: ella doran

Where do ideas come from?

I am inspired by my everyday surroundings, the here and now. I am influenced by the wonderful eclecticism of where I live and work in Hackney, alongside the travels that I go on. I guess I see the world in a certain way and I am lucky enough to be able to interpret that into my artwork and work with some amazing people, brands, retailers and manufacturers to bring my ideas and designs to life.

interview :: ella doran

What are you working on at the moment?

I currently have two major projects running alongside putting the finishing touches to a new design that will launch next year for our ‘everyday collection‘:

  • The Radcliffe hospital in Oxford has commissioned us to design and procure the radiology department reception and waiting room areas. My company is running the interior design work, and I am creating the artworks.
  • The Yorkshire Sculpture Park has commissioned me to design a collection for their shop to celebrate 40 years of the park. I will also have a solo exhibition later in 2017, which will celebrate my love of texture, material and process. More details will be announced in early January.
interview :: ella doran

Talk us through your design and making process.

For the last decade, most of my commissions have started with my camera as my initial canvas. I then predominantly work in Photoshop to create my designs. Depending on the brief, I may sketch, paint or screen-print artworks and then scan and incorporate them into the photographic design. But this all depends on the client and the work. In terms of one of our own ‘in house’ collections like Artist’s Tools, once the design is created, we crop, scale and adapt it for the various products. Every product type is approached separately, we do not, as a rule, just apply the same design to every product.

In Bikes of Hackney for instance, you can see that the original collection of mats uses my literal photographs, and the repeat design is built up from many cut out photographs. The bike wheel images then complete the collection by adding a bold and graphic statement.

Because of my commitment to working more sustainably through the principles of the circular economy, wherever possible we use recycled materials, and work with materials that last and age well. I am always interested in collaborating with fellow designers, to share good practice and design knowledge. I loved what came out of working with The Great Recovery (a project run by the RSA which looks at the challenges of waste and the opportunities of a circular economy through the lens of design) and Camira Fabrics in 2015 and I am excited to be part of the Circular Transitions conference and showcase.

interview :: ella doran

Which part of the process do you enjoy the most?

The designing and communicating – there is nothing better than seeing an initial idea materialise from a brief into a successful product or one-off commission.
I was involved in a brilliant project at the V&A a couple of years ago. Working alongside The Great Recovery and Galapagos Design we hosted a live upholstery installation during London Design Festival. I designed the fabric, which came out of an amazing trip to Reykjavik. The piece we used was my Grandmother’s love seat, which was reupholstered in mirror-imaged fabric. It was a fantastic week seeing it all come together right in front of us, and the audience. That design then became part of our ‘everyday collection’, called Rekki in Reykjavik.

Another part I enjoy is refining the process. For example, our wallpapers are digitally printed here in the UK, we use eco inks and print onto a high grade FSC paper. We have refined the production process so that we sit on minimal stock, enough to be able to send samples, make displays and set up photo shoots. Any paper used at a trade show or display is never thrown away, we use it for creative workshops or discount it to the creatively-minded to use for decoupage projects.

interview :: ella doran

What defines good design?

A good design for me should incorporate some or all of the following:

  • rigorous ergonomics
  • superb functionality
  • attention to detail
  • good quality materials
  • …and always good colour!

Good humour, happiness, love, and thoughtfulness, are also great ingredients for a good design.

interview :: ella doran

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud to be a mother of two healthy and intelligent teenage boys. I am also quite proud to still be in business after nearly 20 years of following my creative heart and eye in everything I do. The people I have worked with and met, and the amazing designers and studio assistants who have worked for me over the years all make me feel very proud and happy.

interview :: ella doran

What advice would you give to a new designer?

Keep defining and refining what your unique take on design is.
Challenge yourself and go where your passion takes you.
Be open to opportunities and collaborate when and where you can.
Experience first hand as many production processes as you can of the area of design you are interested in and really think about what might happen when and if your product comes to the end of its life, how might you communicate its next cycle to the end user?
Be curious, be inquisitive and most of all: be YOU!

interview :: ella doran

And finally, what's your favourite colour?!

Green… followed quickly by neon orange and then pink and blue!

interview :: ella doran

Further Reading for the Especially Geeky ::

Founding Editor – Katie Treggiden

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.

Follow Katie on Twitter or Instagram.

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