• Sjs
Miscellaneous

Sir John Sorrell

Posted by Rob Alderson,

As one of the leading figures in UK design and the brains behind the London Design Festival, Sir John Sorrell is in a unique position to outline the state of the UK design industry, and suggest how to steer a course through the choppy times ahead. We spoke to him to get the lowdown on this year’s event and how the industry must adapt to survive and thrive.

Sat in the grandiose surroundings of Somerset House, Sir John Sorrell is proudly showing off two extraordinary pieces off furniture in his office – both fashioned from old wheelie bins – that he bought on the back of a show he went to in Deptford during 2006’s LDF. “I just thought they were completely brilliant so I bought the sofa and then commissioned the desk,” he said.

It’s the same passion that flares up several times throughout the interview – clearly here is a man with design running through his veins. Since the LDF started in 2003, it has grown year-on-year, much to his obvious delight and surprise. He recalls the promotional tour before the very first festival, when he visited 15 cities to drum up support for the event, ready to argue his case before what he presumed would be a cynical audience.

“I thought I would have to work very, very hard to give people reasons why we should be starting a design festival in London, but there was actually a real acceptance, a response that said, ‘We know the UK is brilliant at this.’

“Since then, 80 cities have started their own design festivals, which speaks for itself. It’s like anything – it’s great to get to the top of the table but it’s the hardest thing in the world to stay there. We have to continuously be more innovative and more imaginative,”

But despite going from strength to strength, this year’s event takes place against the backdrop of an uncertain financial climate.

The LDF never has a theme but as Sir John puts it: “There is obviously a very strong understanding of the economic need for growth, so there has never been a better time for the LDF to demonstrate how important design is to the economy, as well as to culture and society.

“I have been saying for a very long time that creativity and design are critical to helping drive growth and economic success, and it’s good to see politicians picking up on that.”

Key to the future of the industry, he insists, is maximising opportunities overseas, which is where his work with UK Trade & Investment comes in.

Sir John, in his role as UK Business Ambassador, will take part in a UKTI creative industries trade mission to China which will mark the inaugural Beijing Design Festival – September 26 to 30.

He will be joined by three other UK Business Ambassadors, Lord Jonathan Marland, Tamara Mellon and Brent Hoberman, and a number of the UK’s leading creative firms including Arup, Make Ltd, Priestmangoode, Garrard and Benoy.

“One of the key things the industry needs to do is develop its business abroad. The home market is fairly finite, but the opportunities for design companies are absolutely enormous if they look at the world as their market.

“That is why we are doing the design mission in Beijing, it’s very difficult just to get on a plane and go to China – where do you start? But UKTI provides a brilliant platform for companies to have a look in the kitchen and see what’s cooking. Designers can go over there with a group of like-minded people and a couple of people like me to support them and create the relationships which can lead to business afterwards.”

He admits he and wife Frances had no “grand strategic plan” when they started Newell and Sorrell more than 40 years ago, but said it is up to the creative industry to embrace the business world.

“I would say that if you don’t have those business skills then go out and get them – do courses, read books. You can learn how to read a balance sheet, it only takes a couple of hours.”

Sir John is also aware that the Government and other agencies have a part to play and he wants to see more initiatives to help younger companies crack international markets, but the process begins at home. Through his work with The Sorrell Foundation, he has become well-versed in the life skills employers crave – communication and teamwork in particular.

But there must also be the opportunities to inspire the designers of tomorrow, and the foundation’s programme of Saturday morning art classes is close to his heart – both he and his wife were turned onto their eventual profession by the Government-run classes that stopped in the 1970s. This year the foundation oversaw classes in 14 schools and colleges, with each taking up to 25 local children for a 30-week programme designed by the tutors themselves and supported by current students.

“Other countries have seen our position and are doing all kinds of things to catch up – we need to ensure we stay at the top of the game.”

Spoken like a true internationalist, who still believes in Britain.

www.londondesignfestival.com

Ra

Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Miscellaneous View Archive

  1. List

    There’s a day for for everything now; and last week we all celebrated World Emoji Day didn’t we? What do you mean you didn’t know? Seems pretty remiss of you if you don’t mind me saying. Anyway luckily the excellent folk over at Funny Or Die were much more on the ball than some people we won’t name and they marked the momentous occasion with a ridiculously silly blog of Rejected Emojis. With the help of Jesse Benjamin, Avery Monsen and Darryl Gudmundson, they compiled a Tumblr of offerings which ranged from the surreal to the sinister, the bizarre to the almost-could-be-true. That sad clown will haunt my dreams.

  2. List

    It’s common for people to imagine that they see faces made out of the shapes and folds of everyday objects: It seems to be a human trait that we like to see ourselves in the world around us. We look up at the clouds and imagine that we see the outlines of faces and body parts, and at night we convince ourselves that a rumpled item of clothing thrown over a chair is really a sinister grinning figure.

  3. Main

    Well, this is terrifying. Internet-loving artist Mario Santamaria has taken advantage of Google’s scheme to take the world into art galleries and ornate buildings all over the world by collecting screenshots of moments where the Google camera catches its own reflection in a mirror. Ghostly figures interact with the camera in some shots, and in others the machinery is draped with a weird silver cloth – first prize goes to the person who can identify what this cloth actually does. For me this is the best Google-related blog since Jon Rafman’s 9 Eyes and is hopefully a new dawn for simple, spine-tingling projects that linger with you just a smidge longer than you’d like.

  4. List

    Webcomics are another medium to emerge from the digital sphere, and a very interesting one at that; Bird’s Eye China is just another example of how funny, accessible and scathing they can be. The Tumblr blog is made up of screenshots from Baidu maps, a kind of Chinese online mapping service not dissimilar to Google Maps, but brilliantly, looks just like SimCity.

  5. Main1

    “The sun is always rising somewhere; breakfast is always just about to happen. Dinner time in Dakar is breakfast time in Brisbane. And in the background of breakfast is radio, soundtrack to a billion bowls of cereal or congee, shakshuka or api, porridge or changua.” Well, we certainly couldn’t have put that any better ourselves. Global Breakfast Radio arrived in my inbox courtesy of ex-It’s Nice That writer Bryony Quinn. The concept is simple and immediately engrossing: a live radio that streams breakfast shows from around the world as and when they happen. In their own words, “it’s the equivalent of a plane flying west with the sunrise, constantly tracking the chatter and music of people across the planet.”

  6. List

    Creative briefs come in all shapes and sizes, but opportunities to create work for one of the most popular and ubiquitous brands in there world don’t come round very often. That’s what makes this one so exciting, with our friends over at Talenthouse on the hunt for artists, designers, filmmakers and animators to create artwork for Spotify’s new #nowfeeling campaign which is built on the way music inspires and informs our relationships with the world, and each other.

  7. List2

    The amount of games out there is fairly mind-boggling and there are new ones flooding the market all the time. In the face of this kind of overload what’s needed are curators; people who know what they’re talking about, who can be trusted and who have great taste. Step forward then Cowboy Picks, a new archive of “inspiring game design” put together by the fine folks behind interaction design agency Hover Studio and animation production company Animade.

  8. Main

    It’s a universally acknowledged truth that the week back to work after a long weekend drags like no other, so with that in mind, we’re bringing you some light entertainment to break up your Thursday afternoon and while away the hours until Friday hits.

  9. List

    The average Beyoncé fan’s repertoire is fairly complete, as far as these things go; on top of the extensive merchandise and the dedicated online community (the Beyhive) there are bookmarked folders full to the brim with Tumblrs and fan-sites and even a dedicated Soundboard. What they don’t have, however, is an art gallery full of the one woman superstar’s family portraits. Or they didn’t, at least. They do now.

  10. List

    Few brands have a stronger association with brilliant British design than Jaguar and so the chance to customise its latest model is a pretty spectacular one. But at next month’s Clerkenwell Design Week one creative will get that opportunity, with the final piece becoming one of the centrepieces of the much-respected design festival.

  11. List

    Three instalments in and we’re still enthused by The Guardian’s street view series, in which a Google Street View specialist takes iconic images and recreates them using everybody’s favourite maps service. This time around they’ve recreated classic album artworks through the service, hunting down the original locations of such covers as The Beatles’ Abbey Road, Bob Dylan’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and Oasis’ (What’s the Story) Morning Glory. It’s a super-fun project, and a true testament to their specialist’s dedication! I wonder how many hours you’d have to spend staring at your computer screen before you start to visualise that tiny orange man hovering above the pavement as you walk down the road…

  12. Main

    Only Bompas and Parr could phone up one morning and reveal they’ve recently heard back from someone they sent to the jungle confirming that yes, they have indeed found the shiniest substance known to man. The humble pollia berries (or marble berries to some) are "an intriguing iridescent blue colour, covered with a glossy cell matrix that reflects light equivalent to around a third the level of a silver-backed mirror " and have been used in a very odd and exciting new collaboration between Bompas and Parr and jewellery designer Maud Traon.

  13. Actionlist

    Daniel Hashimoto just trumped every single other dad who thinks they’re doing a pretty good job and jumped straight to the top of the podium. How? He’s an After Effects artist for DreamWorks studios, and he’s taken to adding CGI to clips of his toddler son playing at home. As a result, little James sets fire to shelves with his light sabre in toy shops, falls through puddles on the street, jumps over hot lava bouncing from sofa to sofa in his living room and he shoots things left, right and centre. He even has his very own dedicated YouTube Channel, The Action Movie Kid. Don’t miss the moment when James exclaims “Golly!” as his house collapses in ravaging flames behind him. Thank God The Independent brought this to our Friday! AMAZING.