Today marks the opening of a small but perfectly formed exhibition in Bermondsey: Beautifully Simple. The show was put together by Brighton-based Hamish Makgill, founder of design and branding agency Studio Makgill, and his team as a way of celebrating the studio’s tenth birthday. At the centre of the exhibition is a simple idea (and, as you’ll immediately spot, simplicity is a recurring theme here) – displaying a selection of ten objects and projects from around the world that embody the studio’s design philosophy.
In spite of the confined space and the limited number of objects, the scope of the exhibition is impressive, covering everything from graphic design to industrial design, film and even cuisine (one of the “objects” is a plate of mushrooms representing a deliciously simple dish served by star Brighton chef Doug McMaster). And it ranges from works of clear aesthetic beauty (a poster by Shigeo Fukuda) to objects that aren’t obviously beautiful (a Jeep, represented here by the vehicle’s bonnet emblazoned with a white star).
Ahead of the exhibition’s launch, It’s Nice That sat down with Hamish to discuss how he defines “beautifully simple”, what unites these seemingly highly diverse objects and how on earth he whittled the selection down to just 10 examples. The exhibition runs from today (12 October) until Friday 19 October in the ground floor space at 3 Tyers Gate, London.
It’s Nice That: For you, “beautifully simple” – the title of the show – is not as straightforward as simply “minimalism”, is it? So how do you define it?
Hamish Makgill: It’s definitely not just minimalism. What we’ve come to realise is that it means the perfect response to a brief. Take the Jeep as an example – it’s an object that’s reduced to its absolutely essential parts and it’s so functional that it becomes inherently beautiful. You don’t look at the Jeep and go, ‘That’s a really sexy machine’ – it’s not; it’s a clumsy, blunt piece of design, but the conditions under which it was made and the final output and the job it had to do make it quite perfect. And the Jeep is a good one, because it really isn’t beautiful, whereas some of the other things in the exhibition are aesthetically beautiful. Of course there’s no reason why something can’t be beautiful in a more traditional sense as well, but we’re really talking about a beauty that makes you feel, ‘Oh, I wish I’d done that’. Or you can’t imagine an alternative solution. You don’t look at it and go, ‘Oh, but it would have been better if they’d done that’. There’s a perfection in it.
INT: Is that why the title of the show is “Beautifully Simple”? That puts the emphasis on simplicity, rather than beauty?
HM: Exactly. And most designers would agree that simplicity is a very hard thing to create – it’s not just about chucking things out until it’s simple, because it’s very easy to lose meaning or to lose function. It’s easier to add than take away. So hopefully what comes across in the exhibition is that there’s a lot of pain in some of those projects – you know they have taken a long time and taken a lot of development. Some of them appear to be so effortless, too. It can be one or the other.
INT: You’ve spoken about the Jeep. Are there any other objects that you think really sum up your philosophy here?
HM: I do really love them all but there’s a piece by a company called Teenage Engineering, who are a Swedish electronics company; they make music equipment and they’ve made these pocket synthesizers. One of the things we talk about is that most of these objects show their brief – you can see what they were trying to do. And with the synthesizer, you can see that it was about money – they wanted to make a small synthesizer that cost £50 or less. And so what they did was they took the housing out of it, so it’s essentially a circuit board – because one of the most expensive parts in terms of tooling is the outside piece and so they saved themselves a huge amount of money. But they didn’t just leave it off; they had to do some very clever things – there are sensitive components that need to be protected so they hid those under the screen and the speaker. But what you’re left with is this amazingly smart solution that looks really good, too. Nothing has preceded it – it’s its own type. When Teenage Engineering were at one of the big sound trade shows, everyone thought it was just a prototype, that they hadn’t finished it. But they’ve made it in a way that it looks fragile but it’s not at all. It’s a brilliant piece of design and engineering.