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Interview met Tristian Thornhill

Hey you, introduce yourself! Who are you and what is your business?

Hi, I’m Tristian Thornhill, an award winning industrial designer from london.  I studied Industrial Design and Technology at Loughborough University before starting my career as a product designer in an innovation consultancy and moving into in-house design studios.  I’ve worked acoss a wide range of product sectors, from technical packaging to drug delivery devices, audio equipment, home floor care machines, gas detectors and furniture.  It has been an exciting journey working with many different people, materials and processes. 

I decided to start my business with the aim to design, develop and influence every aspect of creating beautiful products that connect with people.  Working for clients can create limitations that change the design intent, often having constraints put on the design for reasons outside the scope of the consumer desire for wanting the product.  The Allium lamp range is the first creation by Tristian.  A convergence of nature and technology,  Allium is a contemporary, high quality etched lamp inspired by the allium plant and brought to life with light. 

Tristian Thornhill in zijn studio

Why have you chosen for being a designer?

I have always had a fascination with how things work, regularly tearing down products when a young boy and thinking of ways to reuse components in different ways.  I have always wanted to make things that people can enjoy and enhance their lives. 

What do you like best about your profession?

I enjoy the challenge of working through problems, cross fertilising ideas across different product sectors that combine to create an elegant solution that both functions and looks beautiful.  It’s like trying to juggle a whole load of balls all at once.  If you manage it, it’s a wonderful thing.  Seeing the product in shops, selling successfully is the final reward for the hard work involved.

What are your biggest successes until now?

My biggest success is getting to where I am with my business. I have managed to create my first range of lamps, basically in my ‘free’ time, dealing with a miriad of different people and companies whilst learning so many different things over and above my pre business skillset.  It is enabling me to start designing further products for my brand.

De Allium Mini van Tristian Thornhill

What are the kinds of products that you are thinking about as next products?

I think that I have to be pragmatic about what my future products will be.  In the short term, I am currently extending my lighting range by developing  lamps that also act as acoustic absorbers.  They use similar principles to the Allium range in that they are made from pieces of flat material formed into a globe with no other fixings.  Though complex in form, beautiful in their simplicity using minimal material.  I have many ideas within the lighting arena, but in the longer term, so long as I am creating  innovative products, I don’t see myself being constrained within one sector.

What is your dream for your company?

My biggest dream for my company is for it to become a recognisable brand for creating beautiful products that people want.  It would be great to invest in people the idea that good design really does pay in the long term, so that we can move away from a race to the bottom for cheap throwaway products.

Which piece of furniture are you most proud of and why?

I actually don’t have any furniture that I’m proud of, yet!  However, I’ve always loved the Panton chair, the world’s first moulded plastic chair, for the apparent simplicity of it.

De Panton Chair van Vitra © Vitra

Did the Panton chair inspire you with your own designs?

In a way, yes it did.  At the time, I believe that it was thought you couldn’t make an injection moulded chair in one piece.  This was challenged with the result being a beautiful chair that appeared so simple and elegant, almost hiding the challenge involved in developing it.  I think there are certain parallels to the Alium range, being able to form a complete globe with no other materails required or fixings used.

What are your favourite activities?

Running, because it’s so natural and simple, you can just grab your trainers and go and get lost in your thoughts. I come back refreshed, ready to start sketching new ideas!

And in your work as a designer?

I think that would be coming up with ideas.  Although this can feel a little stressful to begin with for the fear that no good idea will come, it invariably does and with it quite an exciting rush.  It’s really enjoyable developing that seed of an idea through to an actual viable product.

What is the most important skill that you need to have to become a designer in your opinion?

A broad knowledge base with an inquisitive nature. 

What is your biggest mistake ever made during your career? What came out of it?

Not fighting strongly enough towards the beginning of my career to shout harder for the consumer voice in the design process.  There is nothing worse than going through the time and effort in realising a design that ticks all of the boxes asked for by a client, but then does not sell successfully because the design was not validated by the consumer first.

How do you implement the validation by the customer in your design process then?

I use the double diamond process, which has four phases.  The first two phases are discovery and define, where you find insights into the problem before focusing down to define the right thing.  This is the time to challenge assumptions and carry out testing with consumers.  This could simply be talking to friends and family or guerilla testing in your locality, all the way to creating value propositions, translating insights into “reasons to believe” and testing these within focus groups.  The second diamond is where potential solutions are developed based on the consumer feedback,  before converging on a solution.  This has been validated, since the problem was properly defined to find out “Do people want it/need it?”

How are you dealing with sustainability in your company? And what are your ambitions regarding sustainability?

I’ve been dealing with sustainability through the design of the products I make. I designed them to be assembled by the end user, reducing transport and storage issues, since the plates that make up the lamp are supplied flat, the lamps are also available pre assembled by me! By building something yourself, you feel more invested in the product and thus hopefully keep it for longer, extending its useable life. 

De Allium worden standaard flat packed verzonden, om zo duurzaam mogelijk te kunnen transporteren. Dit is de Allium in goudkleurige uitvoering.

Everything on the lampshade is made from 100% stainless steel, which makes for easy recycling.  The material is very robust, so won’t easily get damaged.  There are no other fixings or glues to make disassembly or recycling difficult.  The actual size of the individual plates are such that that they will fit tightly into a standard sized sheet of steel that are used by all manufacturers with very little waste.  The manufacturing process means that there is no additional secondary process required, saving energy. 

I think sustainability has to be right at the forefront of the design, not paying lip service to it at the end of the process by just placing it in a recyclable box.

Do you have any tips or something to say to the customers of MOMAA?

I hope you enjoy looking at all of the currated designs on MOMAA.  There are a lot of amazing, individual designs there to really personalise your living environment. Enjoy!

Dankjewel Tristian voor je tijd en dit leuke interview! Wil je meer interviews lezen die we hebben gedaan met onze ontwerpers en mensen uit het werkveld? Ga dan naar onze blog en raak geïnspireerd!

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