Requiring no introduction, Ross Lovegrove is a designer and visionary “whose work is considered to be at the very apex of stimulating a profound change in the physicality of our three dimensional world”.
On Saturday, Lovegrove, in conversation with Phaidon’s Emilia Terragni, tackled an issue of central importance to his design philosophy and work. By his opening admission, this was the “big talk” and an attempt to address the deep-seated and fundamental misconception of organic design, and try “to champion why we create form”.
Commencing with an outline of the evolutionary phases forming design history, Lovegrove indicated three:
- Primary Evolution – that natural evolution, as old as the planet, and which progresses at a glacial speed
- Industrial Evolution – born of the industrial revolution, the birth and evolution of design which recognises and answers to the human / societal realisation “we have needs” and that we can do something about those needs
- Tertiary Evolution – the current burgeoning phase of design, the forthcoming moment in the not too distant future when humans “have so much knowledge they become nature themselves”
This notion of evolution becomes central to his design ethos, but there is a simultaneity in the choice of inspirations: at once ancient and modern.
Terragni and Lovegrove defined organic design through what it is not: it is not copying nature, it is not about being “inspired” by nature. Rather it’s the application of a natural process, a deep understanding of forms nature has been perfecting infinitely longer than human design has. As such, organic design is a striving towards an appreciation of and attempt to inherit and put to useful application “inner structural systems of nature… [it's] not about the shape but about the organisation”, and new technologies when applied are exceptionally adept at this. For Lovegrove, his essential dissatisfaction with contemporary design is that “what we have today is remarkable, and we don’t produce good enough things”.
Process is of integral importance, and illustrations of “good process” were drawn from across the three evolutionary phases outlined, lending weight to the sense that good design (“organic” or otherwise) is not an inevitable and ever advancing march of progress. Through examples chosen – from hand made flints to woven shields and armour – Lovegrove alluded to meditations on design that are at once ancient, organic, and inherently modern, pushing the boundaries of potential opened up by technology, but retaining the excellence picked from myriad examples across design history. Repeated experimentation lead to some of his most iconic designs – a Kenzo perfume bottle born of many machine made iterations inspired by flints, a plastic bottle evocative of the water it contains for Ty Nant Water.
Though this is process driven work, it is absolutely not process over product, and he rejects theory without outcome. Repeatedly lauding Zaha Hadid as the architect who marries process and theory to push the limits of architecture, Lovegrove sited his ambition to “initiate a shift” in product design, but that this cannot be done in a vacuum and that the weight of history and evolution must be incorporated, indeed that “you can’t do it unless you know your history”. In this belief Lovegrove finds current design education painfully remiss, and admitted he would tend towards a kind of evolutionary plagiarism over and above any design which progresses without reference to or acknowledgement of its lineage.
A final thought from Lovegrove, which alludes to the place where organic design meets in nature and technology, ancient and modern, natural and man / machine made, and where proces gives rise to an exceptional product: “if you want a timeless idea, think about the heart of the design”