In conversation with Confessions of a Design Geek’s Katie Tregidden at Clerkenwell Design Week last month, Sir Kenneth Grange talked candidly about his career to date, Pentagram, the iconic British designs he’s created, his user-centered approach to design, his inspirations, advice for young designers and of course his association with Anglepoise®. Grange’s career has spanned more than half a century, influencing generations of product designers around the world. Here’s what he had to say …
I think you were either blessed with a certain amount of luck or an exceptional amount of luck. I think I got an exceptional lot of luck.
On national service
It was in the beginning bloody rigorous ... you can’t believe the mixture of people from the highest of the highlands to the lowest of the lowlands … and all sorts of funny people in between […] the scope of differences you were pitchforked into was, on reflection, a wonderful learning curve.
On common taste
I had a very happy home and, but very conservative, very predictable, you know tassels, uncut moquette, red, cream, you know the actual perfect vernacular of sort of middle class […] that’s where I came from, eggs and bacon and bread and cream.
I landed a job in an architects office […] all the wars were white, the doors were painted different colours and [there was] the most unlikely furniture I had ever met in my whole bloody life. That was their world and it’s today what you can see as modernism. It was so refreshing.
On form following function
I don’t start with an assumption that I know better, therefore the only thing I can get hold of is whether it will work well or not.
On the profession
It’s a marvellous world to be allowed into isn’t it I mean, to even get paid for enjoying yourself. You wake up and you’ve got something to do, something which is you know, dastardly used word but creative, its uplifting isn’t it?
I went in to Jack [Howe] and I said look there’s this job that I’ve been offered [by the Atomic Energy Department] and I’d like to you know, like you to do it. And to my horror, absolute horror, nearly shat myself you know, he said no I don’t think that’s a good idea, I think you should do this, and he had the wit and the generosity that this might be the making of a man’s life, and it was.
On business practice
We’d started and were already well established enough to have our own names, our own marketable product and therefore none of us [at Pentagram] wanted to give up being personalities in our own right … so we established [this] as normal practice. I think that in itself it’s not a bad business model.
We’ve made a world where money is the absolute only driver and therefore you’re hard pressed to build an organism like a company, which is wealthy enough to be generous.
When I was at art school, my mum had a job in a firm making, in a little factory making springs […] tiny, tiny springs to walloping great springs and all made by hand, wonderful really wonderful skills […]. This firm knew that somewhere in the sort of sky there’s a bloody great edifice, a firm called Terry who makes spring for the gentry, a massive firm. So when I sit next to this fella, 40 odd years later and he says his names Terry, I can’t resist telling him this bloody story. And it turns out to be the same guy, same firm [now known as Anglepoise®]. Now, it’s another little illustration of how life is formed by accidents and some of them are wonderfully, you know happy.
We all think we’re stars and we all think that we’re god’s gift to mankind!
I think I would say if you ask me what’s the most important thing about your armoury if you’re going to be a success in our trade is actually you’ve got the be prepared to work at least 80 hours a week, week on week, year on year.
You can see the unedited 60 minute conversation live on You Tube, or sit back, relax and watch our 16 minute edit.