10 British Product Designers You Should Know

Liberty, London
Liberty, London | © Neil Turner/Flickr
Barbara Speed

British design has always been at the forefront of global trends, with products that combined function with creativity. Technological advancement pushed British design towards new heights in the recent decades, and Britain’s trendiest, contemporary product designers are now creating clean-cut, inspired, beautiful pieces that serve as much more than objects of aesthetic value. From hoovers to Olympic torches, we explore ten of the most important British product designers.

‘British Design Classics’ Stamps

Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, Founders of Barber Osgerby

Barber and Osgerby began producing minimalist furniture in 1996. After they received their architecture degrees from London’s Royal College of Art, they began producing clean, folded designs reminiscent of the white card used in architects’ 3D plans. The pair has gone from strength to strength, bringing their eye for simple lines to school chairs (they developed the Tip Ton chair to aid concentration in 2011) and the 2012 Olympic torch, as well as numerous collections for stores and boutiques.

Tip Ton Chair & 2012 Olympic Torch

Bethan Gray

Bethan Gray, who won Best British Designer at the 2013 Elle Design awards, uses natural wood and marble to create furniture and her signature striped marble tableware. In her hands, something as simple as a chopping board becomes a work of art, and she is already a heavyweight in an industry notoriously low on women. She recently launched Bethan Gray Designs to promote her furniture collections and commercial collaborations with John Lewis, Bespoke Global, and Wallpaper* Handmade.

Gray’s marble chopping board
Apple iPad 2 and iPad Air

Jonathan Ive, Senior Vice President of Design at Apple

Steve Jobs’ ‘spiritual partner’ is the man behind Apple’s sleek designs. Ive joined the company full-time in 1992 and works in a secret lab with his design team to formulate the next big thing in gadgetry. He has worked on the iMac, iPod, iPad, and, most recently, the iPad Air – to name a few. Commentators have applauded his skill in blending features from the user interface with the technology’s physical design.

Thomas Heatherwick, Founder of Heatherwick Studio

Thomas Heatherwick, perhaps the UK’s most famous designer, designs across multiple industries with apparent ease. Nothing seems out of his reach – the past five years have seen him designing furniture, buses, the Olympic cauldron for the London 2012 opening ceremony, and a new pedestrian bridge for London with actress Joanna Lumley. He specialises in objects which twist the viewer’s expectations: stools built like spinning tops, with no solid base, benches formed by squeezing aluminium through a shaped hole, or planks which can be folded into a chair in seconds.

Sebastian Bergne

Sebastian Bergne’s work reinvents everyday objects to reflect the way we live our daily lives in the modern world. He has previously said he wants everyday products to “make us smile.” A recent example is a tray and tableware set for Driade, which was designed to suit those eating in front of the television, as opposed to at a traditional dining table. His decanter in the shape of an egg can be tilted in different ways on its round base depending on how full it is. Bergne works out of a London studio that regularly collaborates with brands to produce products. Recent collaborations have included Muji, Procter & Gamble, Swarovski and Tefal. He has won multiple international awards and is often invited to lecture on and curate within the design world.

Nipa Doshi and Jonathan Levien, Founders of Doshi Levien

Nipa Doshi and Jonathan Levien came together in 2000 to establish Doshi Lieven, a cutting-edge design firm specialising in projects that combine cultures to celebrate globalisation. The pair have worked with companies as diverse as shoe brand Camper (to produce a range of ‘Twins’ shoes, with different left and right feet) and computer company Intel (they helped the company devise a creative interface for the home). Both studied Furniture Design and still specialise in it; their projects usually combine fabrics and aesthetics from different countries – the My Beautiful Backside sofa is inspired by India’s Maharajas and alludes to the eras gone-by with its eclectic shape.

‘My Beautiful Backside’ Sofa for Moroso

Rupert Blanchard

Rupert Blanchard is part of a new wave of designers focused on eco-friendly design. His pieces use ‘up-cycled’ furniture to form new cabinets, tables and chairs. Old advertising signs become laminate covering for cabinets, while a mishmash of drawers tessellate perfectly to form a new chest of drawers. Blanchard is a magpie, obsessed with ‘drawers and collecting’, as he told Spitalfields Life, and has collected cardboard boxes since he was very young. Lucky for us, he has turned his love of the abandoned and apparently useless into beautiful, modern furniture.

Curiousa and Curiousa lamps

Esther Patterson, Founder of Curiousa and Curiousa

Esther Patterson’s work is very British. She launched her first range of hand-blown glass lighting at Derbyshire-based Curiousa and Curiousa in 2010 using UK-based craftspeople and materials. Her designs are whimsical and retro, in bright, powerful colours, referencing Alice in Wonderland, the book quoted in the company’s name. Clients have included the London department store Liberty and Union Jacks, chef Jamie Oliver’s restaurant chain.

Paul Cocksedge, Paul Cocksedge Studio

Known for its imaginative range of design products, architectural projects and installations, Paul Cocksedge Studio has recently been putting its ideas to the test on Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website. The Vamp® was recently launched via a successful Kickstarter campaign: The Vamp® is a device which connects to any hi-fi speaker and transforms it into a portable Bluetooth speaker. But the company has not stopped there and has launched another project – Double O’ bike lights, a set of groundbreaking magnetic, lockable and rechargeable bike lights. Paul Cocksedge began by designing ingenious lights but has lately been exploring sound technology and small, quirky objects as vinyl amplifier Change the Record and Invisible Bookend, both available from paulcocksedgeshop.com.

Cocksedge, The Vamp
A Dyson hoover

James Dyson, Founder of Dyson

While hoovers and hand-dryers may not seem the most glamorous of design fields, James Dyson has been working for years to make them as beautiful as possible. He revolutionised vacuum cleaners when he launched the G-force bagless vacuum cleaner in 1983, and has recently moved into commercial hand-dryers, washing machines, and bladeless table fans. Dyson set up the James Dyson Foundation in 2002 to support young designers, inventors and engineers by offering funding and educational materials.
By Barbara Speed

Culture Trip Summer Sale

Save up to $1,395 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article