An industrial designer, Ross Lovegrove has worked for everyone from Apple, the technology company, to Aston Martin, the sports car maker. He has designed watches, chairs, tea pots, solar-powered cars and aircraft seats, winning numerous accolades along the way.
His most recent project, Transmission, is a sculpture made from Alcantara, a suede alternative, for the V&A’s tapestry gallery. It will be on show during the London Design Festival and for two weeks afterwards.
Why did you choose to go into design?
When I was young, design wasn’t encouraged. It was something you had to discover yourself. I knew I was creative and eventually I ended up studying industrial design. I like creating things that support life. The potential is endless.
How would you characterise your style?
My work is often referred to as organic, which is too simplistic. I think of it as poly-sensorial and searching. It is tactile and visual, and relates to how we can humanise technology.
What is your own home like?
My home is my oasis. It houses my collection of African tribal art (I have about 350 pieces), drawings by Henry Moore, Rembrandt etchings, photos by Hiroshi Sugimoto, books, and chairs by designers such as Finn Juhl, Carlo Mollino and Hans Wegner, whom I knew. It is more a private museum of things that I deeply value.
Name your top three influences.
I’d rather not be specific about my influences, because I feel that if you want to make a difference you have to lead from the front. I am most influenced by nature, art and technology and how they can fuse together. If you are asking me to choose an industrial designer, I admire Ettore Sottsass. He went against the grain of his profession and had doubts about design, but that is how he pushed it forward. I also have a huge reverence for the V&A Museum in London. I often walk across Hyde Park for a visit and I have always wanted to do something there.
What has been your favourite project?
My notebooks. They are my life project. I recently displayed 24 of them in my Convergence show at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. They contain a mixture of dreams and realities and it was the first time I have shown them publicly. In doing so I realised how much people of all ages and creeds love to see the release of imagination in a way that is totally other than digital.
If you had to choose someone to design a chair for you, who would you choose?
Designers I really admire are those that always uphold a non-elitist approach, such as the Bouroullecs, the French brothers. Konstantin Grcic is another. His approach is vital and confrontational, but in a very good way. Also Mathieu Lehanneur, who is based in Paris. He never follows the rules of others and has a rare intelligence that I think will make him one of the few who can make an important contribution to biological design in the future.
What is the one object you would never allow in your home?
I would never have a work by Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons or Andy Warhol. I don’t want to be told something is good because of its price or a trend.
What has been the strangest project/object/request you’ve received?
Some years ago for Lille 3000, which is a high-level international art event, I was asked to create the most abstract work of art I could. I created an eight-metre diameter UFO. I think that a UFO is, arguably, the most abstract thing that we as humans could know.
Who are the best kind of clients?
Clients that are motivated by good values and who do not regard design only as a form of artificially induced consumerism. You have to have chemistry and feel an affinity with them. And you have to remember that you are giving them a service. It is not all about you.
What material do you most enjoy working with?
I try to use materials that are most appropriate to the task. You are not going to make something large and portable out of ceramic, are you? I’ve used Alcantara in the piece for the tapestry room at the V&A. It [Alcantara] is made from polyurethane but feels like suede. We scanned the V&A’s 15th-century tapestries with a program that allows you to recreate the colours as you can see them today — ones that you wouldn’t be able to colour match otherwise, as they have faded and changed over time.
What is your process from first idea to final concept?
I tend to study what a company or client has done but I don’t slavishly borrow from it. In terms of actual process, it’s a lot of sitting and staring. Darwin did it, Einstein did it. It’s very necessary. Then I work in my private notebooks. No one is allowed to see them, so I don’t have to satisfy anyone. I have people who support what I do in the studio, which helps to get consistency, but I am otherwise an individual — and more like an artist in how I work.
How challenging is it to make technology aesthetically pleasing?
Technology tends to conjure things that are structural and functional — machines for living. I take inspiration from nature, which is self-sustaining and perpetual, and try to bring the two together. I see a connection between nature and adaptive, generative design.
What would you say is the biggest trend in industrial design at the moment?
The current trends seem to be for high precision coupled with a refined perfection of materials. You see it a lot with cell phones and the new Range Rover. I try to remain balanced as far as this is concerned. Emotional intelligence is missing and this can often be better expressed through form. I’m working on the shape of some headphones right now. They are super interesting. You won’t miss them.
Transmission is in the V&A’s tapestry room from September 16 to October 9.
Photographs: Zarah Leaman; Simona Cupoli