Influential Australian designer Marc Newson: ‘I’m a gun for hire’


Marc Newson is one of the most influential designers of his generation. He’s behind the famous Embryo Chair and the Lockheed Lounge; he was previously the creative director for Qantas, and; he helped design the Apple Watch. But Newson says much of his work is about problem-solving.
Marc Newson | Image source: Supplied
What are the most important considerations when you design an object?

It depends on what the object is, not surprisingly. I have to consider not only the object or the brief, but who the client is. If it was a luxury client, and if it was an object that I was redesigning, for example, that’s a very different proposition.

What is the right balance between form and function?

Having a balance full stop is paramount. Again, it depends on what the object is. If I’m designing a work of art or sculptural piece, it’s a different proposition because functionality takes a slightly less important place. But if I’m designing a seat for an aeroplane, like I did for Qantas over the years when I was creative director, functionality is 90% of the issue. It just depends on what you’re doing.

Qantas A380 | Image source: Supplied
Who or what has been the most significant design influence on you?

I can’t think of an individual, so I’m going to opt for ‘what’, and it is probably where I came from: Australia. Having grown up in Australia and having completed my tertiary education and working in my early professional career in Australia, that was probably the most formative period in my life. It’s maybe more about the landscape and the actual physical environment of Australia, rather than the resources or the people.

Can you identify a source for your creative inspiration?

It would be finding the right time to reflect and the time to think, because what I do is not about designing on a computer or even a sketchpad. Fundamentally, it’s about focusing on a problem and working through it in my head. I find I really need to seek out these moments where I can create a calmness to be able to concentrate.

Is it difficult to find those moments?

It is, but it always has been, to be perfectly honest. I’m busier than I ever was and do more than I ever have, but ultimately it requires discipline. It’s something that I’m used to doing and have probably gotten better at in some ways.

Of all the things you have designed what is your greatest achievement?

My answer always ends up being the fact that I’ve been able and lucky enough to be able to work across a broad range of disciplines. That’s what inspires me and that’s what interests me. My job is about problem solving. I’m kind of a gun for hire, and I take the good with the bad and the ugly.

What is the state of design today? Who’s doing great things?

There’s great, interesting stuff happening in pockets everywhere. It’s become a truly borderless global profession. People buy iPhones in South America in the same way they do in Iceland, and that can’t be said of many other kinds of creative expressions, if you compare it to film or music or even art. There are hundreds of people doing really cool things. That being said, there’s still a lot of awful stuff, too. I feel there are certain industries that I could identify where I feel design could be infinitely better, like the automotive world.

Tough ask but what is the most useful thing ever designed in the history of humankind?

The screw – more specifically, the screw thread. That was a breath-taking invention. We’re surrounded by things that are held together with nuts and bolts and screws.

What is the most beautiful thing ever designed?

The most beautiful things haven’t been designed, like certain flowers. Nature tends to design the best things and we do a relatively mediocre job of emulating it.

In terms of design, what are the cornerstone pieces in your living area?

It’s going to sound mundane and boring, but things like the light switches and the door handles; it’s these sorts of details I find important. It’s the little things you might use many times a day. It might be the first thing you touch in the morning and the last thing you touch at night.

What about your work area?

My work environment is slightly different, it’s a bit more chaotic and eclectic. It’s piles of sketchbooks and things like that. Having a place to record ideas has always been critical for me, and a sketchbook has always been my preferred means of getting things out of my head and into the real world.

Is there a design project you haven’t worked on but have always wanted to?

I’d love to work on the interior of some sort of extra-terrestrial environment, something that is not on Earth. I did once design the interior of a suborbital spacecraft, which would have gone into space for about three minutes, and then come back down. That project never saw the light of day, but that remains something I’d really love to do.

EADS Spaceplane | Image source: Supplied
What makes you happy?

What makes me really happy now is different from 10 or 20 years ago. Now, it’s finishing something. Wrapping something up, bookending something. I get a lot of satisfaction from doing the job and then finishing it. The other thing I love increasingly as I get older is throwing something away – and I don’t mean into landfill. Giving it away to a second-hand shop or repurposing it.