Ron Arad interview

Mar 12, 2009
  • Article by Jeanne Tan
  • Photography by Peter Kindersley

JT: So what’s happening in your studio at the moment?
RA: Lots of things. Basically we do three things here: architecture, studio pieces and industrial design. We’ve just launched a show in New York with new pieces. The Frieze Art Fair, a shopping mall on-site in Liege, Belgium, the PizzaKobra light for iGuzzini. The PizzaKobra is a very unusual project for iGuzzini because they normally do architectural lighting, and this is the first time they’ve done something for the consumer market. They’re learning about it and I’m helping them. Basically, they’re all fun projects. We don’t do things we don’t like doing. Some have to, but we don’t. We’re in a lucky position where we can choose what we do.

JT: How do you move in between different brands?
RA: Different things are suitable for different companies. Sometimes we’re requested to do something like professional bar equipment for Alessi. It’s not something I wake up and have an idea about. But sometimes it is something I wake up and think it’s nice to do and then who it would be suitable for. It goes both ways.

JT: What differences do you notice between architecture and industrial design?
RA: Architecture is a longer process that involves more people in the decision-making. Someone has to commission you first. I’m not going to just design a museum myself. And architecture takes more time, and it can be frustrating waiting for ideas that you have worked to get realised; however, our personal projects are not on the market. There are waiting lists…

_(Dejan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum, London, walks in for a meeting and apologises for being stuck in traffic.)_

JT: As head of the Design Products department at the Royal College of Art in London, how often do you teach?
RA: It depends upon who you ask. Not enough, if you ask RCA, too much if you ask the office. Ten years is a long time. I’m sure someone can do a better job than me, but I do enjoy teaching the enjoyable students, and most of them are.

JT: What do you think design education lacks?
RA: I think design schools churn out too many students for the market to handle.
I’m very lucky because I teach a postgraduate course, so I don’t have to think what young people should be taught in design. We help people who are already designers to crystallise and take a little longer to define themselves. And the best thing for them is having their fellow students around. But you really should know what you teach, because whatever you’re teaching is old habits.

JT: Do you think graduates nowadays lack a sense of business?
RA: No, that’s OK. They don’t need that. There was a school of thought that good design is good business. Sometimes we take people for employment and in two years we make them totally unemployable. And that’s an achievement for me. Because there are better things to do than being employed. They can be authors of what they do. Being employed is working for other people (shhh, don’t tell anyone here…). This is serious. We churn out lots of unemployable, brilliant people.

JT: You’re coming to Australia to announce the Bombay Sapphire Design Discovery Award. How were you discovered?
RA: Gradually and suddenly. When I started not knowing what I was doing, there was a new magazine in London called Blueprint and they needed to write about things. Dejan was the founding editor.

–page break–

JT: What was it like then Dejan, when design was getting big?
DS: It all seemed very normal as a matter of fact, no big deal. It was a moment when no one could really get a job very easily, so you had to get on with things by yourself, living in the cracks. That was in 1983.
RA: 1983 was the first time I went to Milan. It was to take someone else’s place who had booked it and when the time came had nothing to show. So I said I’ll take it! Not that I knew what I was going to show. That was great.

JT: And from then on?
RA: There was a retailer called Joseph who was a great window dresser. At one point it suited him to stick my things in his window and lots of people copied him all over the world. If he put a white donkey in the window, there would be white donkeys in Melrose Avenue within a week. So I was that white donkey for a short time. It took me a while to learn that the next week he could have something else awful in the window. I was that changing backdrop for a while, which helped. And then Vitra… If you do things, things happen.

DS: How did you get into Documenta?
RA: At one point Documenta, which is a hardcore art event, thought that they could integrate design into it. And they didn’t repeat that experiment. Now there’s a new profession created called ‘Designart’. Some blame me as one of the people who helped create it and there’s nothing that I dislike more than this term. I have a problem with that as an educator, because that’s where all my students want to go and this is where I want to run away from. So that makes it difficult for me to be enthusiastic about design education.

JT: So what would you advise emerging designers then?
RA: Don’t try to become the new anything. The new Philippe Starck or Marc Newson, if you’re Australian.
DS: Just be yourself.
RA: Don’t follow anything. Be informed enough to see what’s going on, but don’t try to be something else. And be nice, especially to the elderly.
DS: There’s no point in trying to be somebody else.
RA: Vidal Sassoon had it in his formula for success. Establish yourself as a creative genius, employ people who are better than you and the most difficult thing: let them get on with it.

JT: Are you still enjoying what you’re doing?
RA: Yes.

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