Skip to navigation Skip to content

Designer Conran Calls For 'New Enlightenment'

Sebastian Conran with Janet Coulter and Professor Ian Montgomery at the Belfast campus

Internationally acclaimed designer Sebastian Conran has used a visit to the University of Ulster to call for a ‘new Enlightenment’ to break down the barriers that have grown up between science and the arts.

Speaking on the theme of ‘Design Thinking – Creative Value’, he told his audience of creative professionals that although the UK produces excellent, world-leading, creative design-thinkers, it lacks the innovative manufacturing processes to translate design into tangible and commercial outputs.

“It is very clear that the UK leads the world in imaginative, inventive, disruptive and lateral thinking. However, our ability to industrialise our inventions effectively – the innovation process – does come in for some criticism,” he said.

As part of a masterly overview of the forces shaping contemporary living and contemporary design, Mr Conran called for greater integration of design thinking and awareness into the innovation process as a way to link artistic creativity with the realities of commercial and industrial innovation and production processes.

“Of all the mental disciplines learned in education iterative design thinking is probably the one best to equip people for the fast changing world of the future as it is the intersection of the sciences and the liberal arts."

Sebastian firmly believes that part of this issue can be resolved by viewing design as a strategic process of ‘making ideas happen’ or ‘making science successful’.

“To do this, ‘design thinking’ needs to be integrated at the very beginning of the innovation journey in order to create value, rather than being used at the end of the process merely as marketing ‘packaging’ to superficially add a bit of value,” he stressed.

“It’s not just artistic people who are creative,” he said. “Innovation is important – and engineers, scientists, software designers and entrepreneurs have the creative spirit in them too.”

The event at the University of Ulster’s Belfast campus was organised by Janet Coulter, Director of Academic Enterprise in the Faculty of Art Design & the Built Environment,

She said: “Design contributes significantly to the UK economy and an increased awareness of the economic potential of design and creativity in both private and public sectors, as well as among government policy sectors, is essential.

“Sebastian Conran’s significant contribution to design and product innovation in the UK is an excellent example of how models of good design practice are achievable. We are delighted to have welcomed him to the University of Ulster to share his ideas with us.”

Sebastian worked his way up the career ladder from stacking shelves at Habitat in his teens to running his own hugely successful London-based business, Sebastian Conran Associates.

During the seventies, at the start of that journey, he even gave the Sex Pistols their first booking and designed record sleeves, posters and clothing for The Clash.

Sebastian has always focused on understanding how objects are made and sold, as well as designing innovative and stylish products.

He has seen many thousands of successful and enduring products through from concept to consumer – for such recognised and diverse names as John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, Mothercare, Virgin Atlantic, Nigella Lawson and Nissan.

The designer can turn his talents to virtually anything, from domestic electricals to tableware and entertaining, cookware, bathroom and accessories, furniture and lighting, childcare equipment and toys, outdoor living and garden, luggage and accessories, transport and automotive and healthcare.

As principal industrial designer, Sebastian believes in a hands-on, down-to-earth approach to all his studio projects and is involved in every design aspect, sharing his wealth of experience and manufacturing expertise with his team.

His studio’s designs have received many awards for design and innovation as well as being granted dozens of patents in various fields.

Sebastian has taught furniture design at the Royal College of Art, lectures frequently to students and professionals, and judges a number of international design awards.

He has written and illustrated several books, articles and papers and is an active member of numerous design related organisations. He has also worked with and been accredited by many design and educational institutions.

Sebastian is currently Designer in Residence at the University of Sheffield Science Faculty; Founding Trustee of the Design Museum; Chairman of the Creative Industries KTN steering group, Technologies Innovation Network; and Chairman of the Design Action in Scotland steering group, Scotland’s design and industry knowledge exchange.