PearsonLloyd is a product, furniture and innovation design studio led by founders Luke Pearson and Tom Lloyd, and run from a studio in Shoreditch, East London. For the last twenty years, the agency has designed products, systems and environments for the home, workplace, transport and healthcare sectors. Its close relationship with clients including consumer brands, manufacturers and retailers has given the agency unparalleled experience in understanding the needs of users and the demands of business.
The agency’s work is driven by a need to understand and interpret a world that is experiencing rapid and often unexpected change. Its in depth research into these changes – in both the material and digital world – enables PearsonLloyd to create design solutions that are appropriate and relevant for manufacturers, brands and users. The studio is highly collaborative in its approach. It embraces the restrictions imposed by product type, function, material and process and delivers products that are beautiful, efficient and useful.
Luke and Tom were awarded the distinction of Royal Designers for Industry by The Royal Society of Arts in 2008 and in 2012 were named in the top 50 designers ‘Shaping the Future’ by Fast-Co Magazine in New York. They have lectured for a number of years at ECAL and the RCA and regularly talk at international platforms.
Where do you position yourself as a practice?
There are two ends of the spectrum in the design industry: there are industrial design firms and furniture design studios. We have always attempted to live in the stretchy space in the middle, so we can engage with the culture of the furniture industry, but also in the realities of production and the market. Increasingly our process also sees us look at service, and respond to how people act in the world, so on a level we’re doing what strategic and service design studios do. Sometimes we’ll work on projects where we just deliver the service, and sometimes just the product, but the projects we find most interesting are when we can do both: where the thinking ends up physical.
What is your relationship with the client?
Our work is always client led, and we like the tension around this relationship. Whether the client is a manufacturing company, a brand, government agency or transport authority, developing a relationship with the client is really important to us. We also like to work closely with other teams in the project; we think it’s particularly important to bring bits of information from one environment to another. We do independent research, but we’ve never produced a product by PearsonLloyd sourcing our own production; this is not part of our process.
What is your working process?
We describe what we do as the craft of industry. Over time, we’ve learned to manipulate the tools we have at our disposal. But the craft of industry doesn’t just refer to the technical element: it’s the ability to work with the restrictions of the factory, the market, the client, the engineer, the materials and the price; all the things that aren’t usually spoken about when you talk about design. In many ways this is the lifeblood of our design process, and it is a process that is driven by passion: we can spend months tweaking a form, making sure it doesn’t use any more plastic than it needs to – changing the thickness by fractions of a mm – and making sure it’s still robust. When we’ve succeeded with this equation, the result is something that is efficient and to us, a product that is efficient is one that is beautiful.
How has your outlook shifted in your 15 years as a design studio?
Our work in the last five years has become more diverse in the way we approach a project culturally. We used to get a brief from the client: ‘we need a chair’ or ‘design us a sofa’. Even though we would have intense discussions with the client about what that meant and why, it was a relatively linear process. We still do that – and we’re still happy to – but we’re also getting into territory where the idea of the brief becomes more rich and interesting and we have the opportunity to innovate before we’ve even started designing a product. It’s about trying to produce intelligent process – we’re trying to back-up a bit, and analyse why we’re doing something before we do it, and design our own brief in a sense.
What kind of impact do you want your work to have in the world?
We’re not just interested in the form and technical performance of an object, we’re interested in what happens around the object; how it can potentially shift behaviour and change the way we do things. We like to operate in the public realm, which is why we tend not to do speculative work; what is interesting for us is knowing that our work is going to be out there, surrounded by people using it. We’ve got a territory that we call shared space: whether we’re working for the transport, healthcare, office, or urban design sectors, our work often boils down to the question of how people who don’t know each other interact with each other in a shared space. How can you give someone a sense of privacy without walls? And how do you do this without isolating them? This is one of the tensions we often find ourselves navigating.
How would you describe the design language of your work?
We don’t design products that we think have a PearsonLloyd hand, and so we’ve often described ourselves as servants of the brand: we take on the client’s world and develop responses that are suitable for them. Sometimes the result is calm and discreet, and sometimes there is a stronger element of fun. You can see that many design studios try to build a lineage with their work. We prefer surprising people, and we’re not so precious about how our projects reflect on us. That said, there is a plain speaking straightforwardness to our work – you can put our furniture and products with anything. Someone once told us that they trusted our furniture and found it dependable; we took this as a great compliment.
Interview by Anna Bates