Your experiences in—and connection to—the natural world obviously serve as your primary inspiration, but we haven't heard much about designers or other creatives who've inspired you. Are there any designers, past or present, who've also had an impact on your designs and method of working?
You haven’t heard about them because I don’t work that way, at least not as far as designers go. I don’t want to sound aloof but, while I am curious about the technique of some of the more interesting designers, my design process remains separate. They are showing the end result of their process—rather than jump onto that, I want to go back to source and work through my own process. You need to be well educated in design, but it is when you step away from others that you do your best work. I don’t know if it is just me getting older but too much design work today seems dry, technical and frankly boring. We are expected to appreciate finer and finer details in place of genuine inspiration, sterile minimalism rather than “messy vitality”. The big companies are atrophying; they are becoming more and more conservative and reluctant to take on new designers. This forces the young to also be conservative or else to resort to gimmickry in a sad attempt to get noticed. I remember the first time I went to Milan and encountered the work of Droog, the Campana Brothers and suchlike — where has that vibrancy gone, the risk-taking of companies like Edra or Cappellini?
But your question also includes “other creatives” and here I can be more positive. Design used to be called ‘Applied Art’ and if that is still true then designers are applying to objects for daily use the pioneering in aesthetics and ideas of art. In that context there are visual artists such as Olafur Eliasson, Anselm Keifer, Richard Serra or Maya Lin who have been important influences for me. There are also writers and film-makers, but above all there are musicians. Music! I like to think I could live in an isolated cabin without all the trappings we have around us which we think we need. Silence is a vital part of that, but I could never manage without music. I am not musical so (thankfully I believe) its provenance remains a divine and remote mystery to me. But the results liberate parts of my imagination, taking me to places I could never otherwise access. Bach and Schubert’s piano music, violin concerti by Beethoven, Sibelius, etc, and more contemporary expressions from Arvo Pärt and Max Richter: all these have fed into me in some way. If I shine a light through several layers of my different light designs, the moving shadow patterns on the wall would resemble Bach’s music: apparent random beauty from regular overlapping structures. If I sit out on the ocean or up on a mountain I feel the rhythmic intonations of Max Richter. If I watch a bird soaring I hear the high thin notes of a violin in a concerto, released from the orchestra. We are the summation of everything we have experienced and it all feeds subliminally into our work.
You've created a signature lighting range which is instantly recognizable and sustainable— but which has spawned copies, an ongoing issue in the design world. What are your thoughts about the issue of knock-off designs that may not be authentic, but which may be more affordable to a broader socio-economic group?
That argument really annoys me! Of course everyone should be able to afford some sort of design. But they do not have to steal my designs to do that. Create your own like Ikea have done, offering a wide choice of design for most budgets. Sure, it saddens me that some people who really love my work are unable to afford it. I wish I could help, but if I made it much cheaper it would lose too much of its attraction.