BBC’s Imagine series dedicated a 50 minute profile to Marc Newson, one of the most iconic designers of recent years with a huge and massively varied portfolio of work.
The profile starts by pegging Newson as a ‘design hero’, and showcases his most sought after piece, the Lockheed Lounge. The Lounge is an aluminium chair modelled after a globule of mercury and its construction is reminiscent of aircraft design. There are 13 existing, and although Newson struggles to sell the pieces after he built them, they are now some of the most sought after design pieces on the planet. Much of the discussions around the Lockheed Lounge keep returning to it’s sensuality of form and feel, with it’s softly sloping ‘leg’ and being described as ‘definitely a ‘she”. The Lounge is so expensive that you are not meant to sit upon it and, indeed if you were to want to rest, the chair is not designed for comfort but rather for appearance. At this point, I found it very difficult to see the point in such an item. Does it really only exist to be a strange, massively expensive sensual item for the home?
Apparently so, in this case. It is deemed that this sensuality is a pivotal part of how Marc Newson’s work can be the ‘perfect synthesis of design and art’. Of course, the viewer is left to form their own opinion, as is the nature of profiles. I, for one, could not understand what was so sensual and desirable in his Lockheed Lounge. An uncomfortable chair that you are not meant to sit on? It seems ludicrous, and yet they are sought after by avid collectors around the world.
After what I found to be a slightly disturbing collection of interviews about how Newson’s chair ‘makes you horny’, the profile moved on to speak more with the designer himself and to showcase his other work. Newson’s designs all carry a recognisable signature, with unique form and quality inspired by his childhood fascination with the moon landing, bearing a certain 60s sci-fi appearance. His works for the mass market are much more affordable and practical than his Lockheed Lounge and are described as ‘everyday items gleefully reimagined’. Newson’s designs here carry a very different purpose, as they are affordable, easier to manufacture and much more widely available to regular consumers. It would be easy to say that this kind of work is more beneficial to society, but Newson’s experiences with ‘design art’ clearly influence all of his design work in a way that makes them entirely unique.
I find that Newson’s best designs are the ones that showcase a perfect marriage between his artistic, sculptural aesthetic and practical problem solving, such is the case with his reflective surf board. The board, made from 10kg of hollow nickel, was originally designed for Garrett McNamara in order for him to catch large, powerful waves a normal surf board is unable to withstand. There are only 10 of these boards existing, one recently selling for $200,000. The form of the board is elegant in the extreme and is reminiscent of the silver flash of scales seen when a fish darts just below the surface of the ocean, a very fitting aesthetic for its purpose.
Marc Newson’s work can be an extremely indulgent form of design, or ‘design art’, but whether this is considered useful to society or not depends on who the target market is considered to be. Is his work really meant for consumers in most cases? Is it useful to the every day person? Often, it is not. However, his designs tend to push the boundaries of what is possible and they can shake traditions. For example, his conceptual 021C car commissioned by Ford was not meant to be sold but rather to get the company to break from stagnation and routine. Newson is not a specialist car designer, and so his car is not like any other, with technology featured within it that most in the industry would never dream of including. The doors open to access a pillar-less interior, the chairs swivel for ease of exiting, the boot opens like a drawer, the interior ceiling is illuminated with optical fibre… Every aspect is completely outside the realm of what is normal for a car to be, and his concept begs the question: ‘Why not?’. His daring ideas in this case are strange and all the more alluring for it, as he pushes design boundaries without being constrained by tradition or even mechanical possibilities.
Throughout the profile, my opinions about Marc Newson’s approach to design varied hugely until he had a chance to explain why he works the way he does. I find I still have mixed feelings about some of his work and the culture around it, especially in the case of the Lockheed Lounge. However, I find his approach much more palatable when I consider the influence he has on the design world as a whole. He clearly cares deeply about his work, which is a respectable quality in any designer, and his habit of pushing the boundaries to their extremes allows others to see past them and be inspired. Even if Newson isn’t designing to solve massive world issues, or to save lives, his design philosophy can no doubt inspire and possibly even create designers that will in the future.