Mandi Keighran talks to Marc Newson, Creative Director of the Sydney New Year celebrations, about his approach to design and future directions.
January 16th, 2012
As one of Australia’s biggest design exports and poster boy of the ’art design’ movement in the early nineties, Marc Newson has a wildly varied portfolio of design work. Yet, his recent role as Creative Director for the Sydney New Year celebrations still managed to present a new challenge.
“I do a really broad range of things, but this is really so far outside of what I normally do,” says Newson.
Newson collaborated with Sydney-based creative agency, Imagination, on the direction of the New Year celebrations, which achieved worldwide acclaim. His primary role was to give the series of events a sense of coherence and consistency – he describes it as a “creative umbrella” – that has not existed in previous years.
“It was very much a collaborative effort with Imagination,” says Newson of the Time to Dream concept. “It was trying to identify something that was succinct and cohesive and meant something to most people.”
This was achieved through the Time to Dream theme and a rainbow circle graphic. It was recognisably Newson in its style – simple, clear, coherent and quickly embedded in people’s memories.
“There is a significance to the colours,” says Newson of the circle graphic. “For me, it’s all about the colours of Sydney.”
Despite having moved away from Australia in the early 1980s – first to Tokyo, then Paris and London – Newson remains connected to the Australian design industry. In addition to the recent New Year celebrations, his biggest client is Qantas, for whom he is Creative Director, and mid-this year, he is launching a range of bathroom products in collaboration with Australian company Caroma.
“It’s a fantastic collaboration that I’m really excited about,” says Newson. “It’s very commercial in a really positive way. It’s what I’d spend my money on and what I’d buy for my house. I’m not saying my stuff is going to be god’s gift to the world of sanitary ware, but I think it will offer a really legitimate choice. It’s cool, it’s modern, but not so modern that it’s too much of a statement.”
This kind of industrial, mass-produced design is where Newson’s real passion lies. The limited edition works for which he is widely known – his ’Lockheed Lounge’ set a world record in 2009, selling at auction for £1,100,000 – he describes as more of a hobby. “My real focus is on the industrial, designing products like cameras, watches, mobile phones or bathroom fittings. That’s the kind of shit I really love because it’s the stuff I always wanted to do.”
Newson trained as a jewellery designer in Sydney before moving to industrial design. His eye for detail and finish and interest in materiality comes from this background.
“I really don’t think I would have been able to do what I do if I trained as an architect,” he says. “Precision and quality are major preoccupations for me. It’s much easier to get bigger than it is to get smaller.”
For Newson, it’s the challenges associated with each project that he finds exciting, and he describes his role as a designer as ’trouble shooting’. It’s an approach that has ensured his continued success, and his influence continues to grow. This year, his achievements were recognised with a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the Queen’s New Years Honours list.
“Ultimately, what I love is being able to design good things that I’d want to go and buy, that I’d want to spend my money on. And, there are a precious few of those things.”
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