Simone LeAmon is a Melbourne based interdisciplinary designer who runs the O.S INITIATIVE design consultancy. Simone has worked on a diverse range of design projects including interiors, furniture, products and creative direction for Australian and international clients.
- “Someone once said to me that either; the work is the story or the story is the work. If you can see evidence of both, a project can be truly satisfying.”
- “The scope for self-marketing and promotion is considerably larger now with the Web. The forums for exposing your work are multiplying all the time. This said, you still need a strategy – and you need an angle.”
- “More designers should write and publish – but, it takes time to develop a line of inquiry.”
- “Australian designers are under-exposed both nationally and internationally. Design festivals only achieve so much…….”
1. Simone, Welcome to Design Droplets. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me, could you please give me a quick introduction on yourself.
In the first person! O.K, I’ll do my best, excuse me if I don’t sound witty – it’s been a long week.
Central to my practice is the creation of experiences. It is this capacity to move people – emotionally and mentally that draws me to design. This said, it took me several years to formalise my practice as a designer. I commenced my career in the contemporary arts studying sculpture at the VCA. This training emphasised an engagement with concepts, materiality and process. Principally, it facilitated experimentation and exploration.
This led me to the coveted studio of Susan Cohn where my training continued. From this time on my practice embraced art, craft and design dialogues and inevitably took on an interdisciplinary character. Intent on forging a career as both artist and designer I felt the need to formalise my qualifications in design receiving a masters in industrial design from RMIT University. In the ensuing years I co-founded n+1 equals studio and pursued several international projects courtesy of arts grants and studio residencies.
Inspired and encouraged by the people I met in Milan while living there (2001) I looked for engagement with design manufacturers and galleries. Since that time I have established my own design consultancy called O.S INITIATIVE and worked on a diverse range of design projects including interiors, furniture, products and creative direction. I live in Melbourne and work with Australian and international clients and when I can I go overseas to the Fairs for business.
2. One of your more recent projects that Design Droplets readers are probably familiar with is the Lepidoptera chair, can you tell me bit about this particular project?
Someone once said to me that either; the work is the story or the story is the work. If you can see evidence of both, a project can be truly satisfying. This was my experience with Lepidoptera, produced for the Cicely and Colin Rigg Contemporary Design Award at the National Gallery of Victoria in March this year. Traditionally the Rigg Award has focused on overtly creative and conceptual forms of craft and design – it isn’t about the perfection of 20th Century design philosophies. Hence, the project delivered an opportunity to practise what I enjoy most, that is; to develop a conceptual underpinning for a work and see where it leads. To this end, Lepidoptera was a journey – and when I completed the prototype I thought; mmm, you’re strange – but I really like you.
In 2008 I visited an automotive textile manufacturer on the outskirts of Melbourne. I was shown a vast collection of stillage (textile remnants) which had been developed for the interiors of Holden, Ford and Mitsubishi vehicles manufactured in Victoria over the past decade. I was intrigued and suggested to the company that I could do something with it, a couple of weeks later it was in my studio. For several months I entertained different design ideas, curiously none were furniture. When I was selected for Rigg Award I knew it I had to use it – the references to automotive, material by-product and Australian manufacturing was irresistible.
Regarding the title: Lepidoptera is the species name for butterflies, translated from Greek it means ‘scale’ and ‘wing’ thus, the chair draws on the anatomy of a butterfly’s wing to inform the lamination of the textiles and the structure. I had read earlier in the year how the concept of ‘structural colour’ as evidenced in a butterfly’s wings was inspiring research in the areas of automotive paint (millions of tiny scales in layers of differing densities make the colour). Further reading into Australian butterflies and I learnt that there shifting habitats are assisting current perspectives on climate change. When pieces of information start to fall together in this way I get excited.
3. Through out your career you have received a large amount of press for your work, apart from impressiveness of the work itself, what else do you to do make sure your projects are picked up by media and press?
I learnt the value of marketing oneself and work when I was making and exhibiting artwork in the mid 90′s. Starting out in artist-run spaces (galleries operated by artist collectives) I did all of my own marketing and promotion. I learnt from my peer group that making contact with arts writers, journalists, curators and collectors was critical to the overall success of your exhibition. A review in the paper brought relative notoriety and it assisted the development of your career. I also had a part-time job at Craft Victoria which facilitated many introductions. I graduated to writing the media releases for the Craft Victoria exhibitions and spoke to the press on a week-by-week basis, needless to say I learnt a few tricks.
The scope for self-marketing and promotion is considerably larger now with the Web. The forums for exposing your work are multiplying all the time. This said, you still need a strategy – and you need an angle. Targeting the media is essentially establishing dialogues with editors, journalists and publishers. You forward stories to people not the medium. If you pursue self-styled ‘gorilla’ marketing you still need an angle. In general, Australian designers manage the media themselves and few have any media training (this explains a lot). I can spend hours of my week responding to media requests from all around the globe. Whether responding or selling a story I understand that it is a critical aspect of my business – I live/work in an attention economy. When I catch up with my peers overseas during the Fairs they are often moaning about how much they are paying their P.R agent! It is an eye-opener to the cult of design and of personality. If you have an agent (they take a percentage of your income) manufacturers and the media assume your sought after. I would like an agent because of the time it would save me!
4. You have also written for, and been published in, various publications, how important has writing been to the progression of your design practice and of your career?
I believe it is important that designers have a voice. I recall reading essays in art school by the American artists Robert Morris and Donald Judd from the 1960s and 70s and I assumed it was part of a creative’s job. Writing was a means of spreading your ideas and ultimately promoting your brand of philosophy. I witnessed Susan Cohn write on the subjects of kitsch, technology and street jewellery and engage academics to write her catalogue essays. I began to write in the company of curating exhibitions for Craft Victoria – the texts weren’t great but they found an audience. Soon I was being approached by peers to write on their work. Young and emerging they knew how valuable it was to have someone to reflect on their work and go public with it. Only this was before the World Wide Web hence, we would send the texts to every art magazine in Australia! Few were printed.
I am accustomed to writing on my own work, the work of others and more recently on design issues in general. It can be immensely rewarding particularly when you have the opportunity to expose the wonderful work of a colleague or peer. For several terms I delivered an elective in industrial design at RMT called ‘design writing’. Many of the students who attended the elective now write for design blogs and magazines. I love reading their articles; there voices are full of enthusiasm and supported by great thinking. More designers should write and publish – but, it takes time to develop a line of inquiry. I am tired of reading mere opinion which does little more than polarise the community.
5. Can you tell me a bit about your design philosophy?
O.K, lets put this in some context. I am drawn to design because it manifests in all facets of contemporary life. I am particularly fascinated how it (design) mediates all forms of capital including natural, cultural, fiscal and social.
I have always had passion for products that tell a story through process and material; I look for the narratives underpinning production techniques and materials. However, for me the most compelling aspect of design is developing a concept that communicates to the client and respective audience/market. Design is an opportunity to connect with people, listen to their needs and deliver experiences which reflect positively on society and of course the designer. Design should inspire peoples and cultures to grow, transform and look to the future.
6. You currently lecture in Industrial Design at RMIT University, what are your thoughts on the current state of Australian design education?
You could drive a truck through the gaps in Design education in Australia. In my view one of the principal omissions is that there have been significant changes in the technological, economic and political landscapes – issues of sustainability, globalisation and the rapid mutation of design tools and manufacturing mean that little regard is given to these critical topics. It isn’t a reflection on the education institutions per se but more the acknowledgement of the rapidly shifting environment delivered in these three major areas. Gone are the days of mastery in one specific area. The Australian experience needs to enter the education system at some point.
7. What are your thoughts on the current state of the Australian design scene?
Designers work in silos and for those designers focused on product most practice in relative isolation. This is an issue. Effort to establish a cross disciplinary dialogue and collaborative working sector is required if we wish to establish a scene comparable to other nations. The circumstance for product and industrial designers is exasperated when there is no national body or organisation. Investigations into the role of Design in local, regional and export markets need to occur to attract venture capital into the sector.
I often think that Australian (product) designers should be household names as like many Australian fashion designers. Shouldn’t we be investigating similar models to the fashion industry? What has stopped venture capital entering the sector thus far? We must remind ourselves that thriving design scenes exist in the company of healthy commercial frameworks. Australian designers are under-exposed both nationally and internationally. Design festivals only achieve so much…….
8. There are some people who would consider several pieces of your design work to fall into the realm of art, what are your thoughts on design versus art? Where is the line between the two?
It is true that people are often divided when speaking of my work – and, honestly I enjoy the conversation, practice should occur in the company of debate. Unfortunately, I find the arguments somewhat predictable these days. Once upon a time you could separate the two by means of intent, function and production but those days are long passed. The cultural and economic frames of both art and design (and craft) are shifting and many would suggest that they are morphing towards each other. We can’t afford to rest on our laurels, hybridity is reflected everywhere – in thinking, theory, science and biology so why not in production?
9. What was the hardest part of getting to where you are now?
Interestingly, it is the passage of time. It has taken longer than I anticipated to get where I am now.
10. Simone, thanks for taking the time to talk with us here at Design Droplets. Do you have any final thoughts or advice for Design Droplets readers?
Thank you – and keep up the great work!