We would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank Gemma TiptonÂ (@gemmatipton) for her article about our studio and work in the Irish Times on the 18th of January. Gemma somehow managed to distill an hour of our bizarre tangents and random musings into a very cohesive and thoughtful piece. We have been blown away by the response and at present are wading through emails and responding as quickly as we can. Thank you to everyone who has been in touch so far.
Photograph: David Sleator / The Irish Times
Designs on a better future . . .
. . . just donât call it craft. Industrial designers Marcel Twohig and Ian Walton creatively combine art and science â with fun â to make life-enhancing products
Itâs the little things that make life more special, just as it can be the little things that drive us to distraction. A kettle that doesnât pour properly, those buttons placed too close together, the ungraspable scissors . . . âindustrial designâ is the far from sexy name for a craft that makes life better.
But immediately you run into problems, because industrial design (ID) consultants Marcel Twohig and Ian Walton, of Notion, arenât so keen on the idea of craft.
âWhat exactly are ID consultants?â asks Twohig. âThat could take all day.â
âNo one really knows what we do,â jokes Walton. Weâre having tea and biscuits in their rather cool studios, just off Mount Street in Dublin. Next door are the design rooms, with the inevitable models and computers, and below a grungier and oh-so-fascinating workshop where the team make the prototypes for their projects.
A surf board leans against a wall. Itâs one which Walton, a keen surfer, has been designing and building, âpurely as a hobby. I guess Iâm a bit addicted to making things.â
A workshop like this is pretty rare in central Dublin. Most of the making, these days, takes place on the industrial edges of our cities, but Twohig and Walton are keen to design and make at the heart of the capital.
âIt doesnât really exist in Dublin,â says Walton. âIf you want it, you have to make it.â That attitude characterises the pair, who have an impressive pedigree when it comes to the particular blend of engineering, physics, art and design that it takes to make it in their chosen field.
Waltonâs grandfather was Nobel laureate Ernest Walton, who split the atom; while Twohig grew up helping his sculptor father, DB Twohig, on public sculptures in Ennis, near where the family lived â an experience he describes as being âlike an apprenticeshipâ.
Transitioning from physics to art isnât always so easy; Walton remembers being asked at school to paint with a bit of wood, to âloosenâ him up. The pair met in NCAD (National College of Art and Design) and worked together at the successful Design Partners studios in Bray, Co Wicklow, which has products in the design collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
In many ways you could call ID the Cinderella of applied arts. Twohig and Walton point to its huge potential to generate industry and jobs, while its particular blend of practicality and dreaming seems to suit the Irish temperament. For an example of this, see Waltonâs college project, the Glo Pillow with fellow student Eoin McNally): an alarm-clock pillow that gently wakes you up by glowing at your cheek, which was aÂ TimeÂ magazine invention of the year in 2007.
Setting up Notion two years later, Twohig and Walton picked up clients including a leading mobile phone manufacturer (who they decline to name, such is the secrecy that surrounds cutting-edge design and innovation), a number of medical supplies companies, and Vodafone. They describe ID as sitting between business, marketing and the end user.
âWeâre always pushing to be more design-led; weâre the people who think about how people are actually going to use the thing,â Twohig says. Some of their work also involves imagining future solutions â creating products to solve problems we may not even realise we have.
Thinking of this, I wonder if itâs true that Hollywood movies are used for âfutureâ product placements, softening us up for whatâs to come. Twohig looks sceptical. âThink ofÂ Total Recall,â I suggest, remembering the FaceTime phone, that turned off at a swipe in the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger film.
âA lot happens inÂ Total Recall,â say Twohig drily, although given the recent news about the Mars One Project (mars-one.com) for which The Science Galleryâs Joseph Roche has been shortlisted, a colony on Mars may not be so far-fetched after all. The conversation dives off down another tangent and I come to the conclusion that Twohig and Walton are very good company indeed.
Edging towards a definition over another round of biscuits, I get the sense that ID is the art of making things better, nicer, easier, more rewarding to use; potentially adding magic to something as mundane as putting the kettle on, opening a drawer or pressing a button. In the realm of design for the elderly or mobility impaired, good ID can be more than life enhancing, it can be life changing.
Twohig and Walton agree, though they also add that you do end up âdoing an awful lot of plastic boxes for electronicsâ. With that in mind, the pair have recently been taking time out from client work to design and launch their own range of products under the banner NTN. These include tasty wooden-framed glasses, a watch, a natty light fitting, a bleached wood chair and a table with a little hammock slung below to put your newspapers on. All are sleek, elegant and yet with a gentle edge â cool without being violently trendy.
Why these items? âTo be brutally honest,â says Walton, âlike most industrial designers, we are a little obsessed with chairs, glasses and watches.â
You can see their work at ntn.ie and, while the collection has yet to hit the shops, you can register your interest on the site. The chair, the table, the glasses â they all make a loving use of natural wood, so why are the pair so anti the label of âcraftâ?
âCraft puts value on the means of production, the maker,â says Twohig. âProduction takes that away again â itâs not in the hands that made it, itâs in the piece.â
Bring in the notion of art, however, where you also value the idea, and branding, where you identify yourself through the look of the products of a particular company, and you start to get a sense of why the future of ID in Ireland is in hands that are not only seriously good, but seriously good fun too.