The cutting edge office: We assess reports, clichés and visions that deal with places of work in discussions with contemporaries. In this issue Luke Pearson and Tom Lloyd of PearsonLloyd explain the significance their design studio has for them: in conversation with Désirée Schellerer they talk about their office community, declare they love for London and reveal their most important working tools.
Luke Pearson and Tom Lloyd founded their design studio PearsonLloyd in London in 1997, and since then it has become one of the most renowned in Great Britain. Their international clients include Artemide, Classicon, Fritz Hansen, Knoll International, Lufthansa and Walter Knoll. Their work is diverse and has received numerous awards. London Designers Luke Pearson and Tom Lloyd impressively demonstrate again and again what constitutes high-quality industrial design – namely, the intelligent translation of changing work styles, production possibilities and living circumstances.
Luke Pearson and Tom Lloyd, your studio is situated in Shoreditch, an upcoming, creative district in the northeast of London. How did you get there and which criteria were important to make the decision for that studio?
Tom Lloyd (TL): When we started the studio, Luke and I both lived in West London. Coming east was both a financial decision (looking for cheap studio space) and a creative one. Our first space was in an unheated warehouse on the edge of Spitalfields market, which was then still operating as the primary fruit and veg wholesale market for London. The area then was edgy, a little scary but full of life and energy. Artists had started to occupy discussed commercial property and it was this community that drew us there. In the 16 years since we started, we have been in three different spaces all within a mile of the first space. Shoreditch is now an area full of design and fashion businesses and although very different from 1997, it is a great area to work from.
Luke Pearson (LP): Tom’s brother had a studio right near the city, the financial district. The rent was absurdly low. It seemed like a great idea to take a space that was big and cheap. As soon as we moved in the neighbouring square became an architectural dig. We then moved to Whitechapel and finally bought our studio after cycling past one day. There was a dip in the market and that seemed a good idea although we have outgrown it now in many ways.
How many people are working there? Could you describe the atmosphere?
TL: There are 14 people in the studio. The space is a mixture of workshop, meeting and studio space. The atmosphere is quite focused on work, and there are a lot of individual conversations going on at any one time. Design is about communication, and we spend most of each day in conversation with the team. Looking and touching and working on models and drawings and ideas.
LP: We have people from various places around the world. I'm not so sure how important their nationality is. Clearly their cultural background is different and this can affect the design process but I think design itself can be a great leveler.
Sometimes it's impossible to follow somebody who is speaking English but I can clearly understand the design thinking and what's on paper. For me that is the important thing. The process of thinking and seeing. At times the studio is bubbling with noise and at other times it's very quiet and people are concentrating intensely.
Is London the perfect place to work and to live at for you?
TL: Yes! Nothing compares to the energy created in London. The mix of communities and industries and cultures is completely unique: politics, finance, art, culture, sport. There are no limits to personal freedom of expression in our city, so creativity is continually on display. London is also a magnet for people the world over. Our studio has 6 different nationalities in it. Apart from New York, this would not happen anywhere else.
LP: I have children in London and right now they are the main focus of my geography. I think it's a great city and having travelled a lot I have a growing respect for the ability of the British to accept people. Creatively this helps as we have few barriers and we love eccentrics.
Do you get the sense that your office makes a statement about you?
TL: Our office makes a statement about almost everything. PearsonLloyd, Luke and Tom, the work, our own personalities, the team, London. Our office is full to the brim with prototypes and samples and mockups. It is quite messy, but visitors always like to see what is going on. Sometimes we clear the space up and it loses some of that energy.
LP: The office is super important. It’s where we work. The walls are always covered with paper and the studio is littered with models in various states of development or decay. It's where we share our ideas and make them tangible to others. I am sure the office makes a statement but I think we are so busy working it’s not always a conscious one, more a reaction to the needs. It's perhaps not my ideal place to work but that would involve a workshop full of machines to accomplish any task which after all is a dream.
Do you have a "primary workspace"? Or do you like to change the "scenery"?
LP: My primary workspace is my sketch book and currently an iPad which helps to keep my life organized and the emails at bay...or rather answered. I think I can work anywhere but I do like concentration. I do need my desk if only to scatter my notes. So many designers sing a rather romantic song about having all their ideas on a plane. Mine tend to come at the oddest moments, which is why I need to have the tools with me. I don't like being without a pen.
It's always easy to find paper and make a quick hieroglyphic note. Having said that there are times when quiet focus is essential. I could never work from home, the flux that's generated from others is important.
TL: Luke and I share a small space at the back of the studio, where we talk almost continually. However, we may only be in the studio two or three days each week. The rest of the time we are visiting clients and factories and festivals, conferences etc. Like workers the world over, we also spend a lot of time thinking and talking in local coffee shops.
What do you dislike about your office?
TL: We need more space to think and make and play. Space is very expensive in London. I am sure if we worked outside the city, we would have double the area to experiment in.
Where do you most like to work?
TL: I like the fact that I am always on the move. No day is ever the same.
Are there places where you would especially like to work?
LP: In terms of countries I love Japan. I love the attention to details.
Are there places where you have to work but would rather avoid?
TL: The journey home from a foreign city at the end of a long week is the least favourite moment in my working life. I need to be home sooner than the plane can ever carry me.
LP: With corporations that know they need design but don't really want to work as a team. It's very frustrating.
Do you find your office a place of inspiration, of creativity?
TL: We have at least ten projects alive at any one time in the studio. The energy created by this ongoing work is very precious. We have a great breadth of work in the office, which means every day has its own personality. But inspiration as we know it comes at any time, any place, any where.
LP: The office is not always the source of creativity but it's where I need to process it. Sometimes it can happen in your sketchbook but the gathering of this inspiration could be from anywhere and it often is. I always say when teaching that you can't dream what you have not experienced.
Are there certain rituals that you consider important in your everyday office routine?
TL: Coffee in the morning, but otherwise every day has its own pace and structure.
LP: As far as rituals go I love a coffee to start when I get in.
What far-reaching changes could you describe when you look back over the entire period of your "office life"?
LP: Communication is the biggest change. We can communicate in so many ways now, phone, text, email, Skype etc. we can send information at the drop of a finger...literally. It's speed and this is not always a good thing for thinking.
Can you tell us about a "wow!" experience that you’ve had in or with an office?
TL: We are very lucky as designers to see real physical fruits of our labours. There is nothing like taking a delivery, and opening a box that contains the first prototype or production piece of a new design or project. even though we all know exactly how it was planned to be, it is somehow always a surprise when we see it for the first time.
LP: Not really.
What is most important in your office?
TL: As a team of 14 people, we are a community. People come and go over the years, and the community shifts with the different personalities in the studio. It is both a pleasure but also a great challenge to help this community thrive, as it is the route to all successful work.
What is the most important object for you in your office?
LP: My bike. It gets me to the studio and allows me to start the day in a different frame of mind. It's one of mans better inventions and I like them around emotionally.
What’s your most personal object?
TL: I designed a light for a national lighting competition in 1989. The prototype sits on the shelf in the meeting room, and whenever I look at it, I am transported back to my college days and all the hopes and fears of student life.
LP: I stopped feeling too emotional about objects a few years ago but if I was pressed it would be the drawings my dad did for me.
What is your most important tool for your work?
TL: My sketch books. Although I am not a great draughtsman, I cannot do without a sketchbook at hand.
What is your favorite activity in the context of work?
TL: Nothing really beats walking into a factory that is or will prodcue your work. The thrill of material and production is unique. Especially in northern Italy, this is only beaten by lunch in a local trattoria, which invariably follows a production meeting.
LP: My favourite activity is finding gaps that others have missed which lead to new solutions… I guess that's design?
How many hours per day do you spend in your office?
TL: Everyday is different, but I do not work very long hours. I do not find it promotes either happiness or productivity.
LP: Sometimes we are not here at all. On a full day it can easily be 15 hours but I generally work at home in the evenings.
Working on PARCS and DOCKLANDS – have you been influenced or even changed something in your workstyle or have you reconstructed your office?
TL: Our own office has not changed greatly since we started PARCS. We work very close to each other in quite an intense environment. There is not enough space for the right quality of separation for any of us, but we are blessed with numerous cafes in Shoreditch which as usual serve as a place to escape and talk and think.
LP: I am not sure that after PARCS and DOCKLANDS we have changed so much. I think we have always collaborated, always found quiet zones, always had workshops and shared information. As a small studio it's perhaps easier to be organic than in a large organization.
The thing you most wish for in an office?
Thank you for the interview.