When I think about innovation and creativity these days, it's almost exclusively in the domain of technology. But sometimes the traditional concept of art and design makes an appearance in my conscience, and I'm once again reminded of the beauty of the old-fashioned object, designed to make us feel happy and to appreciate artistry and style, brought to the world by artists who practice their craft within innovative and forward-thinking parameters.
Israeli industrial designer, artist, and architect Ron Arad has brought his style and strengths to the UK with an innovative approach that defies convention. His 1994 design of the Bookworm bookshelf made him a household name, and he opens Wired’s design issue with a candid interview about how innovation and design can change the world.
Not many people can claim that they designed the iPad, except some very senior former Apple employees whose names begin with Steve…and Ron Arad. And he has video evidence. Arad’s animated pitch to electronics giant LG in 2003 depicts him using a device similar to Apple’s tablet, in both design and functionality, which even had an advantage over the concept that eventually took the world by storm – it was waterproof – so could be used in the bath or in the rain – yet, LG rejected it. They just couldn’t see it catching on.
When he asked the head of design at LG a year later why they rejected the idea, he admitted that they had been ‘stupid’ and that they had been ‘shown the future and hadn’t seen it.’
The idea that Ron designs things before anyone else is the crux of his life’s work.
His pieces of furniture have sold for prices up to 1m Euros, and he refers to his design epicentre (his North London studio) as a ‘progressive playground.’ So what drives the creative control that catapulted Ron to the highest echelons of the design world, and has made him, at the age of 63, one of the most admired and sought-after innovators in the world?
In his eyes, it’s his unyielding loyalty to the five rules that drive his every step:
1. Do it Yourself – hammering out and bolting together for over thirty years – Ron would never hand the work over to an employee and take the credit
2. Look at things differently – embrace old technology and engineering processes and work out how they can be adapted, rather than always looking to invent new concepts
3. Be competitive
4. Pick wisely– always be keen to acquire new skills and work with new people
5. Don’t rush it – be happy to park an idea and come back to it later if the creative juices are not flowing
As for architecture, he claims he left it behind when he went out for lunch during his first job and never came back. But the busy architecture team in his Chalk Farm studio tells a different story. They are currently working on residential complexes and hotels around the world, and they live by Ron’s Rules.
Ron’s practice is described as “being curious and earning the freedom to act on that curiosity.”
Perhaps curiosity, coupled with Ron’s Rules, are the recipe to innovative success?
Picture: Ron Arad - The Big Easy chair in chrome steel