Design Q & A: Michael Anastassiades

The London-based designer on creativity, constraint, and collaboration

Written by: Luke Baker

Artwork by: Ben Anders

Design Q & A: Michael Anastassiades

For the third installment of WHY’s five-part Design Q & A series, we turn to furniture and lighting designer Michael Anastassiades, and ask him the same battery of questions that Charles and Ray Eames answered in 1969 for the exhibition Qu’est-ce que le design? (What Is Design?) at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

Anastassiades is possessed of a remarkable subtlety, if such a contradictory distinction is possible, and it’s thanks to that quality that he’s earned a spot in the top rank of contemporary design. The Cyprus-born, London-based designer launched his eponymous studio in 1994, earning international renown for his wonderfully spare products, lighting, and furniture. In designs, like his Spot Stools for Herman Miller for example, Anastassiades has refined the object’s form down to its honest essence. As with the objects he designs, Anastassiades’s decisive responses to our Design Q & A deftly pare away any excess, giving his ideas a sharp, cogent form with just enough space for irreverence and wonder.

To help illustrate this Design Q & A, we sent Ben Anders, one of our favorite photographers, to Anastassiades’s home and studio for a visual take on the designer’s work and process.

What is your definition of design?
Design is one’s own creative proposal for viewing things. Through design, I invite people to see situations the way that I do.

Is design an expression of art?
Both art and design are creative expressions. There is no hierarchy.

Is design a craft for industrial purposes?
Craft and industry are two different things. One may design for industrial purposes, and a craftsman can be a designer.

Studio design objects and exploration examples

The shelves in designer Michael Anastassiades’s London studio show how he explores materials and makes continuous refinements to his forms.

What are the boundaries of design?
A creative practice like design should not be thought of as starting within boundaries. It isn’t helpful to start a design process by looking at constraints in a negative way.

Is design a discipline that concerns itself with only one part of the environment?
You can design with a focus, but you cannot isolate design.

Floating forest seedling

Floating Forest is an Anastassiades-designed and -produced project that features brass sculptures poetically suspending seedlings above water.

Carlo Scarpa inspired staircase

For the staircase in his home, Anastassiades was inspired by the concrete staircase from Carlo Scarpa's Castelvecchio project in Verona, Italy.

Is it a method of general expression?
A creative expression can be individual, not general.

Is design the creation of an individual?
It is a personal interpretation, an individual expression.

Is design a creation of a group?
No, design cannot be created by a group, but a collection of individual contributions can make it collaborative.

Is there a design ethic?
Ethics can and should exist in design, but these are individual and not general.

Does design imply the idea of objects that are necessarily useful?
The outcome of design is not always an object, and these don’t always have to be useful.

Anastassiades designed door handle

Anastassiades designed this door handle for his London home.

Is it [design] able to cooperate in the creation of works reserved solely for pleasure?
Design can cooperate in the creation of any work.

Ought form to derive from the analysis of function?
Not purely.

Can the computer substitute for the designer?
Somebody has to design the computer.

Does design imply industrial manufacture?
Not always. It can also exist as an individual piece.

Stone collection

Anastassiades collected these stones, which have been formed into near perfect spheres, on his travels.

Is design used to modify an old object through new techniques?
It can—though, as a designer you always start from a certain place, and this does not have to be the beginning.

Is design used to fix up an existing model so that it is more attractive?
Design can exist as a reinterpretation, attractive or otherwise.

Is design an element of industrial policy?
Industry cannot exist without design.

Does the creation of design admit constraint?
Design should not admit constraints but rather embrace them and transform them into something positive. 

Mediation stools

Anastassiades designed these meditation stools in polished black marquina marble in 2004.

What constraints?
Why should they be defined as constraints in the first place?

Does design obey laws?
Only physical laws.

Are there tendencies and schools in design?
There are no tendencies in design, but there are copies.

Fountain models designed by Anastassiades

These are plaster models for a fountain. Commissioned by the London Fountain Company, and still in development, the fountains will be installed throughout London.

Is design ephemeral?
It can be, though I try to focus on the timeless qualities in design.

Ought design tend toward ephemeral or toward permanence?
Toward value.

How would you define yourself in respect to a decorator? An interior architect? A stylist?
None of the above. I simply define myself as a creative.

To whom does design address itself: To the greatest number? To the specialists or the enlightened amateur? To a privileged social class?
Design addresses the world and everyone is part of that.

After having answered all these questions, do you feel you have been able to practice the profession of “design” under satisfactory, or even optimum conditions?
The question suggests a level of personal establishment. I don’t feel as designers we ever attain the right to think that way.

Have you been forced to accept compromises?
As people, we always have a choice.

Marble art in Anastassiades's home

This slab of Arabescato Altissimo marble is on display at Anastassiades’s home as a piece of art.

Art history as design inspiration

Anastassiades often looks across time and media, like this classical sculpture for example, in creating his designs.

What do you feel is the primary condition for the practice of design and for its propagation?
As designers, we need to constantly evolve in our practice.

What is the future of design?
You can talk about the future as a reinterpretation of history.

Design Q & A

Four more of our favorite designers answering the same set of questions