Design Q & A: Michael Anastassiades
The London-based designer on creativity, constraint, and collaboration
Written by: Luke Baker
Artwork by: Ben Anders
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Design Q & A
Four more of our favorite designers answering the same set of questions