AD reviews 'By Design' podcastsBack
Looking for a new design podcast? Architectural Digest says the new 'By Design' podcast 'may be all you need'.
Design Podcast? This New Series May Be All You Need
Thanks to Sir John Soane’s Museum and Luke Irwin, you can hear insights from David Adjaye and more
By Alia Akkam July 3, 2019
Luke Irwin, the British rug designer, was seated at a London dinner beside Willa Beckett, a friend of his wife and the then brand-new director of development and communications at the Sir John Soane’s Museum, when the two began hatching a loose plan to help “make design more accessible,” as he recalls to AD PRO. “All taste is subjective, but we wanted to open up design to more people so that the layperson isn’t terrified of being met with a roar of laughter,” Irwin says.
That off-the-cuff 2017 exchange spawned "By Design," a series of in-person talks featuring engaging conversations with design luminaries from across all disciplines. The events, which ran from fall 2018 through spring 2019, have just now become available in podcast form on iTunes.
Es Devlin during her talk. Photo: Sam Churchill.
Over the course of the inaugural season, which took place at the Sir John Soane’s Museum, Will Gompertz, arts editor at the BBC, and Alice Rawsthorn, design writer and critic, interviewed six “top-rank” designers, as Irwin describes them: Peter Saville, the art director and graphic designer who dreamed up album sleeves for rock bands Joy Division and New Order; Martino Gamper, who orchestrated the experimental event-slash-exhibition "100 Chairs in 100 Days"; Sir David Adjaye, founder and principal at Adjaye Associates and celebrated architect behind the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.; Es Devlin, an artist known for her stage sculptures and collaborations with the likes of Beyoncé and U2; Edmund de Waal, who turns out large-scale porcelain installations; and Olga Polizzi, who brings to life the interiors of Rocco Forte Hotels, the luxury brand she runs with her brother.
Sir David Adjaye during his talk. Photo: Sam Churchill
These innovators were asked to share their disparate design processes through the lens of singular, everyday objects. (De Waal, for example, focused on one of a quartet of excellent Indian chairs. Adjaye discussed an parasol-esque object used in traditional Ghanaian festivals.) “We wanted to level it: What is it that inspires somebody who is a household name?” explains Irwin. Objects are just the beginning. These chats delve deeper, with Adjaye, for example, explaining how architecture can mark moments in history, Polizzi breaking down guest room budgets, and Devlin revealing how a sketch spurred a professional turning point.
Attending the sold-out "By Design" events, which unfurled in the museum’s candlelit dining room on Monday nights when the building is typically closed, was certainly an intimate and powerful experience. But Irwin says that the size of the venue is limiting, and that sharing this knowledge with a wider swath of design-curious folks through a free podcast was a natural progression.
“The museum is a house filled with extraordinary objects. It’s human scale. There were only 40 seats for the talks, but we’re convinced there is a broader audience,” he adds. Now, listeners from around the world can tune in at their convenience for nuggets of creative insight.
Irwin, who is considering introducing these talks to other cities, says the podcast has a chance to cut through intimidating navel-gazing and make a seemingly exclusive world more democratic. “I’m drawn to the social history of design,” he says. “Fashion, music, industrial design—it’s everywhere. But we’re sometimes utterly ambivalent about it.” The new ideas sparked by listening to the "By Design" podcasts may just be one significant step toward illumination.