For our brand new Q&A series, we’ve brought together the movers and shakers of the creative sphere to find out what inspires them, how they got to where they are and what next.
Benjamin Hubert is a industrial designer and owner of design agency Layer. After graduating from Loughborough University in 2006 with a 1st in Industrial Design & Technology, he went on to work for a number of prestigious design agencies, before founding his own company in 2010. Since then, he’s gone on to partner with brands including Samsung, Nike and Braun, and has won a number of awards, including the RedDot Design Award, iF Design Award, and London Design Museum’s Designs of the Year Award.
Did you always know that you wanted to work in design? Were you very artistic as a child?
I studied art and design at school, and quickly realised that I had a natural aptitude for both subjects. My design teacher saw this ability and encouraged me to pursue a career in design. I liked the practical element of design over art, as I felt that I could make sense of it - for me, design is about real products, being used in the real world. Art is necessary and has its place, but it’s also much more subjective - I like the essentialness of design.
What were your sources of inspiration?
For me, design is not about inspiration, but about insight. I take a very analytical approach to design, so thinking about how people live now and how they will live next shapes my work. I see design as a tool to improve and change the world around us.
Why did industrial design appeal to you more than, say, fashion?
A lot of that comes down to the exposure I had. At school, I could get involved in a very hands-on way with industrial design, whereas there wasn’t the same opportunity with something like fashion. By the time I left school, I’d pretty much decided that I was going to go down the industrial design path, partly because of the experience that I’d had, and partly because of my passion for creating designs that fulfil practical need.
When you left university, you went to work at three big design agencies - what did you take from those experiences?
I learnt a huge amount at each of the agencies, particularly with regards to what’s important in design, what to prioritise, and the practical process of taking a design from conception to finished product. The greatest lesson, I think, was in the importance of being robust. In every situation at an agency, whether you’re dealing with clients, projects, or tools, you have to be robust under pressure, solid in your conception and have a comprehensive understanding of what’s going to happen at every stage of the process.
You were 26 when you founded Benjamin Hubert Ltd, now rebranded as Layer Design. What sort of challenges did you come up against, particularly in setting up a business at a young age?
Oh, so many. But I just rolled with everything that was thrown at me, and told myself that nothing was insurmountable. There’s a danger in setting up a business that young that you end up being judged on age rather than merit; to some extent, it’s a fair judgement, because in design, it does take a while to build your own style, and to become capable and confident in your own right. There were tonnes of people that told me that I couldn’t do it, but their disbelief spurred me on - the challenges I faced were what made setting up the company exciting.
Is there anything that you’d previously experienced in the industry that you were determined not to translate in your own business?
I know that a number of people, when they go from an agency to their own business, will poach clients from their previous employer. I chose not to go down that route, partly because I hadn’t been at each agency long enough to have established client relationships, and partly because it didn’t sit very well with me ethically. I didn’t want Benjamin Hubert Ltd to be a reaction to previous agencies that I’d worked at, I wanted to set my own blueprint. I’ve tried to foster a culture here that promotes young designers, celebrates international work, and is inclusive, as I felt that they were the most important qualities for my own agency to promote.
Why did you decide to change the name to Layer?
I felt after 5 years that it was time to move away from my personal style and incorporate other designers’ creative vision. It also allowed us to diversify; when Benjamin Hubert Ltd launched, we mainly focused on interiors and furniture designs. Now, we do everything from trainers to washing machines, wearable technology to functional fabrics. The name ‘Layer’ represents our multilateral approach to solving problems, plus it feels more democratic - I wanted to make it clear that there’s a team of designers here, all of whom contribute to the designs we produce.
You’ve worked with some big companies, including the likes of Samsung, Nike and Braun. What’s been your favourite project so far?
My favourite project is always the one that I’m currently working on. What motivates me is not the name or reputation of the client - we work with huge multinational players and small but ambitious startups, and I’ve seen equally great things from both. If the client is innovative, driven and takes a problem-solving approach, that’s a perfect match for us.
Do you find it strange seeing people use your designs in their daily lives?
I love seeing people using my designs; I find it so rewarding. As a designer, it’s great to know that you’ve created something which has improved someone’s life in some way.
What does your average day look like at Layer right now?
It’s a real mix. I’m still involved in much of the design process, but I also work to maintain relationships with our valued clients. It’s great to be able to feel creative and pick up a pen every now and again, but I also try to find a sense of creativity in every element of my day-to-day, whether that’s a conversation with an in-house designer or a pitch to a new client.
What are the greatest challenges facing the industry right now?
I think there are 3 main challenges facing the design industry right now, the most significance of which is education. We need to really think about how we’re educating our young designers to be the best that they can possibly be. I also think designers need to be conscious of our environment, and focus on being as sympathetic to the natural world as possible. Finally, we’ve got to push far more for inclusivity, because we’re not where we need to be at the moment.
Where will design be in 5 years time?
My hopes for the industry centre around my own problem-solving approach. I hope that there’s a move away from designing superfluous luxury goods and a move towards designing products which cope with the challenges that we will face in our society.