Tomás AlonsoProduct Designer (1974-)
Designers in Residence – Design Museum Exhibition
12 September – 14 October 2007
Tomás Alonso designs with people in mind, “for me it’s very important that what I design will eventually make its way into people’s hands and people’s homes. I would like my objects to be used, lived with and enjoyed.” Alonso’s designs have an elegant functionality. Simple elements are combined in more complex structures to provide people with the building blocks to create their own environments.
The Real Objects for Lived Lives installation in the café encourages visitors to interact with the works and each other. Alonso has created a space in which people can sit and chat, with a feeling of being outside, like an open veranda. The Home Greenroom living plant system is combined with improvised table and benches, designed to resemble the long tables used for family gatherings in Spain. In line with the idea of improvisation, the table and benches are made with as little material as possible. Similarly, Alonso’s 5˚ stools are a minimum expression, using limited materials to explore proportion and spatial relationships.
Alonso experiments with different materials to make the most out of their properties, evident in his clever Stamp cutlery. The sets are disposable, recyclable and stackable. The design does not include any unnecessary elements, the form giving structural strength. As well as being able to use the cutlery, visitors are able to examine a series of prototypes on display showing the distinctive development of the project. Both Alonso’s Stamp cutlery and Home Greenroom projects are currently being developed for production by Italian manufacturers.
Born and raised in Spain, Tomás Alonso moved to the USA to study Industrial Design at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. There he worked in the wheel design industry, a job which later brought him to Italy, Australia and finally the UK to study the Design Products course at the Royal College of Art, London. In 2006 he co-founded the design collective OKAYstudio and they had their first group exhibition at Cologne International Furniture Fair in January 2007.
© Design Museum
Q. When did you first become aware of – and interested in – design?
A. I’ve pretty much always known I wanted to design objects. Since a very early age I loved drawing, especially things. I also used to disassemble my toys to find out how they where made inside. At the age of 13 I felt that I was ready to launch my career as a designer. I prepared my first portfolio and sent it to Peugeot’s Spain headquarters, my favourite car brand at the time. I heard back from the managing director, C.M. Ballini, a week later. Señor Ballini explained that although the market wasn’t quite ready for my space age designs, it was definitely worth following my dream to become a designer.
Q. Where did you study? And why did you decide to study design?
A. I have taken quite an unorthodox path to arrive to where I am today. After a short 3 month period of doing engineering studies in my home town I realised that if I wanted to follow my goal I was going to have to take bigger steps. I went to the United States to learn English and look for opportunities. I managed to get a job as an apprentice designer while studying Industrial Design at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in Florida. I eventually made my way up from an apprentice to design director of O.Z. Racing, an Italian company producing aluminium wheels for high-end cars. After a few years of working in the USA and Italy I moved to Australia and start seezdesign, my first design studio then moved once again, to London to do a Masters in Design Products at the Royal College of Art.
Q. What were your design objectives as a student?
A. I had wanted to study at the Royal College of Art for a while but life’s unexpected turns had not allowed me to do it until this point. I wanted to use the course as a platform to expand my design perspectives, knowledge and activities. The two years I spent there fulfilled those expectations and made me grow immensely as a designer; finding out what really interested me.
Q. How has your design education influenced your subsequent work as a designer?
A. Through my first degree in industrial design in the US and the years I spent working on “real world” projects I gathered a strong technical background. The time I spent at the Royal College of Art helped me to build on that to find my own language and explore the more conceptual side of my design work. I think one of the most important influences has been the interaction with other students, you learn so much from working alongside people from all over the world that share similar goals but at the same time have such different approaches.
Q. What other factors have influenced your approach to your work?
A. I find that living life and observing people along the way is a hugely influential factor on my work. My natural determination has taken me to places that have helped me develop as a person and as a designer. I think that situations that take you out of your comfort zone are the ones that teach you and therefore influence you the most. It never ceases to amaze me how many different points of view you discover along the way and how much you can learn when you try to see things from a different prospective.
Q. Which of your earlier projects was most important in defining your work?
A. My first year at the Royal College of Art was a hard one. I spent a lot of time trying to understand the differences between art and design. I guess it was the contrast between coming from quite a technical background and finding so many creative people there dealing with completely different issues in relationship to design to what I was used to.
Q. What impact does living in London have on your work?
A. I think in London there is a strong network of support from various entities that gives young designers the opportunity to showcase their work. Coming here has been a huge step forward for me, not just through my studies but also all the people I have met along the way.
Q. How have your objectives evolved since graduating?
A. I’m not sure that my objectives have changed a lot since graduating. My aim is still to keep working on different types of projects involving different materials, people, processes and contexts and to keep learning from all these experiences to apply to future projects and to life.
Q. Who or what inspires your work?
A. I get inspiration from travelling, people, books, magazines, the sun, nature, swimming, my friends, well designed objects and also the work of great designers like the Eameses, the Castigliones, Konstantic Grcic, the Bouroullecs, Pierre Paulin, Joe Colombo, Jean Prouvé, Jasper Morrison… I also get a lot of inspiration from working alongside people with different interests or methods.
Q. How important is the story behind the work?
A. I think the story behind the work is definitely a very important starting point, but to me it is mostly that, a starting point. I think a good design involves a lot more than a good story. I think often designs are neglected in favour of a good story behind them, but in my opinion what lasts is the design itself and it should still work for its intended use – whether that is functional or to communicate an idea – even when the story is removed or forgotten.
Q. Where do you see your work going in the future?
A. For me it’s very important that what I design will eventually make its way into people’s hands and people’s homes. I don’t see my work as just something to make a statement in a gallery, I would like my objects to be used, lived with and enjoyed.
Q. How did your design for the Designers in Residence develop?
A. The main challenge for Designers in Residence was to make all of the different elements work together to create an environment and conveys a coherent message. I think there is an underlined sense of functionality and romanticism that runs through all my work and naturally keeps them together, but it is important to make the elements work as a whole to allow people coming to the exhibition to experience the objects in a more natural environment than a traditional gallery setting.
© Design Museum
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