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This month, students at design schools around the world will hand in their final projects and prepare to embark on their careers. It is a difficult time to graduate. The financial crisis has led to youth unemployment reaching new heights, according to figures from the International Labour Organization.
Last year 73m young people globally – 12.6 per cent of the population aged 15 to 24 – were unemployed, a rise of 3.5m over five years. This jobs crisis is having an unintended impact on the design industry: many graduates – finding routes to employment stymied – are setting up their own studios much earlier in their careers. And some are also making names for themselves with their innovative, thoughtful and experimental work.
Here is our pick of eight designers from around the world who have graduated in the past five years and are already making their mark.
Felix de Pass
British designer Felix de Pass, 30, graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2009. His work is centred on wood and metal, and his pieces have a semi-industrial aesthetic, with clean lines and simple forms.
Typical of his creations is the A-Bench, with its striking angles, although de Pass says he doesn’t have a specific style.
“I try not to make aesthetics a focus of my work. It’s about problems I’m trying to solve and finding appropriate materials,” he says.
His studio (felixdepass.com) works mainly on a commission basis creating site-specific furniture.
“I’m obsessed with design in all forms. Everything man-made has been designed and I find inspiration even in obscure objects,” says de Pass.
Chinese designer Qiyun Deng, 31, is based in Beijing and grew up in the industrial city of Guangdong, China. She graduated from the École cantonale d’art de Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2012. Her bioplastic tableware series titled Graft (which is not yet in production), employs the beauty and poetry of natural motifs – a handle shaped like a stem of celery; a spoon that resembles an artichoke petal.
“In general, ecological thinking is part of my ethics in design,” says Deng. “The place where I grew up is literally at the centre of the ‘world’s factory’ and my industrial roots made me concerned about the meaning of mass production and cheap objects. Disposable cutlery made of bioplastic already exists but it simply mimics existing cutlery design.
“I wanted the product to look like the plants that it is made from and to change the way we feel about mass-produced objects by creating products that have an emotional impact.”
Deng has worked on projects for Cassina and Baccarat and says she likes her work to be “production-oriented and method-driven”. She adds: “They always turn out to be a bit poetic too.”
Dutch designer Lex Pott, 29, graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven, in the Netherlands, in 2009.
After a short period freelancing for several big-name designers, including Hella Jongerius and Scholten & Baijings, he established his own studio.
Potts uses natural materials such as metal, wood and stone, and he creates simple, raw designs that highlight the properties of the materials with which he works.
His Diptych Circular Cabinet, for example, combines vertical and horizontal sandblasting.
“Materials are a crucial starting point in my work,” says Pott. “I always try to start without knowing what the outcome will be; the outcome and function are led by the process.”
In his True Colours series, Pott experimented with the oxidisation of metal. “I’ve never worked with colour because, for me, the use of colour needs to have a meaning. The interesting part of oxides is the material has a relationship with the colour: not every colour is possible on each surface.”
Pott has created a number of products for the Danish design brand Hay.
Belgian designer Arturo Erbsman, 27, graduated from the École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 2012 and showed his first lighting collection, Water Lamps, at SaloneSatellite during Milan Design Week in April this year.
Erbsman’s work revolves around the science of water: the Atmos lamp, from €2,000 and available from September at La Rinascente in Milan (rinascente.it), is based on condensation. Polar Light is an icicle chandelier designed to be hung from a tree in winter. The metal structure is covered with a soft, white, woven fishnet that catches water and forms icicles when it freezes.
“Time and evolution are two major themes common to my projects and my lamps showcase what is essential and universal in the cycle of water,” says Erbsman.
His current projects include creating a man-made cloud over a lake in Cévennes, southern France, and this autumn he will sail with other artists and scientists to the Arctic Circle to work on projects involving icebergs.
“Nature is my biggest influence . . . In future, I’d like to design objects that explore three other elements: air, fire and earth,” says Erbsman.
British textile designer Kit Miles, 26, graduated in 2011 from the Royal College of Art. He creates opulent, surreal and vividly coloured wall coverings and fabrics and recently released his first ceramics collection.
Miles’s designs ranges from simple geometric work to highly detailed and decorated creations, such as his Birds in Chains wallpaper.
“An idea may come from a piece of music, art, architecture or literature. I read science journals and a lot on biology,” he says. “It’s important not just to regurgitate, but to add something of value. It’s about finding a way to interpret the world and offer a glimpse into a previously untold reality.”
Dutch designer Dienke Dekker, 25, graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven, Netherlands, in 2012. She uses established crafts and traditional techniques to create striking textile pieces, such as her Basketweaving fabrics.
Canadian lighting designer Lukas Peet, 27, graduated in 2009 from the Design Academy Eindhoven, and opened his studio the same year (lukaspeet.com). He formed lighting brand ANDlight (andlight.ca) with two colleagues last year. Peet’s work is simple yet luxurious, with products such as the Rudi series (rollandhill.com).
German product designer Maximilian Löw, 26, graduated in 2013 from the University of the Arts in Bremen. His Edged Cutlery (not yet in production but available on commission at maxloew.com) combines elegant soft curves with sharp edges, which are then cast in bronze. Löw then uses computer-numerical control technology for precision work on the casting models.
Art of production
There are several routes for young designers seeking to get their work into production, with some taking matters into their own hands. London-based Portuguese designer Gonçalo Campos (goncalocampos.com) graduated in 2008. He put his first design – a ceramic light – into production himself, commissioning a factory to create 30 pieces for €300 and selling them individually via his website and contacts.
“The factory assumed I had an order for the lamps but I didn’t realise that was the normal route. I assumed you had to get things made and sell them.”
Campos also designs furniture and works for manufacturers who handle the logistics of production and sales.
For example, Portuguese manufacturer WeWood got in touch with him after seeing his prototypes at design shows. Campos now designs furniture for the brand.
Other designers self-fund production. Matteo Fogale and Joscha Brose formed Brose-Fogale, a London studio, and turned to the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to fund production of their Camerino Collection valet stand, raising £14,672 from 145 backers.
Slideshow photographs of works by Felix de Pass: Peter Guenzel