Max Fraser – Writer, Curator & Deputy Director, London Design Festival

What does design mean to you?

Design involves a brief, usually from a commercial client, and needs to fulfil a number of practicalities before the creative stardust can be added. A great designer will marry these elements in unison.

I often point out to my team at the London Design Festival office that we are blessed to have the word ‘Design’ in our title. The umbrella word covers a myriad of disciplines including furniture, product, industrial, interiors, graphics, illustration, digital, interactive, automotive, engineering and architecture. We don’t wrap fashion into this mix, mainly because London Fashion Week handle this area and it’s a very distinctive sector.

What inspires you?

Inspiration can come from the most unexpected places, as long as your receptors are open. Age-old materials and techniques equally inspire me as well as more technically advanced progressions. Whenever I visit a factory, I’m like a kid in a sweet shop!
While inspiration can strike at any time, my brain is often most active with ideas when I’m in the middle of a crowd in a night club or 35,000 ft in the air on a plane. I’m not quite sure why!

What would be your ideal collaboration?

An ideal collaboration doesn’t need to be characterised by scale (bigger, better, more expensive). Instead, the best collaborations come about when all of those involved meet on a level playing field and set a common goal, when all are reliant on each other’s skills, when egos are left at the door, and when you learn from those around you. Every day is full of mini collaborations but often the balance is out of sync.

How do you think digital technology and social media affect the creative industries?

Undoubtedly digital technologies are creating multiple new opportunities for the creative industries and enabling projects that could not have been achieved before, particularly in the realm of 3D production. And social media allows us all to become self-marketeers.

My warning, however, would be that just because we can, doesn’t mean we should! I also think social media runs the risk of becoming white noise if we don’t moderate our interaction with it.

What has been your biggest learning whilst working within the design industry?

There have been countless learnings! I look back on my early days and chuckle to myself about some of the naïve moves that I made – all good experiences of course, coupled with the odd mistake!
I learned very quickly that to survive in London as a freelancer, you need to be nimble and open to opportunities. There are no set rules and everything is possible!

What are the different challenges you face working with corporate or private partners or clients?

Creating a successful outcome with any sponsor or client is reliant on achieving a balance between understanding their motivations and objectives, inspiring their trust, igniting their ambition, and then managing their expectations. With the right ingredients and vision, anything is possible!

How do you adapt to working globally and what are the biggest challenges – specifically with different cultures?

Whilst communications allow us to work across borders, I still value face-to-face conversations. Also, there are obvious challenges with time zone and language differences but we’re very fortunate that English is the language of the world.

Certainly, cultural differences can be hard to predict and ways of working can vary considerably in different parts of the world. In my experience, the passionate spirit of people in Southern European countries can yield unexpected and sometimes chaotic results whereas Northern European countries seem calmer, considered yet sometimes conservative. Of course, these are generalisations and the unpredictable order of things is what makes international projects all the more interesting!


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