British design is renowned all over the world for being flawlessly functional and timelessly elegant and there are several brands that really embody this enviable reputation. One such brand is, undoubtedly, Anglepoise, a designer lighting company with a rich heritage that spans engineering and design and is now synonymous with innovation and timeless style. We speak to Simon Terry, Anglepoise innovation and brand director to discover more about the brand’s history and the evolution of this iconic designer lighting collection.
Q: Anglepoise is a family business, did you always want to be involved with it?
A: I didn’t actually intend to join the family business, it was more something that just happened! I moved to London and started a career in post-production, I started life working on commercials as an editor’s assistant and then I got into films and eventually got into visual effects. I worked on a lot of Bond films and things like the Mask of Zorro, The Borrowers and the Nutty Professor. I really enjoyed doing that but, one day, my father and I met in the pub and he said that he was thinking of retiring and was thinking of potentially selling. I thought about it for a moment and said I’d like to give it a go!
Q: When did you move into the business?
A: It must be about 15 years ago now. When I first started, I went through the archives looking at the business’ history and getting inspiration and I found an article from The Guardian from 1996 by a gentleman called Kenneth Grange. In it he was talking about his favourite design, and it was the Anglepoise lamp. In the feature, he spoke about a minor miracle of balance and about balance being a quality in life that we don’t value as much as we should. He just wrote about it so eloquently that I felt that he really understood the product and so I went to a Design Council talk to meet him. The two of us just got on like a house on fire and I invited him to the factory and to visit my father. He agreed and after that we started working together, he’s a real driver for me in terms of the quality of product. We create products that describe our history but they also have to be relevant today. Sir Kenneth has been essential in all of that, he’s a true advocate of modernism and his designs have a soft, almost Scandinavian feel to them which makes things quite timeless.
Q: Is it important that you continue to reference Anglepoise’s heritage in the designs?
A: The silhouette of the original Anglepoise lamp is pretty much the archetypal silhouette for a desk lamp. It’s a combination of articulation, angle and the springs – we were the first to use springs to balance a light. It has a unique quality and I have always tried to capture the spirit of the design, we always pay homage to it so that when someone looks at the product, they know it’s an Anglepoise.
Q: Is it difficult to find the balance between style and function?
A: The Anglepoise was originally invented by a gentleman called George Carwardine, who was a car suspension engineer and, if you look at the mechanism it’s purely utilitarian – it’s almost that the form follows the function with a couple of visual cues. The original lights make a nod to certain styles of the time, for example there are Art Deco cues with the lamp’s stepped base and the shade. The original lamps also have lots of little bits to them, but with the Type ranges, Sir Kenneth has managed to pull all the components together to make it feel like it all fits together. They work very well as one colour and, before Paul Smith created his colourful version, I would have said you’re crazy to make the arms different colours! But actually he’s pulled it off! The reason it works is that tonally, it begins dark at the base and moves to a lighter tone by the shade and so it has a balance and the weight is where it should be.
Q: Where do you find inspiration for new designs?
A: I always try and look elsewhere for inspiration - the one place I do not look is within the world of designer lighting! I might go and look at the way a racing bike is put together or at the rigging on sailing boats. Today I ordered a new lens for my camera and I’ll spend a lot of time looking at it and appreciating the relationship between the function and the way the product expresses that function. You can learn lots from other industries, lots of other things involve mechanisms or balance and colour so you can look to all sorts of places for inspiration.
Q: Do you have a personal favourite piece from the collection?
A: I do love the simple Type 75 which was the second product I did with Sir Kenneth - I genuinely do believe that it’s a modern design classic in its own right. It’s beautifully balanced, very utilitarian and has all the elements of a good, well-performing task light that doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t. It was designed around 2004 but it still feels fresh, it shows Sir Kenneth at his best and his ability to seamlessly update and improve products, I can’t see it ever dating or going out of style.
Q: Are there key elements that you think are fundamental to the design of everything?
A: I think the one key element is that products have a story and you can feel the past, present and future of that piece. Products without a story have no connection to us – you have to be able look at a product and immediately understand what it does. If that doesn’t happen, it’s very hard for people to relate to it. I think we all go through a process when we buy something, we look at it and we love it and then we do that mental check of what’s its purpose, is it useful, does it work for us? Another important part is that, if you can draw a product with maybe three lines, it’s a very strong product – great designs have the ability to be instantly recognised.
Q: What other products do you think are particularly well designed?
A: A big favourite of mine is the Brompton bicycle, the shape of it is very distinct - it’s not a generic bike. When you look at it with its small wheel, you understand that it folds up and that’s why it’s that shape. It’s beautifully engineered and it performs like a much bigger bike because of the years of design tweaking.