One of our D&AD Membership perks is our Members’ Spotlight feature that takes a moment to celebrate the work of different industry professionals. Each interview gives creatives a virtual soapbox, asking what they’re currently working on, what are they most proud of, and if there were one piece of work they wish they’d been responsible for, what would it be?
Meet Duncan Fitzsimons...
Introduce your place of work.
7TH is a Design and Invention company. My aim is for the studio to be a nimble, flexible, almost boutique approach for creating double-take inducing new ideas and innovations.
Specifically, I guess I’d say we’re the people to come to if you want to create something new and exciting in the area of people and technology. Especially if you want something that provokes a “why has no one done this before!” response.
This means we’re often helping technology companies to work in new and more exciting ways with people, and also helping people-focussed companies to do new and exciting things with technology. We put together small interdisciplinary teams of specialists to tackle new challenges together. For example, when you get a product design brainstorm going with engineers, graphic designers and material scientists around the table, you start to get some very interesting and unexpected new ideas appearing.
What are you currently working on?
Right now we’re working on projects across a wide range of areas. These include high tech fashion wear, behaviour-changing homewares and high precision surgical devices, but unfortunately I can’t go into any more detail than that until these projects are ready to be released!
What all of these projects share is a process of seeking out the pivotal factor that will make them into a truly revolutionary new idea. This means picking apart what it really means to use or interact with that product, and then launching into a fast series of sketch concepts, experiments and mockups so that we can play with the design, push it forward and then hopefully come up up with something incredibly exciting, something that no-one’s ever done before.
What work are you most proud of? The last couple of years have been incredibly exciting following the launch of Morph Folding Wheels. This home grown project looked to challenge the one part of bicycle and wheelchair designs that always gets ignored - the wheel. The challenge was to literally re-invent it, and the result was the world’s first foldable wheelchair wheel.
Morph folding wheels are now in production and have shipped to every corner of the globe. Now for the first time, you can fold an entire wheelchair up small enough to go in the overhead locker on a plane or the trunk of a Smart car. So far this is the first project I’ve ever worked on to feature on a screen in Times Square! It subsequently went on to win Transport Design of the Year at the Design Museum, Icon Magazine’s Product Design of the Year and the Institution of Engineering Designers Alex Moulton Award, all in the space of a very exciting 18 months.
What work from our Archive makes you think ‘I wish I’d done that’? I’m risking giving an incredibly obvious answer here, but I feel it would be wrong to put anything else above it - the iPhone 3G. I know a lot of people get very excited about all sorts of Apple products but this one, for me, is the best example of a team of designers and engineers abosolutely nailing it.
It was the first real mass market smartphone. It changed what a telephone is. It changed what we consider to be “the internet”. It raised our expectation levels of what’s possible and what’s normal, to now expect access to any information, and access to any service at any time and in any place.
It’s the second product I’ve seen in my lifetime that within a year changed how everyone lives their day to day lives (the first was Google). It also, despite being now technologically obsolete, is a beautiful object that feels lovely to pick up, and probably always will be, just like picking up a nice stone off the beach, the sort you decide to take home with you.
What’s the best advice you’ve received during your career? While I was at the Royal College of Art I received a brilliant piece of advice from one of my tutors, the inventor of the Strida and Mando Footloose bikes, Mark Sanders. His advice was that engineering can do a lot, often more than you can imagine, and that you should make it work for you as a designer, not the other way around.
As someone who originally trained as a mechanical engineer, I find there’s often a temptation at the back of my mind to list all the possible reasons an idea won’t work, before getting started on the design. It’s the safe, engineering approach. Mark’s advice: Don’t worry about it too early - have faith in the vision of a great and exciting idea and that technical issues can be tackled later, as the second stage of the development process.
This is so very true for a technical product but as time has gone on I’ve realised it applies to almost everything. Timing is everything in the design and development process and you have to bring the technical considerations in only at the right moment. Consider a product driven only by technology, a film driven only by special effects, or a town centre driven entirely by health and safety regulations. Technology, special effects and health and safety are all hugely important things but they must SUPPORT the design, not be the sole driving force.