This month’s Ask Me Anything features our Head of Design, Ray Clarke. Following a heavy edit here are some insights from him about his pathway into a career in design, a stand out piece of work he has been involved with at hedgehog lab, the evolution of product design and what the optimum Tesco meal deal is (keep reading to the end!)
Ray, how did you get into design? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?
I didn’t really have an awareness of what design was when I was younger but I was always into drawing and art as a kid, and loved trying to fix things and understand how they worked. Through secondary school I enjoyed subjects like art and CDT (that’s craft, design & technology for anyone under the age of 30!) but at that stage careers advice wasn’t the best so the suggestions were restricted to being an architect, graphic designer, sign writer etc. So I didn’t really know what I wanted to do specifically. I went to South Tyneside College to do a BTEC in art and design which I loved and it gave me exposure to various elements of the design industry including:
3D product design
It was a full-time, 9-5, 40 hrs a week course in those subjects. I loved it even though it was intensive, it was great at helping me decide what I wanted to specialise in. I then went on to Northumbria University where I studied Industrial design, which at the time was the design of physical products e.g. white goods, and design for mass production with some early digital product design e.g. kiosks & terminals.
What would you be doing if you didn’t work in design?
As well as art I enjoyed history at school and I have always been interested in learning more about historical subjects. Now, I do enjoy house renovation work and DIY projects - getting my hands dirty - it’s very therapeutic.
What has been your favourite project to work on at the lab and why?
The work we did with the Northumbrian Water Group and the innovation partnership we had with them over a two year period is my personal, stand out choice. During this time I got to experience working within a larger organisation, working across multiple departments, with internal and external stakeholders.
During the R&D work I got to work with many members of the team from those in leadership to those working in the field. I really got to understand the issues they were having so that we could come up with appropriate solutions.
One of the things we worked on was the Alexa skills app and being involved in their innovation festivals. The innovation festivals were great fun, and challenging but great to be involved in because you were using all your experience to come up with solutions in a live environment.
As Head of Design, are you still involved in the day to day design work?
I’m not delivering design work per se but I help shape and direct the client projects which other members of the design team are working on. I help remove blockers and use my 20 years industry experience to come up with solutions and help guide the team. I ultimately help support our great designers do great design for our clients by sharing and utilising my experience when required.
I do miss being so hands on, but I was told at University that the further you progress in your design career the less design you do. I didn’t believe it at the time but it’s very very true when you get into a management position. Sometimes you can forget what it is like to be a front line designer so my recommendation is to keep your hand in so that you are up to date with how certain tools work and understand how the latest technology works.
How has design changed over your career as a whole?
When I came out of University in the 90s my opinion was that design was really undervalued at the time. When I was coming into Industry there was a reluctance, by clients, to pay for design until they liked it. Now it has flipped, design is absolutely integral to the product, we consider the end user, especially for what we do at hedgehog lab and I would say for society at large.
The digital spike in the early 00s and the launch of the Apple & Play stores put good design into everyone's hands. Now, design expectations are so high that bad design is really easy to spot and good design tends to go unnoticed.
What’s your favourite film? Give us a recommendation for our lists.
I’m not really one to sit and concentrate on a long film or binge a Netflix series but I would recommend this inspiring Ted Talk - Rodney Mullen, pop an ollie and innovate
Which country would you love to visit that you haven’t been to before?
I have been quite lucky and have had the opportunity to visit many countries as part of my design career - including Hong Kong, China, the US and many countries across Europe. But one place I would like to visit is Russia. I feel it has a healthy dose of analogue about it still (I know it's ironic considering our line of work) but the history, vastness and muti-cultural element really interest me.
And finally, someone has obviously been observing your habits when we were in the office before the pandemic I.f you could only eat one Tesco meal deal for the rest of your life, what would your choices be?
My go to is a Southern fried chicken wrap, ready salted hula-hoops (grab bag size of course) washed down with a green machine smoothie, and no carrier bag! Gotta do ya bit for the planet!