Exclusive Interview With Daniel Weil: Time Machines At The Design Museum

by Cass Art

The Design Museum has pulled out all the stops this summer with an engaging, process-driven exhibition by the warm and talented Daniel Weil - a leading designer who has worked closely with Cass Art over the years.

Thirty-five years ago, Weil left his native Argentina to study design at the Royal College of Art. His studies led him to produce his famous work Bag Radio, 1981, as well as a wide-range of other innovative objects, interiors and products, and now his first solo exhibition, Time Machines, has been an innovative triumph. 

Time Machines focuses mainly on the process of design, and how designers think and work, exploring how Weil interprets sources, chooses projects, uses colour and creates form. A longstanding Partner at Pentagram, former RCA Professor of Industrial Design and Memphis participant, Weil presents his experience and philosophy of design practice as a manifesto of ‘8 actions for designers’.

Daniel Weil, Instrument 

We caught up with the designer to ask him about his exhibition, the design industry, and his work at Pentagram with Cass Art. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your exhibition?

The exhibition intends to talk about designing as a journey, because designing is not about the outcome and object itself, but about the process.

The underlying story is the 8 actions of design, which give the designer a voice, a sense of authorship and opinion. And that opinion is born out of who you are, where you came from, what you studied – everything that enriches you. These experiences you build resonate and emerge again in a different state, so a completed design is the outcome of that process.

Daniel Weil, Krug 

We have entered an age now with so much information, and yet, we know very little about things. We look at design as object, but nobody is really looking at why and how they happen creatively. So this exhibition is really the first attempt at taking that seriously. And I think this brings design closer to art, because designers and artists both share process. A painting is the outcome of process, created from the first sketch to the result so it can be easily observed at every step of creation, whereas design is reproduced or mass produced, so there is object, but no evidence of that process. Two objects created that are very similar could involve very different processes, and that is where the richness would lie. So the 21st Century has the duty to recognise human creativity for what it is – original steps made from different minds.

It’s like handwriting. Very few people are blessed with calligraphic  writing, but we all settle for the imperfection that our hand and mind produce together, in our own style. And in the same way, this reflects how differently our minds work. I am surprised at how little science understands that – it understands the brain physiologically, but we are not engaging in what really drives us, or how we make connections. The exhibition was attempting to demystify the process of connection, and to show the surprising ingredients of creativity. 

How was it working so closely with Martina Margetss, Senior Tutor at the RCA, on the story of the exhibition?

I’ve known Martina since 1982, yet although she was familiar with my work, it was a complex and laborious process to edit and decide on things. For example, I had 300 sketchbooks, and 30,000 double spreads to choose from, and only 65 double spreads are shown.

Drawing, Daniel Weil 

But then to show 65 in a sense of chronology helped create a sense of this journey. Martina helped position the objects and drawings where they were needed to tell the story. Complexity was added by the things I'd kept - found and bought things from over the years, which then became a narrative edition to the multi-dimensional process. 

Creativity is active imagination. Putting this show together with Martina helped me connect the whole experience of my life in Argentina before I arrived to this country, creating a seamless connection between who I am, what I've done and what I do.

How has your time at Pentagram influenced your own design practice?

Pentagram is a unique community of people that I was invited to be a part of 22 years ago. Time, projects, experiences and friendships shape you; the collective experience makes you better at what you do. I have worked with remarkably talented partners and original thinkers that quietly change the world, in one way or another. So I have learned how to quietly change things. 

Time Machines 

Can you tell us more about your projects with Cass Art?

Mark and I met just as he was about to re-model the High Street Kensington shop, which coincidentally is right next to where the Design Museum is now moving!

Mark has a remarkable instinct, and he knew he needed to change something. His shop fitting required some architectural input, so we worked together to give it a real sense of craft in a very short period of time. With this initial transformation, we recognised that an art materials supplier needs a unique vision to present the artistic experience in a unique way. And because of this, for me, Cass Art became a great pictogram of art. 

Also, I suggested the word manifesto, because it has this great double meaning. In Italian it simply means poster, just an image, but of course for Cass Art it was used for its meaning in English, which is a statement of intent. Cass Art was, and is, on a shared mission with people. For me, art is the best counterpoint to the digital world. There is a need for people to be artistic; they want to make physical and not virtual objects. I think Cass Art is an imaginative way to put back the making into life.

it is the chocolate factory for Charlie and for those that really want to make.

Your famous designs include the Bag Radio and the retail space for Madonna’s Truth or Dare shoe range. But do you have a favourite out of all your projects?

I don’t have any favourites. Maybe I have favourite moments of process, or maybe drawings – and you’ll see 65 of them in the sketchbooks in the exhibition. But with regards to my projects, you’ll also see a series of new drawings that created to show the four areas of project I have and will continue to work on: sound (radios), space (furniture and interiors), light (lights) and time (clocks).

Daniel Weil drawing 

I decided to illustrate these categories, and made these big watercolour drawings with some Fabriano Paper from Cass Art – cold press because I wanted the texture, and then these amazing Pentel brushes, which make watercolour immediate as the water is inside the brush.

If you had to describe today’s design industry in one word, what would it be?


Do you want to say anything more about your exhibition at The Design Museum?
Yes - I wouldn’t change anything about it. It is a very intimate show, for the visitor, as they experience the whole installation yet one object at a time. I'm hoping to engage and inspire people, and I hope that design curators in future will find new ways to present and communicate design and how designers work. 

Daniel Weil

But being in the Design Museum as a title is somehow a problem – because in a world that is breaking so many barriers, it’s also creating so many at the same time. Art is bought and sold and promoted in exclusive ways, by owners and galleries and museums, when really it’s important to recognise that art is in all of us. There should be no more isolation between the disciplines of art – photography, comics, film making, fine art, performance, design, architecture – and it is the great critics, the great writers, the great artists, that move it on and help us understand this. Quite simply, art is in everything we do.

Feeling inspired?

Time Machines will be showing at The Design Museum until 25th August 2014.

Find out more about the exhibition and how you can book tickets here.  

All images courtesy of Daniel Weil and Pentagram.

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