Ask British industrial designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby about the defining moments of their career and Barber will probably recount the time he went into a shop, only to find a £2 commemorative coin the pair had designed for the 150th anniversary of the London Underground in his change. There was also the “pretty scary moment in 2014” when they suspended a revolving metal, mirrored installation the length of a Boeing 737-700 for BMW in London’s V&A Museum. “On the opening night there were 400 people from the design community standing beneath it sipping champagne. I remember looking at it and thinking, ‘If this goes down now…’” Barber says. “The piece highlighted the Raphael Cartoons in the Raphael Gallery, which are all owned by the Queen. Basically, it was the equivalent of putting her paintings into a NutriBullet.”
Or there’s the experience of designing the 2012 Olympic Torch, which was carried across the country for 70 days leading up to the opening ceremony. “It was such an incredible feeling – only we couldn’t look as Steve Redgrave ran into the stadium,” laughs Osgerby. “If it had gone out, we’d have probably ended up working in Woolies.”
It’s these kinds of projects – experimental, exhilarating and nerve-racking – that keep the creative blood pumping for Barber and Osgerby. They may be known for a design approach that instils simplicity into form and function, but they like being out of their comfort zone, working at what they call the “scarier side of challenging” and frequently venturing into unfamiliar design.
This is why their work is so diverse – there has been furniture for design brands such as Vitra and Cappellini and lighting for Hermès and Louis Vuitton. They have turned their hand to fabrics, tiles and showers, collaborated with Coca-Cola, Sony and Levi’s and overseen large-scale architectural projects. “We don’t see the boundaries and we’ve never conformed to being put in a particular box,” Osgerby says. “I think that’s what’s kept us really energised and creative as a studio.”
It’s this resistance to being straitjacketed by expectation that brought the pair together. They met as students at the Royal College of Art in 1992, but found the architecture and interiors course they had signed up for too lacklustre for two eager and ambitious designers, and vented their frustrations by joining forces to get their ideas out of the sketch book and into the world. Luck brought them a commission to design a west London restaurant (they later worked on Damien Hirst’s restaurant Pharmacy, in Notting Hill)….