In 2019 Laila Laurel disrupted our media feed with her controversial chair designs which caused a nation-wide discussion on the femininity and masculinity of the humble chair. Laila’s winning design’s encouraged conversation around gender politics and feminism in a commonly male dominated design world.

As the New Designer’s 2020 Award’s programme deadline is fast approaching we decided to catch up with a hand full of 2019 Award winners to see what they had been up to since claiming their award title, catch up with Laila’s exciting year below.

2019 was a very busy year for you, winning the New Designers Belmond Award and taking the media by storm, tell us, what have you been up to in the past year?

It was completely mental!

I could never have imagined the kind of attention I received from it. It feels like I have done so much and so little simultaneously, as is the case for lots of people this year I can imagine.

To say that it has been non-stop making and creating would be false advertising. I have suffered with a chronic illness for a few years and have been learning to better manage and live with that. I hit a real rut in creativity for a while which was frankly terrifying, but it is so important to talk about because I think we often see people’s Instagram highlight reels and that is just not realistic. As well as this, however, I have moved into a great workshop with my partner. I have taken on both individual and collaborative commissions and projects, I am also looking forward to being part of a few postponed shows, one of which will be The Brighton Design Show.  I have been trying to play and expand my material and conceptual ideas and I am feeling really excited about what is coming up!

Looking back on New Designers 2019, can you tell us what were your top highlights of exhibiting?

I feel like the highlight of every New Designers must be the incredible opportunity it provides to meet other recent graduates that are passionate about the same things as you are. There is always such a broad and amazing range of work, I came away so humbled and inspired. Most of all it is just really exciting, it really affirmed I was in the right place.

Winning the New Designers Belmond Award is such a huge accolade, what did winning mean to you?

I think it was such a complete shock to win that I was absolutely astounded. It was very overwhelming and I’m not sure I will ever experience anything like it, I’m very honoured.

I think in a broader sense, the fact that my work engaged with gender politics and feminism and was being recognised as having merit by institutions such as New Designers and Belmond, felt really encouraging that these things are being heard and seen as important.

We have seen lots of designers share their processes and approaches during lockdown, what is your creative process? Where do you start?

Truthfully, I really don’t think I have a certain approach or process. I think because I come from more of a fine art background, I am maybe a little less conventional when it comes to the design process. I don’t always do technical drawings or make maquettes, instead, I tend to roll with the process in a more fluid way, and while this does often lead to a lot of problems down the line, I find it leads to more fun, interesting objects in my case. I think I always felt a little left out not having a full sketch book but in reality, everything inspires your creative practice. I have been doing a lot of sewing in lock down, and making patchwork which has translated into other ideas etc. I love taking pictures and reading for 3D projects, and so this is always part of my making process. I have recently discovered for myself that any kind of creativity makes me feel more creative in other areas of my life. 

What or who is your biggest inspiration?

Naturally there are so many makers, designers and artists that have influenced me in my work, but I’m going to have to be very cheesy and pick my friends. I have so many incredibly fun, creative and motivated people around me that are endlessly inspiring and that is something so special and that I really value. This maybe sounds a little trite but really, I think creating something with people you love and respect is simply so fun and a bit magical.

How have you adapted your studio/workspace?

I share a workshop with my partner Robbie in a larger workspace called ‘New England House’ in the centre of Brighton. We really fluked it and I can’t believe how lucky we are to be there, and truthfully, the feeling that I didn’t deserve to be there really held me back! I have put these imposter fears to bed however, because I think it holds so many women, in particular, back. I need to live a little more by what I preach: that women are strong and clever and deserve to have equal opportunities as men in the male dominated design sphere.

A world without 3D Design & Craft, do you have any idea where you would be?

Hmmm. That’s a hard one.

I currently also work as a climbing instructor and love doing that, especially when I get to take groups of women and help them to feel more empowered and confident to take up space at the wall etc. But in my wildest dreams, maybe a comedian. Haha!

What’s the next step? Can you share with us your ideas for the year ahead?

Well, the obvious limitations of this year have postponed my work with Belmond, however we are now starting the process of this commencing and I am very excited about it! I have also got commissions and collaborative work coming up, but I want to make sure I set aside enough time and energy to explore and develop my own practice.

Finally, do you have any advice or top tips to the graduating class of 2020?

Give yourself some space and compassion.

I know I am not very far into my post-grad journey but every single person I know had a hard time graduating but have all found their own groove after a little time.

For courses like design in particular that are so reliant on workshop facilities it is really hard to suddenly be expelled from them at the height of your creative practice. Maybe I’m projecting, but for me the big scary world came flooding in which in some ways was terrifying but in others freeing. If you are committed to continuing your practice you will, but have patience and most of all be kind to yourself. It is a very weird time to graduate but things are never one dimensional so there are interesting facets of the current situation and I have seen so much creativity!

Good luck and CONGRATS!

The 2020 New Designers Award’s Programme deadline is: 14 August (23.59PM)

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