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About Troy Backhouse

Troy Backhouse creates a diverse range of designs, including tables, chairs, lighting and other products demonstrating a mix of technical and innovative design skills influenced from the past, present and a quirky imagination. He seeks inspiration from the most unique and unusual places in order to disrupt design norms and challenge our perceptions of objects around us in an unexpected and innovative way. Like a lot of designers and artists he has the tendency to envision beyond what the average eye can see, his designs portray this through the individuality of the forms. You can see that his designs are created and refined with close relationships to manufacturers and craftspeople to incorporate key aspects of function, distinctness and sustainability.

Interview with Troy Backhouse

Troy Backhouse ("TB") interviewed on Tuesday, 3 April.

Could you please tell us about your experience as a designer, artist, architect or creator?

TB : I have been a designer for a bit over 10 years, after receiving a degree in multi-discipline design from Monash University I jumped straight into running my own business across a broad range of disciplines. Prior to returning to University and focusing on industrial design I worked both in Australia and London as a traditional singwriter. In London I was privileged to have worked on the restoration of the British Museum’s Reading Room and The Weston Hall over a period of months. Unfortunately the signwriting industry moved away from the traditional craft of hand painting when I returned to Australia. This digital shift, meant for me, it was time to move on and so furniture and product design became my focus.

How did you become a designer?

TB : My parents had an influence on my creative endeavours, My dad was the foreman of the design and development department at GMH Holden here in Melbourne. We were able to see all the cool stuff on open day, the wind tunnels, the full size clay models of cars and full scaled renders but all the new development was under secrecy and put out of sight. My mum would also draw a lot and encouraged me to do so. So I naturally gravitated towards a creative career. From the multitude of design options I was fortunate to study during my multi-discipline degree I was drawn to 3 dimensional design and in particular having that opportunity to handle something rather than just see it on a screen. There is no substitute for the tactile sensation you experience with product design.

What are your priorities, technique and style when designing?

TB : When I commence a new piece I do not pursue a specific style, I am influenced by a moment, this could be where I am located, a meaningful event or something that I have viewed. By working in the moment each of my designs are singular, even designs within a collection are often dissimilar although associated through some form of design element. My techniques also vary depending on the design, everything from sketching, cad modelling, scale models to full size models can be part of the process.

Which emotions do you feel when designing?

TB : I think there is a sense of excitement, anticipation in the initial idea, the initial concepts when you get them to a stage that a new product can be realised and you can visualize a direction their final outcome. I believe designs tell a story, they have meaning, the materials, the small details and the form, it all seems to silently speak for the designer.

What particular aspects of your background shaped you as a designer?

TB : I think persistence shaped me and is still shaping me as a designer. I was a bit of a perfectionist as a young child. I am told I would draw characters while watching the cartoons directly from the tv and if I could not perfect them I would throw my pencil across the room… I am a much more relaxed person now. Persistence and the ability to multi task are skills that have helped me become a designer.

What is your growth path? What are your future plans? What is your dream design project?

TB : I like to remain flexible with what I design. I have been approached to design a variety of objects from industrial trade tools to combo-units for prisons. I like to think that if you are working in a creative field that you can apply your design skills across a broad range of applications. Being able to design is a gift, you have the ability to design products for people that will have a practical element that could aid them, an aesthetic significance that will make them smile or both. I aim to design objects that people have personal attachments to. A dream project would be to collaborate with Antony Gormley to come up with a hybrid design/art piece.

What are your advices to designers who are at the beginning of their career?

TB : I would say work for somebody before jumping into doing it on your own. You will make a lot less mistakes if you work for somebody who has already been there. Don’t underestimate connections in the industry and learn how to pitch confidently.

You are truly successful as a designer, what do you suggest to fellow designers, artists and architects?

TB : Don’t take on too many projects you don’t enjoy. Have a balance between practical projects that run the business and projects that you are passionate about, you don’t want to turn designing into a chore and if you can avoid projects you don’t believe in.

What is your day to day look like?

TB : I have no set routine, sometimes I start very early and finish in the afternoon, other times I start later and work late into the night, or when really busy or focused I’ll start early and finish late. I’ll often work through the weekend and then take a day off mid-week. I jump from project to project throughout each day, I find it very difficult to focus for a long time on one thing. Maybe I need a routine?

How do you keep up with latest design trends? To what extent do design trends matter?

TB : To some extent it is important to keep up with trends but not to necessarily follow them. You need to have an idea of what is happening in the design world if your aim is to make money in the domestic or commercial markets but it is still important to make these designs your own style and to design with passion. It is also a good idea to have one or two projects ongoing that are fulfilling to you. Designing something that you want to design not because you have to keeps you motivated. Inspiration for these designs could come from many different places.

How do you know if a product or project is well designed? How do you define good design?

TB : Design is subjective, but if a design can either make you smile or emotionally feel good and has a practical worth, I believe it has succeeded.

How do you decide if your design is ready?

TB : This depends on what the outcome of the intended design is for, if it is for the consumer market feedback in invaluable. You may love the design yourself but if it does not achieve what is set out in the brief then it is probably not ready. Most of the time it means getting a design to a full-scale prototype stage, usually more than once, before it is ready. Other times you maybe designing a personal piece that can be used for exposure as a designer in competitions, in this case it is ready when you are happy with the outcome.

What is your biggest design work?

TB : I have a project that I am currently working on that has been under development for about 10 years. It is actually one of my first product designs that has gone through many iterations. When you model a difficult project full size by hand the tactility of shaping that project gives you a certain attachment to it. It is an ergonomic form but is also very practical, I won’t say much more but it will be released soon.

Who is your favourite designer?

TB : I think this answer continually fluctuates for me. Right now I would say Patricia Urquiola is one of my favourite designers. She is great at adding the right amount of design, playful, functional emotional content to objects to make them her style and something that you want to own and use not just something to look at. I also appreciate designers like Jaime Hayon and Ron Arad who are able to design unconventionally but successfully which is no easy feat. I admire a lot of different artists and there abilities to engage us through their work In many different formats.

Would you tell us a bit about your lifestyle and culture?

TB : I live in Melbourne and as much as I love to travel and have visited many inspiring cities in the world it is always great to spend time walking the streets and lane-ways of Melbourne. Another country I have spent quite a bit of time living in is Colombia. I also love the city of Medellin and the way they are using modern architecture as a message for social change. Being a designer helps you appreciate objects that can be banal to most people and the intricacies of how and why they are designed for a specific purpose. My sustainability awareness has been enhanced immensely due to design, which now influences incremental aspects of my everyday life.

Would you tell us more about your work culture and business philosophy?

TB : I prefer to work alone, although I do have a good network of designer friends I can bounce ideas off whenever needed. I have previously participated in group exhibitions and I am always open to collaborative work.

What are your philanthropic contributions to society as a designer, artist and architect?

TB : My philanthropic contributions thus far have not been as a designer but in a other areas. But as a designer I aim to respond to all young designers who contact me and have had quite a few visit my studio here in Melbourne. It is always good for young designers to see the environment of other designers as they can be quite varied. I'm very open to be involved in humanitarian projects or projects which encourage positive social impacts.

What positive experiences you had when you attend the A’ Design Award?

TB : Design awards are an important avenue for bringing awareness about specific designs and designers to the broader community. They also give you an opportunity to focus on projects that you may want to create yourself by giving you a deadline to work towards. These projects would often not be realised without design competitions.

Troy Backhouse Profile

Ane stool

Ane stool design by Troy Backhouse

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