I met John during a trip to Asia whilst working for Habitat and we have kept in contact ever since. A bold an ambitious designer, he created the iconic LOUIS range for Heals, and runs his business from Vietnam, with customers all over the world.
Website - Reevesdesign
If they were to make a toy action figure of you, what would your accessory be?
I would have the "confidence zapper", I could point it at anything or anyone and it would become the most confident decision to any given problem or confident person in any given situation - wouldn’t that be great…I suppose like all these things, in the wrong hands it would be dangerous too.
To what degree have you actually controlled the course your design life has taken?
Hard to say, I suppose I have become driven by the need to create something of use, function and beauty and then along with that comes the need to gain a response, a validation. In this sense, I think it’s almost a natural calling towards putting my designs and stuff out there; without trying to realise the designs (and in my case) bring the product to market then things won’t have the chance to be seen and potentially accepted. I have been incredibly fortunate to start a process that I have had relatively complete creative control over, I’ve recently just completed an order and exhibition in Korea and even selling to China - there’s always a market for good design and well made product, one just has to stay strong and enthusiastically do ones best, the buyers and market will decide the rest. I do think quality and high standard, even if it ends up making for an expensive product is the right side of history, there’s too much landfill already...
What’s something you know you do differently than most people?
I’ve always found it important, at first at least, to do as much as possible throughout a process, including the conceptualisation, design work, sketching, sampling, packaging and also the write up and photography. This process of doing is a great way to learn what it takes to bring a product to market, it challenges me to really understand and believe in the product and validate it’s existence. It also allows me to realise where my core strengths in the process are, so I know when to bring in a photographer or develop with a technical consultant or work with the manufacturer and listen and learn how they may make the product using the tools and facilities they have in their factory. I think this last one has been incredibly important in building up the relationships over the years with the manufacturers I work with, a common understanding of standard process and efficiencies so that I can design without compromise but with maximum pragmatic momentum. This is an ongoing journey as the more factories I work with means potentially the more varied technology is available, any designer simply cannot have knowledge on every new process and step so an open mind to learn and implement is key to an ongoing evolution in design and product development.
What product or event inspired you to be a designer?
Growing up as a Vicars son in a vicarage and being taught from an early age that there is great value not only in who we are but also in what we do and how we apply ourselves, I was constantly challenged by my parents to find my “calling" as they put it. I was fascinated with how things are made and enjoyed taking things apart and trying (with greater or lesser success sometimes) to put them together again. This curiosity of man made things also allowed me to unpick and try to understand the need for all this stuff, growing up in a rather spiritual house meant that worldly possessions were often secondary although recognised as precious. There was always a notion that the things that count often have a story, a reason, a purpose (certainly a function and are well made) or are a personal touch stone to someone from the past, a relative or a friend, or even a communal touch stone to which many can relate. This idea that an object can be imbued with a sense of sentimentality was a turning point, even the Japanese have a belief similar to this in Shinto Animism, which in part, believes that objects have a soul. This curiosity to join the dots between purpose, status, spirit and longevity in a product constantly allows me to pursue and satiate my need to validate the designs I produce (follow my calling) and fortunately for me, up to now at least, there is always some resonance with the public and buyers somewhere.
I was given a watch (as often is the case) that had past from my grandfather, to my father and then to me. It was so loaded with sentimental value; it was a real inspiration point, the fact that it still functioned well and was designed in a simple yet classic style that I felt was timeless (no pun intended..), for me there was an essence to this object that if I could somehow extract even the slightest understanding of this and apply to my own designs it would be of great value. The watch was stolen in part due to an act of carelessness on my part - I left it hanging on the exercise bike handle of the gym for 5 minutes and returned to find it gone forever. The loss of such an item really hammered home the importance of these personal punctuation points in life, even though that watch is gone, the weight of it still hangs on my wrist and I acknowledge it’s value to me all the more and how important the roll of the designer must be in validating any new product development.
If you could become the designer of any existing item, what would you choose?
This is such a tough one, so many to choose from. As a child I was always enjoyed making bows and arrows, we had a Sudanese refugee live with us for 3 years, Mr Lukiden Modi Lukiden Kenyi, he showed me how to make an even more effective bow than I had been able to make before, even telling me about the Kolo, a special axe for cutting and shaping the wood. I think these simple but effective tools of human evolution were great designs and showed a direct contact point with nature, necessity and survival - cutting and bending timber with a sinew cord as string to use as a means of releasing potential energy through a pointy stick - simple but what a turning point in our history and what a cross cultural solution.
If you could go back in time and speak to your adolescent self, what advice would you give them about the design world?
Stay curious and enthusiastic about design, travel as much as possible and really learn to listen with your eyes, and hands - question why things are made the way they are and be aware about what is meaningful to you and others as you grow, this will be a direct line to the values distilled into your future designs. Formative years- live fully and participate as much as possible, life is not about being the best but doing ones best, and participation will be the engine that motivates and the critic that judges but keep the momentum going because well considered and good designs will always find a home and as David Hockney once said (and I paraphrase slightly…): “…inspiration is a Mistress that doesn’t visit the lazy…” so get out there and do it!