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Michael Marriott's Ernö coat hooks. Photography by Dunja Opalko
19th May 2017

Design Undefined #3: Q&A with Michael Marriott

There’s a robust quality in Michael Marriott’s work – something to do, perhaps with his candid dismissal of unnecessary fuss and frills. Spanning more than two decades, his body of work (stacking tools, candlesticks, experimental installations…) is eclectic and inquisitive, concerned at once with materials, function and usability. 

Following up on our conversation with his collaborator Anthony Burrill, we spoke with Michael ahead of the upcoming Design Undefined #3 exhibition at Clerkenwell Design Week, and quizzed him on his no-nonsense take on design.

What characterises a typical Michael Marriott design?
Structural logic and conceptual integrity.

Your work is often described as utilitarian – to what degree are aesthetics important to you?
I always think they’re kind of unimportant, that they just come along as a result of everything else. But I also realise they are there. Certain decisions are aesthetic, but at the same time aesthetics are also politics, aren’t they?

What comes first for you, the design or the materials?
Everything comes together.

Where’s your workshop and what’s it like?
It’s in Dalston, it’s busy, full of stuff and a delight to work in.

How did you first come to collaborate with Anthony Burrill?
Anthony invited me to collaborate on a show in 2009. We worked together on a few projects since then.

How did the process of collaboration work?
It tends to start with a reaction to a space. We work quite separately on the two- and three-dimensional elements, but with an understanding of what might work for each other. It’s always very smooth. I think we both appreciate a lot of the same things in life, so there’s a natural flow to it all. 
Screen printed stools by Anthony Burrill and Michael Marriott. Photography by Dunja Opalko
Your work is closely tied to direct functionality, whereas Anthony’s revolves around a strong visual and surface meaning – what effect does that contrast have on the end result?
We’re both quite optimistic and take inspiration from looking at the world in a similar way. I don’t think there’s a big difference in our approaches. Although Anthony’s work is colourful and punchy (as is he!) there’s also resonance and depth to it, which relates to real-world stuff and function. Take Work Hard & be Nice to People – that’s very solid, functional advice I think.

What reaction do you hope your contribution to Design Undefined elicits from the exhibition’s visitors?
Delight, wonder, intrigue and sales.

Your Ernö hooks are an homage to Ernö Goldfinger – what is it about his work that you respond to?
I liked its directness, honesty, poetry and toughness.

You’ve been designing for more than two decades, how has the design world changed in that time?
It’s changed so much, as has the world; it’s a crazy pace really. When I left college the internet didn’t exist and digital technology was still a dream. We’re in the midst of a revolution, still.

You’ve said before that “Most of the objects made in this over-designed world are ‘low-cost/no-value’ rubbish” – do you see any signs that things might be changing?
Things are changing constantly, with good and bad things happening at the same time. But generally design is still a much misused tool for marketing ugly things. The other day, I noticed a large earth-moving vehicle, with big sweeping creases moulded into its rear, that served no purpose other than maybe to mark a point in time when it might have been conceived. It was like the vehicle-design version of Trump: both are orange and just like his hair, it was unconvincing. At least the earth-mover was doing something productive. The world doesn’t need that, it needs beauty, efficiency and honesty.

Find a selection of Michael Marriott’s prototypes, one-offs and production pieces in his WoodMetalPlastic online shop.

Visit Design Undefined #3 at Clerkenwell London 23–25 May 2017, during Clerkenwell Design Week.
Michael Marriott and Anthony Burrill. Photography by Dunja Opalko
Screen printed shelf and stools by Anthony Burrill and Michael Marriott. Photography by Dunja Opalko
Michael Marriott. Photography by Dunja Opalko
Michael Marriott. Photography by Dunja Opalko
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