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Kate Franklin and Caroline Till
16th October 2017

Telling the Futures: Q&A with FranklinTill

For the last seven years, the insights of Kate Franklin and Caroline Till have been steering innovation in a thousand behind-the-scenes ways you might never have known about. From FranklinTill’s research and design studio in North London, they watch the way the world moves, track its cultural currents and technological revolutions, and distil their findings into industry-shaping insights.

FranklinTill specialises in colour and material futures – not what patterns will be on the catwalks next season or why marble might be having a comeback; but the ways in which design thinking and public appetite might converge to create a more sustainable tomorrow.

Their research is in-depth and wide-ranging, and their output astonishingly diverse; it might be a visually inspiring material report for a world-leading furniture brand, a showcase event for a textiles company, strategic consultancy for a retailer eager to improve its customer experience, or an issue of FranklinTill’s thematically focused trend journals Viewpoint and Viewpoint Colour.

‘We don’t want to perpetuate brands making just more stuff,’ says Kate. ‘Instead, it’s about how we can work with brands to make better stuff that people actually want. It is an approach that’s ultimately better for the planet.’

As the latest issue of Viewpoint launched during London Design Festival, we caught up with Kate and Caroline to find out how they bring their research to life.

Viewpoint Covers

Tell us about the early stages of FranklinTill – was there a Eureka moment when you realised the potential of founding a studio together?

Kate: Caroline and I met while working at a global trend forecasting agency. We’d often feel frustrated that once a report or a package of research had been delivered to a client, the project would come to an end. As creatives, we felt that we were missing a huge opportunity in helping people understand what to do with all this insight and research. How could we bring it to life for them? What could it look like? How could it inform product design, retail concepts, material innovation and even colour? That was when we realised that there was an opportunity to launch a research and design studio; a studio that would work with clients to bring research and insight to life through design outputs, but also making all this research accessible and digestible.

Caroline: With backgrounds in textiles and materials we have always come at a creative brief from a very tactile approach. We’re passionate researchers who are motivated to ask WHY things feel relevant at a particular point in time, WHAT is driving change, and WHO is behind it, and what is the future potential. We are both noisy and restless, and like to keep moving. On a personal level, our differences have always naturally complemented each other. I’m very optimistic and Kate is more cautious and realistic. Working in design education for many years, I’m quite academic in my approach, while Kate brings a lot of commercial experience. Our aesthetic tastes and design approaches differ but we’ve found that meeting somewhere in the middle of our differing opinions often creates something exciting.

FranklinTill, Futurewear for VF Corporation

You both originally trained as textile designers. How does this background influence your approach?

C: Textile designers are innate researchers. Textile design is a craft-driven discipline and textile designers are often process-driven rather than output-driven. A textile designer’s training tends to encourage them to learn and discover through making. This trust in the process to guide the output often develops a strong sense of intuition, which I think is important in the field of research and analysis. Textile designers also develop a very strong concern for tactility, material and colour, as well as a sensitivity that you don’t see in many other disciplines.

However, Textile designers are often trained to focus mainly on craft and self-expression, meaning that their work often lacks a sense of context and timely relevance. This is a concern that we both share and definitely something that I felt extremely passionate about addressing in my various roles as a design educator. While we really appreciate the importance of beauty and aesthetic seduction, we also appreciate that we are living in highly complex times and believe that design, material and colour innovation can help provide solutions to the complex challenges of the 21st century.

Viewpoint Colour, Issue 02, Autumn/Winter 2018/19

FranklinTill specialises on sustainable innovation in colour and material. Why focus on these in particular?

K: Colour and material are at the heart of everything we surround ourselves with. Both have a massive impact on how we feel but are also fundamental in rethinking our relationship with the planet.

C: These areas have been relatively overlooked in the creative industries – they’re often an afterthought or decided upon in relation to faddish trends. We consider material to be the building blocks of design. Therefore, the impact that these decisions can make to the market (in terms of product innovation, sustainability and relevance) is massive. We also feel that the power and impact of colour is not utilised enough by many brands. Now CMF (Colour, Material, Finish) is increasingly becoming an industry in itself, which is driving a greater sense of consideration and sensitivity to these areas. By placing colour and material at the heart of the research and design process you can unlock some really exciting opportunities for innovation. For example, we are motivated to ask questions such as: ‘How can we rethink materials to redesign our current linear ‘take-make-discard’ manufacturing model?’; ‘How can colour positively impact our physical and mental wellbeing?’, and ‘What role does tactility play in building a stronger connection between user and product?’.

FranklinTill is unique in that everything you do is research-based and informed by socio-cultural shifts or scientific research. Tell us a little more about how this works?

C: To give a recent project example, we’ve been working with Space 10, the innovation arm of IKEA, to contribute research and thinking around the future of manufacturing. For two centuries we have lived by a linear model of taking, making, using and disposing. Today, however, several disparate factors are converging that enable us to move beyond that model, and to develop a new one that is better for business, people and the planet. The collision of technological and sociocultural trends – including the rise of digital fabrication, the maker movement, material innovation and a rise in consumer conscience – creates a potent combination presenting a possible future in which traditional models of production can be replaced with a more democratic, better distributed, more circular model. The resulting output for this project became a downloadable publication called Imagine: The Future of Manufacturing, which aims to share and spread the trends and technological breakthroughs that enable us to envision how we could reshape society for the better.

K: On founding FranklinTill, we wanted to rethink the traditional and often outdated trend forecasting model. On the one side, you’ve got agencies offering quite dry, inaccessible research and data. On the other side, there’s this idea that trend is about simply pulling together mood boards and colour palettes on Pinterest and Instagram. We want to make in-depth-research inspiring and accessible. We want to be able to celebrate the forward-thinking work of designers, scientists and innovators, rather than just getting brands to copy them. We want to show that research and trend forecasting is more than pretty pictures or hard data. If the output is visually inspiring, and the research is valid, then you help brands to design better and in line with their future consumers.

Heimtextil 2015

What do you think about the field of trend forecasting?

K: Trend forecasting has become a dirty word and both Caroline and I were frustrated with the way that trends were being communicated: sweeping statements without the evidence to back it up. We would often cringe at some of the statements we’d hear at trend seminars. The worst offender was: “Pastel camouflage will bring about world peace”! We have never believed in seasonal trends, instead, we seek big ideas and innovations that can help drive change for a better future. We hope to inspire and inform, and to help people create long-term ideas in line with future consumer behaviour and design movements. Design trends are obsolete if you’re not looking at the bigger picture and what’s happening outside of your industry. We don’t want to perpetuate brands making just more stuff. Instead, it’s about how we can work with brands to make better stuff that people actually want. It is an approach that’s ultimately better for the planet.

C: One fallacy people have is, when they think of trend forecasting, they picture somebody with a crystal ball. In reality, it’s all just research, and more research. There is a firm theoretical grounding to the practice. Just as in science, we’re looking at the peripheries – what is happening on the edge and emerging innovations – and then mapping, predicting and anticipating patterns and correlations. We are not advocating that people follow trends, we see trends as tools that might help you communicate to your audience how your brand and product understands how the world continues to evolve and change. With the market’s current competitive nature, you can’t afford to just stand still. You’ve got to be constantly aware of what has the potential to impact your industry, and of everything that is affecting your customers’ lives.
Viewpoint No. 40

How important is the way you convey research?

K: Together, information and inspiration have the ability to make people think differently. If you can make insight accessible and inspirational you open it up to a wider audience and can hopefully have more impact. The visual communication of an idea or piece of research is so important; it’s how a lot of people in the lifestyle and design industries read information. Working and collaborating with designers, photographers, stylists and image-makers to bring research to life is paramount to our output.

C: We are motivated to create informative and accessible output, that is brought to life in a way that is inspiring and engaging, whether it is on a page or in an exhibition setting. In this age of visual information, we are totally passionate about crediting EVERYTHING. We operate much more as a publishing house, celebrating the individuals behind innovative work, rather than spreading nameless but inspiring images for others to copy. 

Futurewear for VF Corportation

Tell us a little about Viewpoint and Viewpoint Colour, why have a magazine?

K: As a research and design studio we are constantly collating insight and inspiration. We are passionate about sharing what we have learned and making it accessible so, a publication is a good way to do this. Traditionally, trend forecasting agencies charge huge fees to access information online and in off-the-shelf reports but Viewpoint Design and Viewpoint Colour make it more accessible. Our aim has always been to demystify the research and forecasting process, and to provide contextual grounding for emerging design and colour directions, linking socio-cultural shifts with specific aesthetic cues and resonating mindsets. Within Viewpoint Colour we aim to do just that: to combine inspiration with context, and to provide an in-depth analysis of the personality traits of emerging colour stories, explaining why they are relevant now and how they are currently being applied.

C: We have a really exciting few months ahead in which we are launching various new publications, including our first book with publisher Thames and Hudson called Radical Matter: Rethinking Materials for a Sustainable Future, which brings together the last seven years of our research and thinking in this area.

Viewpoint No. 40
Find out more about Viewpoint here and buy your own issue here

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