Johnson Tiles is the leading manufacturer and importer of porcelain and ceramic tiles in the UK. Renowned for its high-profile designer collaborations at The London Design Festival and Clerkenwell Design Week, the award winning, in-house Design Team plays a major role in the forward-thinking nature of the company. Headed up by Creative Director, Darren Clanford, and comprising of five designers – Mel Holland, Gill Beard, Amy Pears, Maria Swain and Mick Knowles, the team is a combination of experience and youth. Here they share an insight into their workdays over the course of a typical week, revealing the depth of skill that helps Johnson Tiles remain at the forefront of the tiling industry.
Monday am – A catch-up kicks off the week, offering an opportunity to discuss current and upcoming projects, trend research and feedback on recent exhibition visits – this helps ensure consistent creativity. The designers manage their own schedules depending on the demands of current projects; so regular catch-ups are vital to the team’s collaboration. Mel explains, “Our focus is innovation. On a daily basis we all work closely with the Development Team, Innovation Team and Creative Director to discuss ideas and technical possibilities, whilst constantly pushing boundaries and directly addressing the evolving needs of the A&D community.”
“Our focus is innovation”
Monday pm – Every day, Amy and Maria work towards telling the story of each product – sourcing inspirational imagery on social media to produce seasonal trend forecasts, both to help keep track of the wider industry and to constantly remain ahead of the curve. Maria adds: “Pinterest has proved a particularly useful tool for us, making it really simple to create and update our moodboards. We engage with designers, and receive live updates on interiors and architecture projects, which in turn helps fuel our creativity and the inspiration for our new ranges.”
Tuesday am – As well as digital research, a big part of the Design Team’s job is creating physical moodboards, to help guide the creative direction of each product and project. Each board includes a colour palette, texture and surface pattern ideas, plans for how the design will be used and an idea of the overall style of the product. To help the themes truly come to life, Johnson Tiles’ brand new Tile Lab showcases the inspiration behind each key trend, alongside a sneak peek at products fresh from the Innovation Lab. Recently launched products such as Loft perfectly replicates the appearance of wood, and Brics captures the natural irregularity of exposed Brick. Compiled by all members of the Design Team and Creative Director, Tile Lab offers visitors an immersive and engaging experience.
Tuesday pm – Once the research has been collated in a moodboard, the artwork needs to be generated. This could involve a design being painted by hand and scanned into a computer, as Gill explains: “To achieve the desired aesthetic for a pattern, sometimes the best way to execute this is through hand-drawing or painting. We will often sit down and paint directly onto canvas, before scanning and printing for the next stage of the process.” Raw materials such as wood or stone might also be scanned or photographed, to help achieve a realistic textural appearance on tile. Mel is currently working with tin tile-inspired designs, pushing the boundaries of inkjet methods and 3D surfacing.
Wednesday am – The heart of the Design Team’s work is use of innovative new technology. For some projects, such as Verve showcased at Clerkenwell Design Week 2015, structures will need to be created using 3D design. Johnson Tiles has a milling machine, which enables the creation of three-dimensional prototypes. It’s the job of Mick to work closely alongside the Innovation Team to develop new cutting techniques, colour management and design effects, to coincide with the upcoming A&D trends and satisfy the needs of the industry.
Wednesday pm – Samples will be presented to the customer, or to the Creative Director and Product Manager for initial feedback. Often, the designs will be mocked up in a room setting to provide a feel for the overall look. This will include a variety of different settings depending on the specification of the tile. The samples will then be reviewed, and artwork tweaked or a new approach undertaken if required. This feedback and review loop is imperative to creating the quality products for which the Johnson Tiles brand is world-renowned.
Thursday am – Once the designs are approved by the customer or Creative Director, they will be commissioned into production. Sometimes problems arise in the production of the designs, and aspects may need to be altered, but with a direct dialogue between the Design Team and on-site factory in the ceramics heartland of Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent, the process is an iterative one.
Thursday pm – Alongside serving the needs of interior designers and architects Johnson Tiles collaborates with several retail partners. In the afternoon, some members of the team will have meetings with the Account Managers of these retail partners. This might involve meeting with buyers to receive briefs or feedback on delivered designs. When products are finalised for the retail accounts, the team helps with the room settings through an external partner that produces computer-generated images. The Design Team’s role in the process might involve advising on props, displays or the styling of a specific room.
Friday am – Each week, at least one member of the Design Team is either attending an international or UK design show, viewing an exhibition, working from Johnson Tiles’ London studio – Material Lab, or visiting a quarry, stone masons or reclamation yard for inspiration. The design calendar is packed full of trade fairs, exhibitions and events, including Cersaie, Bologna, Heimtextil, Frankfurt, Maison & Objet, Paris, NeoCon, Chicago and Salone del Mobile, Milan, plus 100% Design, The London Design Festival and Clerkenwell Design Week in London, to name but a few. At least one member of the Design Team will spend their Friday morning boarding a plane or a train.
“It’s hugely important for any designer to get away from their desk and experience culture first-hand”
Friday pm – When attending an event or exhibition, the afternoon provides a chance to soak up the surroundings, take photographs and make notes on the stand-out designers and trends. Johnson Tiles has a strong presence through its vibrant online channels, which is partly due to the consistent, quality content inspired by the Design Team’s travels. Amy explains: “When out and about at design shows, we’ll be posting real-time updates on social channels such as Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, alongside sharing our finds through live blogging. It’s hugely important for any designer to get away from their desk and experience culture first-hand, and also to meet with the designers that our ranges will go out to.” And ask any member of the Design Team, it’s one of the biggest perks of the job.