Audio Interview: Design Guild Mark Chairman, Rodney McMahon

Each designer awarded a Design Guild Mark for a piece of their work can be confident that they have created a design which demonstrates design excellence. The Design Guild Mark judging process is rigorous, involving a carefully selected panel of industry leading design professionals.

Within our recent series we introduced you to a selection of the Design Guild Mark judges and to finish our series, just 3 weeks before the 2022 winners will be announced, we sat down with Design Guild Mark Chairman, Rodney McMahon to learn more about the prestigious awards.

Listen to our conversation by clicking below or scroll down to read more.

Design Guild Mark.  An award for excellence in British design

Hello! Good morning and welcome to this audio interview. I’m Alys Bryan, Editor of Design Insider. Design Insider showcases the expertise of commercial interior designers, and we’re in a fantastic position to instigate conversations with the people leading our sector. In anticipation of the Design Guild Mark 2022 winners being announced, I’m joined today by Design Guild Mark Chairman, Rodney McMahon.

Welcome, Rodney. In a nutshell, what is a Design Guild Mark?

The Design Guild Mark, which was set up a little over 10 years ago, recognizes the highest standards in design for volume production by designers working in Britain, or British designers working abroad. We aim to drive excellence and raise the profile of British design and innovation and specifically the profile of the designers themselves. It’s an award judged by designers for designers.

Could you tell me a little bit more about yourself and your role at Design Guild Mark?

I’m the owner of Morgan Furniture, so I’ve been involved with the furniture world for well over 30 years, and as Chairman of Design Guild Mark, I chair the Organizing Committee, which now comprises product and interior designers, some of whom are also involved with academia. That allows us to take the broadest possible review of the design environment and of our objectives, and also allows us access to a very diverse network of influencers within the industry, largely through social media, but also through these people’s contacts.

I started as Chairman five years ago and the exciting part for me has been, aside from developing the social media and the website, to expand it from furniture into two further categories, which are two-dimensional design and lighting design.

There are an array of design awards that also recognize design excellence, so why should a designer strive specifically to achieve a Design Guild Mark?

I think there are many reasons.
Perhaps the most important of them is that we’re not commercial and are unique in being not-for-profit. We’re run under the auspices of a charity, The Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers, so that the costs of access are very low and there’s no commerciality or obligation to take expensive tables at gala dinners or to pay continuing fees for marketing.

The Mark is one of excellence, purely. It’s not competitive, so it’s judged against defined criteria by relevant product and interior designers and academics who have significant experience and are recognized as leaders in their field, so there’s a real approbation to being judged by them.

It’s almost unique among design awards, because we require the designers physically to present within a restricted timeframe. That’s a rare and quite valuable opportunity for the designers to meet and present to such enthusiastic and experienced judges.

Also, the award ceremony is very personal. It’s quite small, it’s an opportunity to network with other awardees and meet some of the judges, and especially with the presenter of the awards, and this year, that will be Tom Lloyd of Pearson Lloyd. He’s the newly appointed Master of the Faculty of Royal Designers.

I’ve been in the position myself of presenting work to the Design Guild Mark judges. It’s rather nerve-racking. Why is it such an important part of the process to present the work in person?

It’s important because what really interests the judges is to understand the inspiration and the enthusiasm behind the design, and to be able to ask questions about that.

The calibre of the judges is such they can assimilate the visual aspects of the design very quickly indeed, which often presenters don’t appreciate, but the design journey and the possible compromises is a very personal series of decisions which is of significant interest to them. It allows them also to answer questions and ask questions and have a little bit of a dialogue.

Yes, certainly it’s a great opportunity to build a rapport with the judges and tell them about the work. Do you feel that the designs being awarded a Design Guild Mark have changed over recent years?

The obvious change is that we now have two new categories, so the applications are across a broader range of disciplines, and therefore we’ve expanded the judging panels to deal with that. But we are receiving applications from new, unknown and younger designers, which has expanded our reach.

Sustainability and design for longevity plays a much larger part in the assessment process than it did perhaps 10 years ago, and also finally, we’ve tightened the judging criteria, which has made it a little more challenging to be awarded the Mark. So we emphasized the need for design for volume, and you will know there’s a distinct difference between redesigning something so that it can be manufactured by volume in a variety of different factories, and producing it for a bespoke manufacturer. It’s a much more skilled process.

You’ve welcomed many new judges to Design Guild Mark, several of whom are the people that we spoke to in our series. What expertise and insight have those judges brought to the awards?

Well, the most obvious change of expertise and insight is that having expanded from furniture to include 2D and lighting design, we have applications across a broader range of disciplines, and we have a broader range of judges with different backgrounds.

The wealth of experience and variety of disciplines within the judging panels is a sort of constant delight to me. It’s important to the interest of consistency of judging outcomes to ring the changes, but gradually. So, some of the elements of expertise and insight that manifested themselves this year was the depth of the experience and the process of moving from design to manufacture, and the breadth of knowledge of equivalent products in the marketplace and their particular traits, and actually just the sheer power of experience, knowledge, careful research. I think at the end of the day, you can’t beat experience and you can’t beat deep practical knowledge, and that’s what the judges bring and continue to bring

How have you addressed diversity within the Design Guild Mark?

The Mark is an award for excellence, and so we’re constantly striving for excellence and to involve a broader range of participants. We’re constantly evaluating how we do things, we’re constantly looking at how we can find a broader range of judges, and looking at ages and gender specifically, because both of those have quite different impacts on the way in which people perceive the Guild Mark. Excellence is the key thing.

And finally, how will you ensure that the Design Guild Mark remains relevant, and therefore secure its future?

I think that we believe that the key to the success of the Mark to date has been its aspirational nature, which is driven by the quality of its judges, because people are very keen to be judged by those sorts of people. I set in place immediately a process of gradual innovation, because it’s important that we maintain consistent standards year to year, so that the judging is consistent, but whilst we continue to innovate as quickly as we can, because the world is quite fast-changing.

We’re continually refreshing our committee and our judges, and to fill gaps and to seek out up and coming talent as and when we can identify them or where people are recommended to us. The key is to maintain consistency and to reap the benefits of people’s experience, not just in their own worlds, but of DGM.

The key difficulty is that long experience of voluntary activity has shown me that it’s very hard to find people who want to volunteer for these sorts of roles, especially if they’re designers, because they’re by nature not people who want to be involved in committees or don’t always want to put themselves forward. Very often they don’t have the time until they’re later on in their career, which makes having younger people involved quite challenging, because simply they don’t want to do it.

But I think we’ve got a certain momentum to our endeavour now, partly because we’re better known and we’ve invested heavily in social media and expanding our reach that way, but partly because by being in three sectors now, we have broadened our reach quite considerably. Whilst there are designers who are product designers who do both furniture and lighting for example, many, many people focus on either furniture or lighting, or soft wall coverings or soft furnishings. They don’t often spread across the three. So the judges are different, the applicants by and large are different, and so immediately we’ve, I wouldn’t say necessarily quite tripled our reach, but we’ve come close to that. I think that’s an important part of sustaining our future.

I’m very much looking forward to discovering all of the Design Guild Mark 2022 winners and I’d like to say an enormous thank you, Rodney, for your time today. Thank you so much.

It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.

Design Guild Mark.  An award for excellence in British design.
The prestigious Design Guild Mark is awarded by The Furniture Makers’ Company in order to drive excellence and raise the profile of British design and innovation. 

Innovation of materials and creativity remain at the forefront of British design as 23 outstanding submissions from three categories are to be awarded the coveted Design Guild Mark in 2022.

The winning designers – some newcomers as well as previous holders – will be celebrated at a special awards ceremony on 24 May. The awarded designs – representing the domestic and contract markets – will benefit from increased industry and consumer awareness, press and social media coverage, with the designers and companies behind them also receiving enhanced brand recognition.

In addition to honouring the winners, the ceremony will include the announcement of winners of the Jonathan Hindle Prize. This additional award is presented to the most outstanding of the year’s Design Guild Mark awarded pieces and each recipient will receive a stunning trophy and a cash prize.

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About Alys Bryan

Alys' experience as a furniture designer, along with her in-depth marketing knowledge, makes her uniquely placed to work with the BCFA as the Editor of Design Insider and run her marketing business, Method Communications.
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