Getting the Best out of Design

Monthly Column By

In our work, we often find the best results come from taking a leap into the unknown, underlining how critical it is to buy properly into the idea of a design process, so as not to undermine design’s potential. Of course, you have to have clear goals and strategies at the outset of a project, but it’s also important to accept you won’t know precisely where you’ll end up – or even necessarily how you’ll get there.

It’s not always easy to persuade clients to open up to experimentation, however, especially in a risk-averse climate, though we always stress that it’s the time given to research and development of ideas, allowing them often to gestate into something bold and new, that brings the greatest success.

‘You Say You Want A Revolution?’ is an exhibition on the cultural impact of the late 60s designed for the Victoria Albert Museum – and a great example of going on a ride with the curators and client. The research revealed the complexity of the subject, allowing us to arrange and rearrange in order to find the gesture to tide the idea through to the final configuration. A certain initial looseness at the outset was key, prior to refinement, ensuring the final output has many layers of meaning. It’s like the opposite of conceptual art, where things become one idea that encompasses everything – allowing instead for the creation of designs that can be re-read in different ways, many times.

This exhibition was also important for us as a studio. We considered it as scenes from a play, researching each scene as a moment and place in history. We then ordered the stories, created a binding visual language and, crucially, a soundtrack to set the scene. An extended 6-month concept design – over half of the overall design time – led to a bespoke final design that took us somewhere new too and created a turning point in our methodology. The highly successful resulting collage of ideas and styles was, as The Guardian’s review noted, ‘quite a trip’…

Pippa Nissen, Director at Nissen Richards Studio

Image by Jim Stephenson


About Pippa Nissen

Pippa Nissen qualified as an architect, before taking an MA in Theatre Design. She is a Director of Nissen Richards Studio, a specialist practice offering architecture, exhibition and graphic design for the cultural sector. Over the last decade, the multi-award-winning practice has worked for some of the world's greatest cultural institutions.
View all posts by Pippa Nissen →