Q&A With Jim Biddulph, Material Lab

Jim Biddulph kicks off our Designer Q&A’s this year with a discussion on Materials and Trends.

Jim is well positioned to discuss such a topic being the Project & Materials Manager at Material Lab which has been exploring the latest innovations in materials and a place for the A&D community to immerse themselves in all types of surface coverings.


So what attracted you to design? And how did you end up at Material Lab?

Well, in actual fact, Material Lab both attracted me to and began my education in design. I started working at the studio in 2007, when I first moved to London to do an MA in Fine Art.

At first I was studying, and later working in galleries alongside my part-time role at the studio. Having been exposed to so many exciting and interesting surface materials, as well as interior designers and architects who visited and used the space, I started to realise that perhaps my creative passion had shifted.


When asked to apply what I’d been doing in the studio to organising and exhibiting our material collections, as part of a Material Lab space at Clerkenwell Design Week, I got the opportunity to create a whole exhibition environment.

That was about seven years ago, and there have been many exhibition and interior design projects within my own practice Here You Are Studio since.


So what inspires you in your own practice? I am sure it is great seeing all these innovative products, must be very inspirational.

I never tire of seeing and feeling amazing surface materials. My friends often rib me for stopping to take shots of beautiful textures, structures or colours that I spot whilst out and about. I’m passionate about surface design and am very lucky that my job at Material Lab is to seek it out and promote it to a wider audience.

It’s an ever-growing subject area and given that it’s about making people’s spaces more useful, or at least beautiful, is something that inspires me and that I think should be celebrated. I also teach Surface Design at Bucks New University and find the process of sharing, understanding and developing the subject really inspiring – there are increasingly more and more surface designers out there!

What is the most innovative product you have seen come through the doors at Material Lab?

I think one key element of surface material innovation is the relationship between materials and processes involved in the making of the product. There are some great designers out there who push boundaries and do things we’ve not seen before, but one of the best examples this year is Studio Ilio’s collaborative The Colour Of Hair project, produced with Martijin Rigters.


The team takes human hair and fuses it to the surface of metal sheeting through intense heat. The process alters the keratin within the hair, carbonising it and forming a durable and visually fascinating surface effect.

What materials do you think we will see a lot more of in 2017?

I have seen a huge surge, particularly in young designers, in working with waste materials and exploring the possibilities of recycling. Sustainability has been a buzzword in design for over a decade now, but the mindset seems to have been positively affirmed by young innovators and genuinely conscious mass producers of materials alike.

We have seen outstanding new surface materials made from maize, carpet, wood and industrial waste (to name but a few), as well as commercial carpet tiles from Modulyss, made entirely out of yarn that’s produced from sea plastic.

It’s my hope that we’ll not only see more independent makers seeking out and working with waste, but also more of the big hitters coming in and helping them on a mass-manufacturing level. The way that Johnson Tiles, who actually created Material Lab over 10 years ago, has integrated waste into every tile they manufacture here in the UK, is a great example of this in practice.


Any upcoming designers that we should keep an eye out for?

The list of rising surface designers is long, so I’ll stick to a few of the innovators that we promoted at the Surface & Materials Show at the NEC earlier this year.

Grace Gallagher is a designer that brings together well-crafted materials with elegant pattern and colour combinations. The aforementioned Studio Ilio is so playful with materials yet industrious with their processes, that I’m certain we’ll be seeing and hearing more from the team very soon.

Silo Studio has been doing some interesting things with materials for a couple of years, but I’d suggest keeping an eye out for their dyed marble and jesmonite pieces next year.

“one thing that keeps me excited about design is that it never stops expanding”

And lastly, if you could sum up design in one word, what would it be? And why?

Expansive. Perhaps it’s because of my cross-disciplinary background, but one thing that keeps me excited about design is that it never stops expanding, being added to and evolving. Its boundaries are evermore blurred, and I think that’s a really healthy way to be because ultimately it’s about trying to make our human experience better on some level – you only really do that by being open and expansive in your approach.


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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