Design According to Jim Hamilton

What makes a certain design ‘great’?


That question can be surprisingly difficult to answer, so we decided to go to the professionals for some answers. We asked the five members on the jury of our ‘Design Your Own Icon’ competition to help us break down what exactly takes a design from ‘good’ to ‘great’.

To start this series on design we’re interviewing the first person on our jury panel, Jim Hamilton. Jim is the Creative Director for Graven Images. With over 20 years of design experience, Jim Hamilton, has created inspiring interior designs across the globe including several of our award-winning Radisson Blu hotels.

Image from the Radisson Blu Hotel, Mall of America
Image from the Radisson Blu Mall of America


Keep reading to discover what Jim believes truly defines ‘great design’.


What do you believe are the hallmarks of great design?

For me, something that brings a smile to my face every time I see it. (For the right reasons of course)

Equally, something that you easily remember for a variety of reasons; could be something that is beautiful, unusual, amazing or completely unique.

The Egg™ chair is a great example of a product that has remained relevant for many generations to enjoy. It was designed in an optimistic era when engineering and product design were going through a very exciting post war boom and its longevity and popularity has lasted more than 50 years to date. When you consider that both design professionals and the public alike are still specifying the Egg™ to this day then it bears all the hallmarks of great design.



What are the elements of great design?

For me there are no set formulas but there can be a number of elements.

Great furniture design for example in the past, for me, was all about craft, elegance, form, proportion and materiality.

Image from the Radisson Blu Mall of America
Image from the Radisson Blu Mall of America


With advances in modern technology though it is now possible to create incredibly complex furniture pieces using CNC technology, rapid prototyping and 3-D printing. Such technologies play a massive part in contemporary design, whereas true craft and traditional forms of engineering would have been far more relevant in previous decades.

Whether it be old or new technology and processes, the fundamentals for me still primarily rely on shape and form as the stalwarts of great furniture design - with lots of other elements playing their part when required.


What first attracts you when looking at a piece of furniture?

A piece that is, or has been very original and innovative when it was first produced. The effects of globalization and mass production in modern times have made it difficult to find original furniture pieces that you have never seen before. For that reason if I discover a really cool or interesting 'new kid on the block’ I want to protect it from over exposure. This is a maybe a slightly odd/ paternal emotion, but since the invention of the Internet there are many examples of great furniture pieces that have been massively over exposed, very quickly, to their detriment. For me, far less exposure in pre-internet times at least allowed new products to breathe a little before they became yesterday's news.

Equally when you finally experience a furniture piece that you have admired from afar for a very long time, it feels akin to meeting a distant relative for the first time. An innate sense of familiarity but you are never quite sure if it is going to live up to your expectations.


What role does color play in furniture design?

Color is the element that often brings the biggest sense of satisfaction to the customer. By that I mean it usually allows the most flexibility for change or personalization when specifying a piece of furniture. People often get to choose their own fabrics, or get to specify specific colors or finishes to suit their needs or tastes unless a specific piece is only available in limited colors or finishes. The vast majority of furniture pieces today have massive opportunities for bespoke customer treatments.

This means that the customer feels in some way connected to the design process as they actually get to influence a piece of furniture designed by someone else, but without anyone there to cast aspersions on their choice of color!


What is the importance of color selection in furniture design?

It can be critical, it can be trivial and it can be non-existent. If you like it, if it's for you and it brings a smile to your face then who cares!

If on the other hand if it is for a client, and they see the color of the chair as the most important decision that you - as the designer - has to make that year, and they are paying lots of money for a product that is going to take 12 weeks to deliver that   has a unique (untried) color dyeing process that is only produced in one factory worldwide, and it is going to literally arrive days before the opening night of their new venue, and if it's wrong it will be a disaster........welcome to my world.

Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago
Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago


Learn more about our ‘Design Your Own Icon’ competition and share your thoughts on design with us on Twitter with the hashtag #RadissonBlu!

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