Futurespace Magazine talks to Shane Holland about the secret behind his successful design business, plus we get a sneak preview of the company’s new lighting products, to be launched at Grand Designs next month.
Since Shane Holland set up his design workshop over twenty years ago, the business has gone from strength to strength. As well as producing bespoke lighting fittings, the company produces various other furniture pieces. It also has many sculptural commissions in Ireland, with a great bulk of its income coming from corporate work, producing awards for high profile clients such as Google and Intel.
This May, Shane Holland will be unveiling its latest exciting lighting creations: the new Trike light, (featured here for the first time anywhere). The light is named after the triangular section glass used as the main element.
At Grand Designs, the company will also introduce the Cubic light which is another sculptural work of copper and stainless steel. These launches will build on the company’s flourishing lighting design business, which is really starting to gain a bit of a name for itself in Europe. This is partly due to the success of Holland’s “Ruray” lamp, which after its debut at The London Design Festival 2011 took off worldwide, with the web awash with blogs and comments about the new lamp. Holland believes the story behind the design– which refers to a legendary wave off of the Irish Coast – sparked a great interest in the product. “The idea of items having a story seems to have struck a cord with people, they’re almost as interested in the story as the design,” he told Futurespace Magazine.
Holland came up with the idea for the lamp when working on a public sculpture up in Country Down in the North of Ireland. He researched the local history of the area and found out there was a Tonn Ruraigh wave, like a tsunami that made a big roar of a sound, but was never seen. “You had to imagine what it looked like,” says Holland. He didn’t get the public sculpture commission but says thoughts about the wave structure sparked the inspiration for the desk lamp.
“When bringing the prototype to London, we could just see people stopping at it and looking at it in more detail than other products that we had and we thought, “Golly, this has got potential! – it took off even before we had a box to put it in.”
The Ruray design has since scooped up a Design Effectiveness Award last year in Ireland. “It was nice to have an item that isn’t an iPad or isn’t a mass product doing well. It shows that little brands can actually be really great,” says Holland.
“The idea of items having a story seems to have struck a cord with people, they’re almost as interested in the story as the design.”
Holland says he has a lot of respect and admiration for smaller, more bespoke companies such as his. “It’s often the larger companies that seem to be looking at the smaller companies for the ideas. The small companies often have a real dynamic and a lot going for them, but we don’t often realise it. I often go back to the fact that the Apple computer started in a garage – that’s always to be kept in mind.”
Holland is adamant on keeping’ his manufacturing local, maintaining a relatively small-scale company as this allows him to continue to create bespoke, hand built products, “Over the years everybody has said ‘you should be making these in China!’ ‘Why aren’t they cheap?’ and ‘Why aren’t they coming off a twenty foot container?’ but I just don’t want to because the whole process of making something is what you want to do – it’s as much a part of the design operation.”
“I think when you’ve got control over that process and you either individually number them and you sign them, people really tend to pay a few more quid for it because they’re getting an actual, individual thing that, maybe, in a few years time they may pass it on to their kids.”
Producing in-house means Holland can also respond to specific requests from clients, for certain colours for example. “The consumer is somebody who’s interested enough to spend their hard earned money on your product, so they’re king when it comes to success or not. Therefore we have a very customer focused idea of dealing with people on an individual basis and giving them the best we can do for them.”
Holland says this type of customer interaction refreshes the product, aiding its development. “Maybe they don’t like the plug or say ‘I don’t like this thing hanging off the end of it’ – that’s actually really valuable information to help you develop the product,” Holland says, “Engaging with the customer in this way is the nuts and bolts of the whole design process.”
Holland claims he wouldn’t get this one–to-one interaction if he was supplying the mass market with products. “We just deal through the workshop, so there’s no shops involved, there’s no network of dealers, it’s a really a direct relationship between our workshop and the actual, each individual client, which is quite an old fashioned way of doing business. “
Currently, Holland and his team are gearing up for Grand Designs in May and making plans for The London Design Festival this September, with an aim of meeting both existing and new clients.
“It’s a simple process of just being out there and being visible,” Holland says. “I used to believe that you had to just go to all the coolest design shows, and now I’m more believing you should meet and get stuck into “normal” people that have houses and want to do things. That’s been a bit of a revelation, doing more consumer shows, that you actually just need to talk to normal couples that have houses that they just want to figure out what to do with. That has been the reason that we’ve trebled our UK turnover last year. If I just stood around saying ‘my stuff is really cool’ I’d be out of business.”