Belgian designer Alain Gilles established his eponymous studio in 2007. Fast-forward ten years and he has amassed an extensive portfolio of thoughtfully designed furnishings and objects. Yet initially, Alain did not set out to become a designer: he would first tread the corporate ladder for a number of years before finding his true vocation. Today, design is Alain’s ‘second life’ and he has clearly made the right choice. An award-winning designer, Alain collaborates with a range of innovative and individual brands, particularly those receptive to novel concepts.
Alain Gilles is ever-curious about the world around him, often snapping pictures of things that inspire new ideas. He appreciates the freedom to work creatively and is sincere in his efforts to design solutions that enhance everyday moments and environments.
Gessato gets behind the design with Alain Gilles.
What are five words that best describe you?
Warm. Smiling. Generous. Honest. Willing.
What do you think of as your finest quality?
From a design perspective, it is probably my ability to listen to people and understand their request or problem. Thereafter, I will dream up a new concept or vision.
What inspires you?
I am generally inspired by architecture, all things graphic, and the way in which people live and behave. This is especially pertinent as we are at a tilting point where behaviours change as societies evolve.
You talk about ‘design as a second life’, having first studied Political Sciences and Marketing Management, then working in finance for five years. What made you rethink your career path?
It’s very simple: I wasn’t living my own life! In a way, I was following the path of my late father who died when I was in my early teens. I was working for J.P. Morgan, doing my job in the manner expected of me, but it wasn’t my life.
Design is my life, not my work. Ever since my teenage years, I have taken pictures of small details that help me to think about new concepts. It’s a bit like some people carrying a notebook in order to scribble their ideas, except I take pictures because I was never one for drawing.
What advice would you give to someone in a similar situation: a person wishing to change their career and pursue a life in design?
I would say: ‘Live your own dreams. Believe in yourself and go for it. And remember, we only live once!’
I’m curious about your creative process and thinking. Using the Belgian company BuzziSpace as an example, how did you envisage and develop your series of office-related designs?
Designing for BuzziSpace has always been easy and second nature. Firstly, I worked for five years in a large American company with open-plan office spaces and 150 people per floor constantly talking on their phones. Secondly, I frequently dream about micro-architecture.
With BuzziSpace, we quickly understand one another and are generally very open in discussing projects. When creating for BuzziSpace, the concepts we work on will come from problems that we [Alain Gilles Studio] or BuzziSpace have observed. It’s about improving the lives of people in their workplace environments and promoting positive changes in working habits.
We strive to make designs that follow function, ensuring they are intelligible and where possible, changeable. When designing for BuzziSpace, I always feel like we are designing tools for architects (who can then modify them accordingly). The products must be intuitive, warm, readable, close to their initial function and have their own identity.
What do you enjoy most about having your own studio?
The freedom that it gives me: we decide which companies we’ll work with and the kinds of projects we’ll work on. Moreover, we can take the time to work on designing very personal projects, and then look for an editor and producer.
As a designer, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
Unquestionably the Nomad solar lamp we designed for O’Sun. It’s a very nice product that sadly, for different reasons, did not become an economic success. ‘Nomad’ was designed to be used by people living in developing countries without access to electricity, as well as by design conscious people wishing to light up their summer nights or eco-lodges.
What is your biggest design pet peeve (annoyance)?
I really think my wife would say that I’m the annoying one, because when out walking (especially on holiday) I tend to take a lot of pictures of small details that I find interesting. They occasionally make me think of something new—that’s the way I work.
What are you excited about in 2017?
We are working on many new projects that will be launched during the course of the year. In January, at IMM Cologne and Maison&Objet Paris, we launched a new collection of side tables for Ligne Roset called W8 (for ‘weight’). We also took part in the launch of Evolution, a new French brand based in Normandy, and designed their first collection of premium kitchen tools. It was certainly an exciting and rewarding venture, because it isn’t often that you get to define a brand’s DNA.
We are working on new pieces for Italian company Bonaldo to be released at Salone del Mobile in Milan and on new designs for BuzziSpace, launching later in the year. So we are having fun!