In Conversation With Tom Lloyd & Luke Pearson

For those not familiar with PearsonLloyd, a quick look at the work section on their website reveals an impressive portfolio of work that’s sure to attract even the least artistically-concerned individual. From furniture and consumer products to aviation, hospitality and healthcare, their designs reflect a thinking framework and in-depth research that comes uniquely only to Tom Lloyd and Luke Pearson. Their reputation in the product design community has attracted some of the biggest names in various industries such as Walter Knoll, Teknion, Lufthansa and Intercontinental Hotels.

The office furniture industry offered the design duo their first design commission. In the 21 years since it’s opening, they’ve carved a reputation for designing some of the most notable products in the contract furniture industry – Homer for Walter Knoll, Cobi for Steelcase, PARCS for Bene, Zones for Teknion and more recently Ruta for Andreu World. According to PearsonLloyd, “The studio works in an anthropological manner, analyzing the way people act in shared-office environments and uses this research to develop intelligent products that reflect the shifts in contemporary working life.”

RUTA from Andreu World

The studio has always focused on identifying the shifting patterns in behaviour and lifestyle in the current generation, and have sought to understand these trends. Their designs are reflective of this, delivering aesthetic and functional values that fit well into the space and the purpose they’re designed for. The PARCS line is one example of this process, resulting in a furniture collection that inspired novel modes of working. Zones from Teknion, a multiple award-winning collection, is based on their idea of informal productivity – an alternative to the traditional office, providing users with the freedom to work in different settings. In line with contemporary trends, PearsonLloyd drew upon wood’s inherent warmth and a play of colour, pattern and texture as a counter to the cool, hard surfaces of technology. 

When Spanish manufacturer Andreu World announced they’d be using NeoCon 2018 to showcase their latest collection, Ruta – the latest furniture range designed by PearsonLloyd, we saw an opportunity to meet up with Luke and Tom and chat on what they do best. Fortunately, that chance arrived much earlier, when we bumped into them at the Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel. Here’s a bit from our conversation. 

How have your designs changed over the years?

TL: Twenty years ago, a typical commission involved designing a specific piece of furniture and we were happy to do this. Today, whilst we still delight in designing individual objects, we are equally keen on understanding the context within which the object sits. This starts on a high or macro level of society, and the big changes we are experiencing today across all aspects of life. We are committed to understanding how design affects people’s experience of the world we live in. Today, these conversations are the foundations of our work and everything we do. How a project can create a positive impact on the strategic goals of the client is equally important. The context of a market, new technologies, cultural trends – all of these have an impact on this conversation.

LP: I think some of our ambitions today are pretty much the same as we dreamt back then. We were always interested in how different cultures and disciplines overlap in our work and consequently influence the place we try to inhabit. At the same time, the way we approach a brief and respond to the problem has changed in order to meet the demands of a world that is experiencing rapid and often unexpected change.

Zones by Teknion

What does the team at Pearson Lloyd do differently?

TL:  We believe that the act of designing is a collaborative one. We find ourselves captivated at the thought of partnership as an idea and I think this starts with the partnership between Luke and me. We like the tension of developing a relationship with the client, it keeps us sharp and engaged. By understanding and absorbing the impact of their needs, we’re able to ensure all the client’s defined parameters, their culture, their history, their location and the language act critically for our work.

At PearsonLloyd, we take a collaborative and team-based approach to work, embracing and integrating the challenges imposed by market conditions and technological limitations instead of shying away from the various restrictions they see in a brief. We have a little phrase called ‘people-place-product’. People need products and furniture and they inhabit an environment or space. We’re not interior designers, we’re certainly not architects, but space is present at every stage of the work we do. We try to affect and manipulate it and pay close attention to the relationship of our products to that space. We also like the way the narrative informs our work. People have to experience it without a label, without instructions. It has to be very instinctive and self-evident.

Cobi by Steelcase

LP: It’s quite rare for us to do things that are emblematic. Most of our work is physically practical and for a defined purpose, all the while trying to provoke a conversation.

When we design, we try and identify each and every parameter that might influence our work – from a visual level to an ergonomic and strategic one. Just the way something looks can change the way you behave around it, and this can influence its positioning in a specific environment as well as the way people interact around it. One particular piece of furniture, we did for example – the Love Seat for Teknion was about the simplicity of proximity. It was about interaction and the personal or safe relationship between two people, which at the same time started a conversation around different topics – interaction, collaboration and concentration.

Any favourite designs in particular?

TL: That’s always a hard question to answer! The world is changing at such an unprecedented rate. Any design that understands and reflects this in a positive way, is what inspires me the most. 

What's exciting you at the moment?

LP: The design initiatives we’re most excited about are the ones focusing on wellness and wellbeing. Seeing people sitting for hours together usually leads me to say ‘Let’s get up and walk around’.

Posture is so important; we need to realize and understand that while there are certain situations, like meetings, where sitting on a sofa is important, there should also be times within those situations to stand up around at a table to keep moving. Movement is good for the body.  

Healey Lounge by Walter Knoll

TL:  We’ve been looking at the way users interact with our designs, since the beginning. PearsonLloyd projects across different sectors might seem distinct but the reality is that they refer to the same user. The furniture we design and the people who produce them, the one sitting on the aircraft seat, staying in the hotel rooms we plan and design – it’s all the same person, with nuances here and there. This is a very exciting observation; as it allows us to perceive how all these sectors converge and feed each other, leading to new design paradigms. 

Who or what have been your influences?

TL: My father, who was an architect, has been a great influence on me. He was a passionate advocate of the power of craft. Understanding the history of art, architecture and design lay an unbeatable foundation for everything that we do. 

LP: People, science, nature, art, commerce and culture are great influences for me. I love looking around and observing our world and this always feeds back into our work. 

Aviation is a fairly niche industry for product designers like yourselves. Any thoughts you want to share?

LP: Over the last 15 years, we have seen air fairs get cheaper and cheaper and spaces diminish. The drive for more economic aircraft, flying further with more people inside, is probably a trend that will continue some time. With that pressure the drive for new formats to carry passengers better will continue. 

Lufthansa Business Class

Any advice to aspiring product designers?

TL: Be passionate, be curious and be agile! 

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