This week I thought I’d do a different kind of post and create a review of one of my favourite design books – ‘Pattern’ by Orla Kiely. Although I love design books, I don’t collect many of them due to a lack of space, and the fact that you could easily end up with a massive library of things that are hardly ever looked at if you’re not careful! However, I received this as a Christmas present some time ago from the operations half (ha..ha..) and have found it a lovely and insightful read by one of the designers I admire most.
Besides being full of page after page of beautiful, cheerful Orla Kiely patterns, I was intrigued by the narrative created by her life, work and insights into the design world today.
I found the section on Orla Kiely’s life the most interesting, as it was intriguing to see how a large global brand can grow from the vision of one person. I enjoyed following the narrative outlining the different stages of the business – from working from home while holding down another job and producing a handbag range on a small scale, to a global brand with a range of different types of fashion and interiors products. As I am most fond of Orla Kiely homewares (perhaps due to my own interests), it is interesting to know that it all started off with bags. It is also reassuring for me to know as a new designer that it didn’t all happen overnight but rather that it took many, many years for her to bring her business to the point where she was making a full-time income from it, and even more time to bring it to the point it is at today. Who knows, maybe we’ll be telling the same story some day!
I also really enjoyed the other sections on inspiration, colour and print, and was pleased to see a lot of my own ideas and thoughts about colour and pattern design reflected in the Orla Kiely brand – no wonder I’m such a fan!
Orla Kiely mentions midcentury textile design as a strong inspiration of hers, and particularly the boldness, spontaneity and optimism of the designs of the day – which something that we covered not too long ago in this post. She also discusses colour and its importance in design at great length, and speculates as to some of the reasons for people’s fear of decorating with colour. She lists these as being: a fear of the strong emotional messages that colour can communicate, being perplexed by too much choice and being afraid to stand out and draw too much attention to oneself through colour. However, the importance of colour in design is clearly illustrated through the evolution of the Orla Kiely brand, as it was the recognition that the fashion industry needed more colour and pattern at a time when it was sorely absent from it in the 1990s that really cemented the success of the label. She then goes on to discuss some of the ways in which people can build their confidence in decorating with colour in their homes, such as by starting with small-scale applications like cushions and lampshades. One cool idea she mentions is wallpapering the interior of a cabinet, which she compares to creating a jacket with a colourful patterned lining.
With regards to print, she mentions a strong interest in abstract and stylized print design. I found it particularly interesting that she mentioned being most intrigued by prints that lie somewhere between being purely representational and purely abstract, as this is something that I can relate to as well. She also talks about how distilling an object into its basic elements when creating a printed motif allows the design to read in multiple ways at the same time. This is something that I’ve always strived for in my work as well – the creation of multifaceted, multidimensional designs that lie somewhere between being representational and abstract, that people return to again and again as they can be interpreted in multiple ways.
There are many other interesting and insightful passages in the book – I’ve pulled out the bits and pieces that stood out the most to me in relation to my own work. Do consider ordering a copy if you would like to see for yourself – you won’t be disappointed!