With a background in graphic design and carpentry, the award-winning designer Daniel Schofield looks to the beauty in simplicity, exploring materials and techniques to create characterful yet pared back pieces with life-enhancing function. We met with the Copenhagen-based British designer for a chat about his practice and the new Ray Table Lamp for MENU, an homage to his grandfather and the versatility of light.
Tell us a little about your background.
My schoolteacher suggested I studied graphic design at college as I was good at art. It was good, but I wanted to do something more physical, so I signed up to a carpentry apprenticeship, building houses, offices and hotels. After some time, I wanted something more creative and a family friend taught me woodturning while another friend mentioned a furniture and product design course and I thought “why not?” I absolutely loved it.
How did you get into design?
No-one prepares you for the world after university. I applied for some internships and was offered a placement at a big studio firm in London, but it was unpaid. University had a funding scheme where they offered me a grant, workshop space and office that enabled me to set up on my own. I started out by making, exhibiting and selling my own wooden designs and lighting fixtures, working with local manufactures in Sheffield. It was very much trial and error as I didn’t know much at all about running a business. I just knew I wanted to be designing. I then worked different places, and eventually started working part time for Sir Terence Conran, which gave me a foothold in the industry and things moved from there.
How you approach your work?
My starting point is always pen and paper: I sketch. From the perspective of a brief, or a gap in the market, a material, or to solve a problem. Often, I’ll come up with an idea that I think is viable; it’s a nice moment when I think I’ve got something. From there I create and refine prototypes in cardboard and wood.
Who or what has been most influential to your creativity and how?
A while back I was given a stack of Designs of the Year books from the 1980s to mid-00s. They’re not published any longer, but it’s interesting to see what has aged well and what has simply disappeared from the design radar. Simple designs seem to fare best over time.
What is your design philosophy?
I like things to be simple. I think there is a real beauty in that: when it’s all it needs to be. Especially with the world today. We’re living in an age of excess. Design for me should be simple and comprehensible but also with an element of surprise – whether that’s a material or a design feature, a function or a story behind the piece. I try to avoid trends and instead work to solve problems while refining everything down to its essence – with a hint of added charm.
Describe the process of creating the Ray Table Lamp. What influenced the style of it and what challenges did you face during the design process?
Ray was created in the first lockdown of 2020. I had time to think of new designs and thought about the interesting typology of portable lights. My granddad was a miner and we had miniature commemorative miners lamps at home. They were a good reference of what a portable light needs to be. I looked to their forms, simplifying them as much as possible. It made sense to me to be able to take the entire lamp apart, to change the battery or the bulb or repair if damaged. It was also essential to be waterproof, allowing for use outside as well as indoors. I wanted Ray to be robust, with thick powder-coated metal and the sensation of being a tool yet domestic at the same time.
What’s the story behind its name?
Naming a product is always really hard. The name Ray is an abbreviation of my granddad’s name, Raymond. But it also alludes to the ray of light the lamp emits. That was a nice moment, thinking of the name.
What makes a design great?
For me, it’s a balance between integrating seamlessly in a room but feeling well designed, well thought out and well-made when you interact with it. The world is hyper visual right now, which frustrates me because I think people can forget what design should actually be doing: making people’s lives better. Whether that’s end user, the people making it, its end-of-life impact on the environment, there’s a long chain of obligations and ethics that should be considered along the way.
What excites you as a designer?
I’m most comfortable working with wood but like to explore new materials and processes. That’s exciting. I also like the challenge of designing a chair with its many angles and archetypal form, as well as fusion of comfort and function – something that feels familiar yet special. I’d love to design and build my own house. It would be simple; a lot of wood and greenery, and some bricks.
How can we futureproof our planet through design?
It’s a conundrum. I don’t think a lot of people think about these things, although it is changing slowly. The average consumer just sees a nice chair, for example. However, I do think we are seeing a more ethical brand-based mentality filter through. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if the consumer notices. It’s a designer’s responsibility to ensure a product is sustainable on all fronts. It’s a never-ending journey to make something reparable. We’re limited in part by technology and the evolution of design. The fun challenge is how we can make things better. There’s always room for improvement. Should we just stop making things? Sometimes I think that the best thing we can do for the environment is to stop designing more, but there will always be an appetite for the next thing, or a new technology will come along and change everything. You just have to keep pushing forward.