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Talking Points

Surface Design Show 2024



What are you looking forward to most about being part of the judging panel for the Surface Design Awards? 

It’s always interesting to see emerging talent and new ideas. Judging is a great opportunity to take a step back and appreciate the work of others, to see what innovations are coming through the industry and to learn and engage with new ideas. I was delighted to be invited to join this year’s panel by Charlotte McCarthy, and so I’m also looking forward to judging alongside peers.  


What are you personally looking for in terms of entries? 

Innovative materials and sustainability focussed entries are of course always of interest, balanced with beautiful detailing and projects which have longevity in mind. As a studio, Universal is focussed on creating spaces that are designed to last and materiality is a huge component of this, I’m interested in seeing how others are approaching this too. 

As much as I will be looking at these areas, I’m also hoping I’ll be surprised, and that there will be entries and ideas that are new and fascinating.  


What advice would you give to those looking to submit a successful award? 

As much as we are discussing tangible designs which are best illustrated in visual mediums, it's important to ensure that you are storytelling and communicating your ideas to their maximum potential. 

Backing up your ideas with a strong narrative, articulating your aspirations with any project and influences will help judges best understand your project and ideas. Given that participants are not in the room whilst we are judging, this feels very important to me. 

I want to understand why certain materials have been picked, what considerations have been involved. Going back to Universal’s ‘Designed to Last’ ethos, I’ll also be looking at whether entrants have expressed what will happen to a material over time, how it will look and feel in a year, or even 10 years. 

We’re also focussed on the experience of people in spaces, and so I’d also like to understand the impact choices have on people - what positive attributes can these design decisions have.  


Why are awards so important to architects and designers? 

Our own studio enters selected awards each year, we do it as our team works hard and we’d like their work to be recognised and celebrated when we feel it adds value to the people experiencing our spaces. I think it's important for us as an industry to champion innovation and great ideas. 

Design shapes the way we live, and so it's important to acknowledge excellence and to reset our bar for this as design, and our world, evolves.  


What are some emerging trends in materials you’ve noticed? 

We avoid ‘trends’, for us good design is about the experience of people and how a space can wear in and not wear out - what value can our creativity add to a building, space or place. So in this regard, what can materials do to assist and aid this - it's more about looking year on year to what the new innovations are rather than trends.  

Currently, we’re using more natural materials in their purest and raw forms to allow them, in time, to be recycled and reused more easily and efficiently. When we design a space, we like to think about how it can evolve for different users and inhabitants, beyond the exact needs for it in the immediate term. So material strategies that can support this are of most interest to us.  


Sustainability is a talking point in every project, what is your experience of successfully delivering sustainable solutions in what you do? 

As an industry, one of the biggest challenges is a client’s ambitions versus budgets. Our role as designers involves taking clients on a journey, helping them to understand the value of making sustainable choices long term. This requires a mix of tenacity and persistence, and for us to continually increase our own knowledge, becoming experts where necessary and relying on a network of collaborators who in turn can support our efforts and are specialists in their own right.  


The theme of 2024’s Surface Design Show is ‘Mindful Living’, what does that mean to you? 

For me, mindfulness and wellbeing are inherently linked and this theme makes me think of projects and ideas that have people at their core. This can manifest in many ways, from natural materials in their purest forms to innovations that completely rethink the capabilities or purpose of a material. Mindful Living is about understanding the possibilities of materials that are the best for us to use, and harnessing these to create better experiences for people.  


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