Here Comes The Rain…

When we first sat down to discuss the format of this year’s product designer Spotlight (see following pages), we immediately decided that we needed something a little special to kick things off. We wanted to find a designer who worked and thought on a global level, someone whose designs were recognised as truly innovative and thought-provoking and someone who had something genuinely interesting to say. It didn’t take very long at all for us to have that lightbulb moment and set the wheels in motion for a chat with Yorgo Lykouria – the founder of international product design studio, Rainlight. 

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Based in London and Los Angeles (with Yorgo based in London and co-founder Susan Grossinger working out of LA), Rainlight recently reported an impressive number of collaborations and awards as it completes its first year of business. 

Said collaborations include the likes of Scavolini, Allsteel, Okamura, USAI, Carnegie Fabrics, Clestra, Mannington Commercial and Tecno. For those that know their products, that is a truly global list of manufacturers. 

Yorgo describes Rainlight as ‘part laboratory, part workshop, part studio’, combining design innovation with business acumen. The studio embraces aspirational thinking to create products that break the mold, yet seem as if they’ve been there all along. This is clearly a formula for success – evident in the impressive number of industry accolades from some of the most prestigious award programmes around the world, including a couple of NeoCon Gold awards. 

We begin our conversation by asking Yorgo how he describes his profession when introduced to people from outside the design world. ‘Hmmm,’ he considers. ‘I think about that every time I’m asked. 

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If I was talking to someone in the industry, I would say product designer – and then I don’t have to say anything more because they’d get it. Most people don’t really know what that means though – so I tend to have to explain. 

‘My background is architecture and I also studied mechanical engineering and I’m also a film maker, so I don’t see myself as a classic product designer – I bring all these things into my work. The approach I have is very outward-looking, inward-looking, outward looking in terms of what’s happening in the world; understanding how society is changing and what we need to do to make it better. I’m conscious that, ultimately, what we’re doing is a very commercial thing – ultimately it has to make money, but that’s not the only goal. In other words, we’re not just looking at what sells and trying to do it again. We steer clients away from that thinking. We want them to look at what’s going to happen next and what’s going to be good for them. We want to help our clients make their own mark. 

‘I think that with a lot of product design there tends to be a market-first mentality – which is fine. I see it differently though – I think about the people, I think about the culture, I think about how people want to work and live today. I really believe that – especially now that life and work is blurred as much as it is. You have to try to create that continuity, where people feel at home wherever they are.’ 

So what are the greatest challenges in this ever-evolving market? ‘I’d say that the hardest challenge for me is to find a way to tap into a universality – that will resonate with a lot of people,’ Yorgo tells us. ‘So I look to nature and I’m inspired by music, I’m inspired by film, I’m inspired by all kinds of things outside of the profession – to learn from them, to connect and also to understand emotionally what people will respond to. Every time I do a project I have the orchestra tune in my head; I find my pitch, so to speak, for that project – and then I stay there. I try to remain consistent. That can be the hardest thing to do. You find that sometimes you can be pushed around by the project itself, by the client, by the person on the factory floor who tells you that you can’t do something, by marketing people who have a different point of view of how to sell something or how to talk about it – and then there’s myself! I’m always going to challenge myself; I’m not easily satisfied and I do keep questioning, keep questioning – and if something bothers me then I will change it. If we’re not far enough along the road and we can still change something, then we’ll change it or do it again – and I’ve done that before. I think it’s important that, when you’ve committed to build something, you strive for it to be the best it possibly can be. You have to consider tooling, which costs a lot of money, and then you’re going to build thousands of these things – if not more. So you have to get it right.’

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This level of consideration can be seen throughout Rainlight’s portfolio. Box Life, for Scavolini, for example, is inspired by the trend for open-plan living and the blurring of boundaries between the kitchen and other areas – although Yorgo tells us that it started its conception as space-saving mini-kitchen. Rainlight also collaborated with Kewaunee Scientific to create a new laboratory furniture benching system that helps drive innovation. With its adjustable height surfaces, movable shelving and integrated lighting, CODA’s modular design can respond to each client’s distinct needs. Recent award-winning designs for Allsteel and Okamura, meanwhile, show an innate understanding of both the market and how people work today and will work tomorrow. 

We end our conversation by talking about the start of the process. ‘We always begin our work open to all possibilities,’ Yorgo says. ‘We begin the process with a philosophical question, refraining from the immediate urge to design, giving space to formulate the approach with our clients to produce a truly collaborative experience and product. 

‘The things we create embody thought. Our work today is a message to the future. A trend is already yesterday.’

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