interview :: people will always need plates

As many of you will know, I am a massive fan of People Will Always Need Plates. So much so that I even designed my wedding invitations in an homage to their work (albeit with much lower skill levels involved!):
PWANP-style wedding invitation

PWANP-style wedding invitation

 So I was delighted to discover that they too got married at the Pump House Gallery in Battersea Park and in fact designed these plates to commemorate the occasion:  

Robin Farquhar & Hannah Dipper's commemorative wedding plate front

Robin Farquhar & Hannah Dipper's commemorative wedding plate front

Robin Farquhar & Hannah Dipper's commemorative wedding plate back

Robin Farquhar & Hannah Dipper's commemorative wedding plate back

(The birds on the front are a robin and a dipper – geddit?!)  

Robin and Hannah were even kind enough to take some time out of their very busy schedules to answer a few questions for me…  

What’s your background / education?
Hannah – I studied Ceramics at Bath and then Ceramics and Glass at the RCA, with a year in Stoke in between my courses, where I received a PgD Ceramics design for production.  

Robin – I studied Industrial Design at Brunel University, but, at graduation, decided that I didn’t really want to work in product design so I took a job at a corporate events company and spent the next 7/8 years designing for motor shows, products launches and exhibitions before Hannah and I started the company – it took me a while but, yes, I changed my mind on the product design thing.

How did you get started in design / as People Will Always Need Plates? What made you decide to go for it?
We took part in the V&A Village Fete in 2004 (it’s great fun, like your old school fetes but with designers running all the stalls) and ran an architectural competition.  We produced illustrations of london homes from 1740something to the present day, you simply had to put the homes in chronological order to win a colouring book of all the images – we were mobbed for 3 days!  

We put the illustrations onto plates as an allusion to the tradition of collectibles from companies like Franklin Mint, lots of people wanted them and a buyer from the V&A shop expressed a keen interest so we decided to take the plunge, put these into limited production and start the company.

What was your first big idea / big break?
Not sure we’ve had a big break yet – we’ve had to work really hard to get to where we are now – but I suppose our first collective big idea was the architectural plates range.  Prior to these, Hannah had some success with her translucent bone china Lunar Lanterns – before a load of nasty big companies ripped her off and produced crummy, heavy copies overseas.  

Royal Festival Hall PWANP range

Royal Festival Hall PWANP range

When did you first know you were going be successful designers?
I guess that depends how you define “successful” – we’ll let you know when the money starts rolling in.  In terms of popularity, we’re just beginning to feel that our range is a success – after 6 years plugging away.  When we’ve time to sit back and think about this, it’s really very exciting!

Is it true you named the brand after the old Maureen Lipman BT ad? How do your GCE results compare to Anthony’s?! Did you do pottery at school?
Yes, this is absolutely correct.  Hannah’s best friend at school said to me, on hearing that I’d a place at Bath to study ceramics in 1994 – “splendid, people will always need plates!”  Having dilly-dallied around for years as a freelancer thinking about names, this kept on coming back as funny, if lengthy name.  

We’re not quite old enough to have GCEs but our GCSE results were much better than poor Anthony’s, though neither of us studied pottery and Hannah was rubbish at sciences.

What first made you think of putting buildings on plates?
There’s a long tradition of illustrative plates…. and Hannah’s ambition to be an architect was thwarted by her (incorrect) belief that her maths wasn’t good enough to do so… however, turns out that it’s a lot more fun drawing one’s favourite buildings than it is drawing fire escapes, aircon units and toilet blocks for 10 years until being allowed anywhere near a creative build!   

What advice would you give to young designers / people wanting to get into design as a career?
Have original ideas and do your very best to protect them.  Get work experience in established studios – it’s vital to understand dull stuff like production schedules, budgets and client handling if you’re going to make the very best of your creative ideas and best to do this when young and willing to get this knowledge under your belt in order to get more from projects later on.  Both of us have considerable industrial experience which has been invaluable in running the company, including everything from time sheets, PR, admin and client handling… let alone coping with creative work on top.

Describe a good day / a bad day / your average day?
A good day brings big fat commissions and interesting freelance briefs, a bad day brings Stokie production disasters, chasing overdue invoices and the occasional legal issue.  Most days bring a little of both.

Where do you get your inspiration?
From day to day really.  London lends us a whole lot – we love and hate this city in equal measure, but cannot bear to stray to far away (we live just outside now, but come in a lot).  Holidays provide inspiration – fresh air and no city simply allows us to clear our cluttered brains so that we return refreshed and with wider eyes to absorb new stuff.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? And now?!
H – I think something creative was always my plan.  I thought that I’d be a proper craft potter for years as I love the making process and quality is of huge importance for me.  We use Stoke to produce ware as the process is almost as important as the design work.  We’d not take our ware to China for cheap labour as we’d lose all control over the quality of print, china and so on…  

R – Always wanted to be a racing driver – still do really.  Sadly I find that I was too old to realise my dream of being World F1, Touring Car and Rally Champion about 10 years ago.  You know you’re getting old when top drivers we’re born in the ’90s!

Why button badges? (I have lots of PWANP button badges and wear one most days)
We started making them to use as promotional gifts – they’re round so they’re perfect for showing the plate designs.  We made them to send out to press and shops and hand out at trade shows, but they proved so popular that we started selling them.  We’ve sold thousands of the buggers, and we’ve made every single one of them at home watching tat TV.

1930s PWANP badges

1930s PWANP badges

What next for you?
More of the same really – the company doubles or trebles in size every year, our profile and reputation grows and we get more and more interesting design briefs from a steady supply of new clients.  Right now retailing is pretty tough so we’re making sure the company is strong and lean.  We’ve also got new products coming out in September so look out for us around Festival time.  

Follow them on twitter @PWANP for the latest.


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