Since graduating from Manchester School of Art, Ashleigh Barron has been working at the reborn Designers Republic; thinking and doing, as tDR say, and more generally enjoying the challenge of live projects. Barron originally won a place on Ian Anderson’s Design Thinking workshop, which was held at her college, and impressed him enough to warrant an invitation for a placement within his Sheffield studio.
“Several of the projects I was involved in during my initial placement drifted or grew into bigger projects and Ian asked me to stay to complete the work I had started,” says Barron, who has now been at the studio since April. “It’s quite hard,” she says of the work, “as Ian’s fairly demanding when it comes to how joined up the thinking needs to be, and I’m learning so much technically, too. It’s going well, though it’s a little daunting how little any of us really know before we actually work under pressure on live projects in a studio environment.”
That concern aside, Barron has already worked on an impressive range of projects while at tDR, from designing underwear and dazzle ship wallpaper, to creating montages for an album cover and graphics for a record label identity. “This week I did something for a new club in York, some development work for a gallery interior, and I’m going to be doing some sketches for a project Ian is working on with fashion designer Rick Owens,” she says by way of a recent update. “I’m enjoying the diversity.”
Barron says that working in a studio environment has given her the chance to apply her creativity to real work in a more meaningful way, while at the same time she acknowledges that she needs to maintain a “passion for exploration, experimentation and conceptual thinking”. This is certainly the side of her work that impressed CR – particularly her interest in visual distortion and distressed, experimental typography. From her glitchy Silence series of artworks for Article magazine, her typographic poster featuring the lyrics to Joy Division track, Digital, and her Don’t Panic TV-themed project illustrating the end of the analogue world, it seems that the signals and messages of the digital age flitter in and out of much of her work.
“I guess I’ve always been interested in the relationship between human imperfection and technological perfection, blurring boundaries between these and altering perceptions,” she says . “Everything seems distorted once you scratch under the surface. Coming from Sheffield you get a real sense that everything deteriorates after a while. Things you thought were forever start to disappear in front of you.”
As for what’s next, Barron is on the look out for a bit more of everything. “I want to learn more, explore more and experience more,” she says. “I feel like I’ve burst out of a shell and I’m hungry for more of whatever is coming around the corner. If I can get paid for that then that’s a real bonus and if not I want to carry on learning, make myself indispensable now and indestructible if I ever go it alone.”
Should that opportunity arise, it seems likely that her experience at The Designers Republic will be influential. “I like the sense of belonging, which is why I love it in a small, close-knit studio like tDR,” she explains, “but one day I’d like to have the confidence to just belong to me.”