A new project from former Grafik editor Angharad Lewis, Up Side Up commissions collectible products from graphic designers, but only if there is genuine demand for them
Self-initiated products have become very much part of the practice of illustrators and independent graphic designers in recent years. But the screenprints, T-shirts and tote bags on sale at events such as London’s Pick Me Up festival draw very much on their authors’ imagemaking heritage.
Angharad Lewis, the former editor of Grafik magazine, has taken the concept of the graphic designer as product designer a step further in her new project Up Side Up. The idea is that graphic designers step out of their 2D comfort zone to design limited edition, collectible products exclusively for the site. The first two such products – a tray designed by APFEL and a set of stacking bowls by illustrator Laura Carlin and graphic designer Ben Branagan – will be launched this month. Following a Kickstarter-type model, the products will be brought as far as the prototype stage. They will then be made available for advance order on the Up Side Up website for one month. Once the edition (25 for the tray and 40 for the bowls) has sold out, they will go into production. If they fail to sell out, they will not be made.
“It’s quite a hairy way of doing it,” says Lewis. “You have to convince people that the idea is worth bringing into life.” She hopes that customers feel that they are doing more than buying something nice to have in the house, that they are investing in an idea (quite an expensive idea too, the trays cost £210 and the bowls £119). “The objects have to justify their existence,” Lewis says of her concept. “They stand or fall on the ideas behind them.”
Lewis says that she had been thinking of creating an online retail space to sell the growing number of products created by graphic designers for some time. “I realised that there are several online retailers who already do it well,” she says, “and what I’d really like to do was commission people to make things. So I decided to jump to that point as it seemed to be more interesting.”
Lewis says that she was aware that graphic designers, in their practice, encounter materials and manufacturing processes when, for example, designing exhibitions. Up Side Up could be an outlet for some of that research and knowledge.
The research process, in fact, is very much part of Up Side Up. The development of each product is documented, from sketches through to prototyping, developing the narrative behind each one and, hopefully, seducing customers (investors?) along the way. “It’s not just a product on a shelf,” Lewis says. “You understand how the designers have got to that product and how ideas from the rest of their practice have informed it.”
APFEL’s Pellicci Tray is named in honour of the famous Bethnal Green café near their studio. It features drink spills and cup rings rendered in trompe l’oeil marquetry – another reference as APFEL is based in a former marquetry workshop while the walls of Pellicci also feature the technique which Bethnal Green was formerly renowned for. Carlin and Branagan’s set of three stacked bowls, meanwhile, “is really a combination of their two aesthetics,” Lewis says. “Her quirky illustrator’s eye with Ben’s geometric aesthetic.”
The next pair of products, from Crispin Finn and The Entente, launch in January, to be followed by contributions from Anthony Burrill and Astrid Stavro. All will follow the same funding model with the designers and Up Side Up sharing profits. “They have to be functional, viable products,” says Lewis. “I didn’t want them to be vanity projects.”