Sir Terence Conran - known as the father of British design - died more than a year ago but the legacy of his genius lives on. There are few aspects of our lives left untouched by Covid-19 and the design world is no exception, as a new generation of designers and retailers responds to their customers' changing needs using the ethos of functional design as championed by Sir Terence.
His legacy of shaping and refining the nation's tastes would have been one to celebrate regardless of circumstances, but the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic have brought into focus how important was the intellectual and social bequest he left behind.
One impact of the pandemic has been to sharpen people's appreciation of the importance of design, as life in lockdown brought the need for homes that now had to accommodate not only personal or family life but working lives as well.
The other was that designers, in responding to these needs, have had to re-think exactly what they mean by the concept of 'design'. For young designers today, this means that the huge disruption caused by Covid-19 has also been a huge opportunity.
With old assumptions being overturned and traditional rules being re-written, this is an exciting time for those entering the profession.
Just how exciting can be gauged from the success of this year's Designer of the Future Award, which was created by The Conran Shop and the Marandi Foundation in order to unearth, support and provide a platform for the next generation of designers. The Designer of the Future Award was established by business leader Javad Marandi, now owner of The Conran Shop, and his wife Narmina, a leading fashion, design and retail investor.
"The whole ethos of Sir Terence's legacy is to look for great designers," said Javad Marandi, "and, under the Conran name, give them the freedom to create something spectacular. The Designer of the Future Award is the first step for us in going back to our roots and encouraging young, insightful designers to come forward."
The £40,000 value prize, which is used to develop the winning design, attracted nearly 100 entries, revealing a young design scene bubbling with new ideas and bursting with talent. It demonstrated also that the pandemic's influence on design has accelerated a trend already well under way, for young designers to integrate environmental considerations into their work.
The radical and innovative design One Step Ladder was the winning entry, from Cameron Rowley, a graduate of Kingston University. His thinking was that ladders are used around the house only occasionally, so this was a way of providing the same convenience but with a "smaller footprint".
He added: "All my fellow designers have become conscious of our impact on the environment. It is great to see so many designs which use sustainable materials and processes."
Javad Marandi said: "The Conran Shop is dedicated to furthering our own commitment to using alternative, environmentally-friendly materials that will not only benefit the consumer but the whole planet." This, he added, is in line with a parallel trend, under way before the pandemic but accelerating since. "Consumers are trying to find those few special pieces that will last a lifetime rather than accumulating 'things' that will ultimately end up in the back of a forgotten cupboard."
As people's lifestyle habits have adapted to the 'new normal', they have moved away from fashion websites to those showcasing interior design. "Dressing for success" has given way as a priority to getting home styling just right.
Elsewhere, the impact of the pandemic on design is not always obvious. For example, the move to open-plan living, apparently unstoppable since the Sixties, seems to have found a reverse gear. By September last year, Forbes magazine noted: "While open floor plans aren't falling entirely out of fashion, they're no longer as practical and desirable as they once were." One interior designer said home offices and spaces set aside for Zoom meetings "are big on wish lists".
In January 2021, Deborah Berke, Dean of the Yale School of Architecture, told Elle Décor: "Spending more time at home with family, working and learning remotely, being more mindful of the relationship between indoors and outdoors – all of these experiences have implications for how we will design houses going forward. We should focus on use, asking more often 'What three things can happen in this room?".
She added: "People need places where they can be together with family, but also places where they can be alone to reflect, to learn, to recharge."
Incentives will matter more than usual in the design world, post-pandemic. Gavin King, of architect firm Chapman Taylor, says: "Designers and business owners will need to provide reasons for their employees to come into the office, otherwise people will often prefer to just work from home and avoid the hassle of the commute."
The judges of the Designer of the Future Award, which included architecture giant Lord Foster and designer Anya Hindmarch, described One Step Ladder as 'a good solution to a frequent challenge; its purpose is easy to see and understand. Elegantly executed, it also serves as a great-looking product,' – words which could easily apply to the best of post-pandemic design.
But then, as Sir Terence used to say: "Good design is probably 98% common sense."
It can also, said Javad Marandi, be a reflection of a big, creative personality's "Sir Terence Conran was all about great designs. His homes, his way of cooking, his way of life and the way he enjoyed life itself was ultimately how he procured the ideas for his products."