Youthful enthusiasm for the unconventional or the avant garde often passes, and the older you get, the more you play safe and conform to the norm.
This hasn't happened to awardwinning designer Martín Azúa, however. He's been a leading name in the high echelons of Spanish design since the mid '90s, but has never sacrificed his commitment to the experimental or dampened down his idiosyncratic approach to product and space design.
Not that Azúa hangs the label 'experimental designer' around his neck: 'What I do think is that design is about investigation and shouldn't always be about commercial products. Design should ask questions...’what would happen if..?’ And by imagining different scenarios, well sometimes that can start to make things happen.'
Azúa's portfolio spans furniture and lighting design (clients include Mobles 114, Arturo Alvarez, Vibia); sanitaryware (for Roca, Porcelanosa, L'Antic Colonial, Cosmic); carpets (for Nanimarquina and shoe brand Camper); street furniture (Escofet); while he's also designed spaces and exhibitions for the Culture Forum in Barcelona and Expo Zaragoza.
While he's very happy to design for the big brands, his experimental work and collaboration with craftspeople always run alongside. And he likes to focus attention on how design can be unorthodox while meeting need. His prototype Casa Básica – which is in the permanent collection of New York's Museum of Modern Architecture – is a good example.
Azúa, who also lectures on design at the Elisava School in Barcelona, was trained in fine art rather than industrial design, and he thinks his way of working appeals to clients who like a more conceptual approach to product design and development.
'That said, when a company come to me I like to have things defined – the materials, the technology that's available, who the customer is, the pricing the client is looking for.'
Azúa says he doesn't work to rigid list of design principles, but he is interested in designing products that have timelessness, rather than following trends which can be fleeting. And he is aware that in the business of design, what goes around comes around. For example there's a trend for everything to be 'artisanmade' or 'artisaninspired' at the moment, he says.
Not that he doesn't welcome this particular trend because he's been collaborating with artisans for the past 15 years and he's passionate about supporting small craftbased
studios and businesses. And his studio's own Numbered collection of products for the home are made by craftspeople in and around Barcelona, using natural materials such as terracotta, grasses and wood. Some of the products are limited edition – the Kantir terracotta water cooler for example is limited to 250 pieces, while others can be made to order with no limit on numbers.
Azúa is very interested in issues of sustainability. He says the choice of material 'is an enormous responsibility' and until fairly recently, considerations around the ethicality/environmental impact of materials has been a side issue, 'with the look and feel of a material taking precedence'.