Charles Wilson - Freelance Industrial Designer

Charles Wilson
'As a freelance designer, often the work I do isn't a job as such. I seek out opportunities to design whatever interests me. This has included furniture, homewares, cookware, street furniture, display and event design.'

Charles, 39, has been a freelance industrial designer for the last 16 years. He specialises in furniture design and homewares. He is currently working on a range of cookware for an Indian stainless steel manufacturer, a range of lighting, and a suite of furniture for the State Drawing Room in the New South Wales Government House. Charles also is commissioned by Woodmark to create furniture designs including sofas, chairs, tables and benches.


What aspects of industrial design interest you in particular?

Mass manufacture is at the heart of my interest in industrial design. The attraction here is that you invest firstly in an idea, exploring all the functional and aesthetic possibilities and perfecting the form; and secondly in the means of production, such as tooling. Once done, as many can be produced as the market wants. Better still is that the technologies around design-development and production continue to develop at an incredible rate, extending the limits of what can be achieved.

What do you do in your job?

As a freelance designer, often the work I do isn’t a job as such. I seek out opportunities to design whatever interests me. This has included furniture, homewares, cookware, street furniture, display and event design.

What’s your working environment like?

Generally I design from home and work alone. Teamwork comes into play with the development of designs for production where I work with the various specialists – other designers, wood and metal workers, upholsterers, engineers, marketing and sales people – who contribute to the manufacture and selling of the designs.

How flexible are your work arrangements?

In recent years, my standard workplace has shrunk from a fully-equipped workshop to the size of a laptop. In addition, almost all my income now comes from royalties in the form of a monthly or quarterly payment as the manufactured designs sell. Also, the places and times that I work are now entirely flexible. The danger is in becoming complacent in this – I have to strive to maintain a good work discipline.

What qualifications do you have?

I have a Bachelor degree in Industrial Design from the University of Technology, Sydney. The qualification itself has never mattered – except in applying for teaching work – but the education I got from university has been invaluable. Most of the skills and knowledge I gained from the course have been useful in one way or another.

What do you like most about your job?

Watching a project develop from the sketchpad to a functioning 3D object.

What do you like least?

When a project fails, for whatever reason. Sometimes the idea might have merit, but be thwarted by any number of things – pricing, technical issues, too small a market. It can be disheartening when months or years go towards experience alone. Do you predominately design artistic pieces or practical products? It shouldn’t be a choice. My aim is to find new aesthetic possibilities in solving problems.

Where do you see the growth opportunities in industrial design?

There are many opportunities, particularly in the emerging Chinese and Indian markets – both as manufacturing bases and potential markets. One opportunity with my work in particular is an increasing demand for high quality, modern furniture in corporate environments. This isn’t as dull as it might sound – companies compete in their ability to treat their workforce well by providing ever more exciting and amenable environments. In some cases ‘breakout’ and meeting areas with their funky furniture are exceeding the size of traditional ‘work’ areas. There is also a growing awareness and appreciation of Australian design both here and abroad. People no longer feel they have to turn to Italian or Danish designers when furnishing their homes.

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