Paul Singleton is a textile and surface pattern designer, working with well known brands such as Macy’s of New York, Urban Outfitters, Harlequin and Samsung. He has built design teams in France and the UK and has a vast experience of the commercial world of design and decoration. Before arriving in Plymouth he held senior positions in education at Loughborough College of Art and Design; Shenkar College, Israel and Leeds Metropolitan University.
Hi Paul, tell us more about your new role and the new course?
Yes, I’ve come to Plymouth to set up a new undergraduate Printed Textile Design and Surface Pattern course. I’m very excited about it - we have a brand new building and lots of new equipment, and I’m developing an enthusiastic new team.
And what were you doing before?
For the past few years I have been working with a group of designers in France. I also have my own studio, Wish List Contemporary Styling Ltd, and we make designs for printed or woven textiles and wall coverings. We sell internationally at all the big events, working with big brands such as Macy’s in New York and Urban Outfitters.
What attracted you to Plymouth College of Art?
I guess I have a history of going to corners of places. I’ve been out in Israel as head of department for a very big institution there. I also lived for a couple of years in Sweden. When I came back to England I made the decision to move back into education, and what interested me about Plymouth is that it’s small. The smallness of Plymouth College of Art is really appealing. It’s also very independent, and because of its independence and its size, it’s very dynamic. There are lots of interesting projects taking place here, like the Creative Arts School and the new buildings. And then there are the extra benefits of being by the sea and being in the South.
You’ve worked with some major clients such as Macy’s and Urban Outfitters. Is there a difference between making work for yourself and making work for clients?
Yes, there is a difference, but it all grows out of having a speculative approach to design - finding customers; finding markets; finding the place where you can do business. Through doing that you meet all kinds of interesting people, and eventually someone will ask you to come and design a collection for them, or work on a project. With a client, they will normally give some criteria or idea of what they are looking for. For instance if it’s bedding, they’ll need a duvet, sheets and throws. For a wall covering, it’s quite likely that they’ll just want a group of designs that they can show to customers. So it’s kind of different. But the whole activity is entrepreneurial. The business is out there but you have to go and find it. It doesn’t just come to you.
The students, when they start, will have quite a good leader in terms of creating work and also creating a business.
Yes, I think that’s my job. I think that’s what I came for actually.
You’ve just started writing the course programme, whch starts in September 2014. How far are you? How will students progress from year to year?
I’ve been here for two weeks but we’ve already planned out the skeleton of the programme. I have this big piece of paper with everything on it, and whenever I show it to people I feel like a World War I navigator or something. I should be wearing goggles and a leather helmet!
In the 1st year students start off with visual research, drawing media and process, then they move on to visual research and drawing with repeats - this is where students understand how to make repeated designs which the commercial world really needs.
Is that the same as pattern making?
It’s a part of it. When you’re printing something, there are certain requirements of placement. Patterns have to appear in certain places, or the motif needs to be repeated in certain spaces - so students have to learn how to design within that formula without it being a major headache or obstacle.
Towards the end of the first year we have an introduction to printing, and then there is a printing project where students make a small collection of designs. Here we are thinking of making a project where the students will design an iPad sleeve or maybe a scarf. Finally there’s a personal project where students get the opportunity to consolidate everything they’ve learned.
"By the second year we’ll know what kind of designers students think they would like to be, and we'll try and help them develop a business plan to put that into action..."
The second year is much more focused on the way we conceive design and how it’s relevant to the customer. It’s all about research, understanding the customer, trend forecasting, understanding why certain things are certain colours and this is underpinned by lots of drawing and visual research. There are also business elements integrated into all of this. Students are taught how to make a business plan, and the business plan will be relative to all of the types of ideas that they have been developing on the course. By the second year we’ll know what kind of designers students think they would like to be, and we'll try and help them develop a business plan to put that into action, so that they don’t leave at the end of three years and just start free falling - it’s a competitive market out there and we want students to be well prepared.
Third year is all about the dissertation and a final major project consolidating everything students have learned so far.
The programme sounds highly practical.
Yes it is. The idea is that the course will be very inspirational, but still focussed on the nuts and bolts of surface pattern and print-making.
How else will you prepare students for work in industry?
Students will get to go to some big exhibition events. In the world of textile design there are big events in Paris, Frankfurt, New York and London. I want to get them to as many of these as possible, so they can see face-on exactly what’s expected of them. They’ll also see all of their potential customers - everybody who’s anybody in the industry goes to these exhibitions.
Students get acquainted with exhibitors and make decisions about who is likely to be a good customer for them. They also get to see designs that are like theirs, but maybe a few years in advance of them. It is vital to understand how much their designs are worth, because sometimes that can be a mystery to students.
What are the different career progressions for students considering the course?
Printed textile design and surface pattern making is a very broad area. In it’s obvious form we’re talking about printed textiles, but think about all of the surfaces that are designed - even the surfaces of a laptop are designed. There are lots of roads to go down.
Hopefully we will be working with people like Paperchase on their paper products, and Samsung, who I currently work with. Students could move into ceramic tile design, or flooring, or curtains and bedding. They could work with a huge retailer like Next, or in a very bespoke way with a small interior design company. It is my view that no matter what avenue students take, they should work internationally. My point is you can live wherever you like, but your market is the world. So if you’re interested in designing and developing rugs, it might be that you design the rugs here, but you produce them in Turkey.
You can take a particular viewpoint about producing work locally, but the world is your market and we will encourage students to explore possibilities for their work on a global scale.