Design matters: A guide to who’s who in the Irish design world

Design is important but we often only notice when it isn’t working for us


We eat off it, sleep in it, wear it, sit on it and work with it. When we’re sick it is part of the apparatus of making us well again and it’s impossible to imagine our lives without it.

Design matters, but apart from high-end choices – fabulous clothes, marvellous ceramics, bespoke pieces of furniture – we often only notice design when it gets in the way.

From tricky buttons on hard-to-hold consoles to saucepans where the handles heat up, to chairs that are just the wrong height and typefaces that boggle the eyes – bad design makes life scratchy and difficult.

Here’s our Who’s Who round up of just some of the people shaping our lives for the better. It doesn’t have the sexiest name in the world, but industrial design is at the heart of making our lives easier, and sometimes, as in the case of medical equipment design, it is, literally, lifesaving.

So a big thanks to all those people who are hard at work, right now, dreaming of how to make things better.

Making things better

Ronan Murphy and Kevin Doherty: Gazel

Murphy and Doherty teamed up after meeting at Dublin’s NCAD, where they now work at the Origin8 innovation hub.

With the idea of rethinking the everyday, the Gazel range was launched last year and includes a lamp that doubles up as a storage organiser and a wall hook that includes a spot to keep your keys.

There’s also the Gazel hanger, designed to bring what they call “a flicker of joy” to the everyday action of putting away your clothes. Sleek and beautiful, it is also brilliant for people who have difficulty gripping – it came out of a design study for Arthritis Ireland and Pfizer.

Ian Walton and Marcel Twohig: Notion Design

lan and Marcel Twohig: Notion Design

When it comes to design and innovation Walton and Twohig, who met at NCAD, and then worked together at Design Partners before setting up Notion together in 2009, have a great pedigree. Walton’s grandfather, Ernest, split the atom, while Twohig grew up helping his sculptor father DB Twohig at work.

They divide their time between making medical devices and mobile and music technology not only work better, but look better too, and their own range, NTN, which includes a watch.

For sale at the Irish Design Shop and in Makers & Brothers, the W1 watch is 100 per cent Irish-made and is already a design classic. Walton and Twohig describe their approach as “thinking through playing” and the results are pure genius.

Kate Cronin and Elizabeth Fingleton: Obeo

Kate Cronin and Elizabeth Finleton: Obeo

Cronin and Fingleton get excited about waste. More specifically, they love the idea of making it easier for everyone to deal with food waste and recycle more. They also know the secret to design innovation is solving a problem you didn’t necessarily know you had.

Obeo is a tough, water-resistant compostable food waste box that goes straight into your brown bin. No smells, no mess. The idea came out of Dublin-born Cronin’s master’s in sustainable design at the National College of Art & Design and was developed at NCAD’s Origin8, the incubation hub for the next generation of Irish design.

Jane Ní Dhulchaointaigh: Sugru

Jane Ní Dhulchaointaigh: Sugru

Sugru is the brilliant stuff that comes in a putty-like form, stays flexible even when set and fixes pretty much anything. Dreamed up while Kilkenny-born Ní Dhulchaointaigh was studying product design, Sugru launched in 2010 and beat the iPad in Time magazine’s list of inventions of that year.

“I imagined a space-age rubber that could make it fun to fix or improve almost anything,” says the inventor, who also reckons that Sugru can change the world for the better. “It could be really powerful – for the first time in recent generations it could become normal, even cool, to fix and make things, instead of buying new.” Millions of sales later, Sugru’s motto is “hack things better”.

Brian Stephens, Design Partners

Brian Stephens: Design Partners

From its beginnings in Co Wicklow, Design Partners is now a world leader, with offices and studios in San Francisco and Eindhoven, as well as a new workshop in Bray.

“Design is a very joyful activity,” says Stephens, who set up the company in 1984. “People get a sense of it when they pick up and use a product that has been precisely designed for their exact needs.”

Products range from innovative medical devices, helping to put and keep Ireland at the forefront of medical design; to cool stuff for Logitech, a sleep monitor for ResMed and a nifty barbecue for Calor.

Made in Ireland, its Screwpull corkscrew is in the MoMA Collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and ensures that opening wine is a breeze. “We love the fact that our work touches millions of people’s lives every day,” says Stephens.


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