MARC NEWSON: Australian Designer of the Future

Marc Newson - photo by Harvard Business Review

Marc Newson may well be one of the most influential and groundbreaking designers of the present generation. An industrial designer by profession, this prolific artist has delved into aircraft design, product design, furniture design, and even clothing and jewellery. He is known for collaborating with a number of big corporations including Apple, Montblanc, Nike and Louis Vuitton to name a few.

His Early Years: From childhood to finishing school

Marc Newson portrait – photo by Dezeen

He was born Marc Andrew Newson on October 20, 1963, the son of Paul and Carol Newson. Marc’s father was an electrician while his mother was only 19 years old when he was born. When he was still an infant, his father abandoned him and his mother. This left his mother no other choice but to go back to her parents. Newson did not lack for a father figure though, as his grandfather Andrew and uncle Stephen filled that role.

Much of Newson’s childhood was spent traveling in Europe and Asia. After graduating high school, he attended the Sydney College of Art where he took a course in jewellery design. He chose the major thinking that it had the most to teach him and would further refine his technique. In his years in college, he also became dabbled in furniture design. Newson graduated in 1984.

His Career Post Graduation

Lockheed lounge, 1985-1986, Marc Newson – photo by The National Gallery of Victoria

In the mid-1980s, Newson was awarded a grant by the Crafts Board of Australia Council which he used to stage his first exhibition at the Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery, well-known arts hub in Australia. This is the exhibit where he first debuted the “Lockheed Lounge,” a lounge chair made from aluminium and fiberglass. It was designed to look very fluid, like a blob of mercury fashioned into a chair. The said furniture has become one of his most iconic pieces to date, with his original pieces fetching astronomical prices at auctions.

In 1987, Newson moved to Japan and began working for the design company Idee. There, he created some of his most iconic works, including the “Embryo Chair,” which came out in 1988. The chair was made from injection-moulded polyurethane foam formed over a steel frame. The said chair is a huge milestone for Newson, as the piece established his design style and would influence his future projects.

Move to Paris

Alessi, Marc Newson, Black Condiment Set – photo by Panik Design

After spending a number of years in Japan, Newson moved to Paris in 1991. There, he partnered with French designer Philippe Starck to create products that can be used every day. He designed household products for such companies as Iittala in Finland and Alessi in Italy.

While in France, he teamed up with the Swiss businessman Oliver Ike to form the Ikepod company in 1994. Ikepod designed and produced high-end limited-edition watches that eventually became collector pieces. Their exclusivity also helped other watches become quite popular.

Move to London

Ford Concept Car, Marc Newson – photo by Twin Design

In 1997, Newson moved again, this time across the English Channel to London. At this point, he started to design vehicles. In 1999, he featured his concept car design for the Ford Motor Company at the Tokyo Motor Show, the Ford 021C. The car was well received and even won the concept car design award that year. Aside from cars, he also designed other vehicles ranging from bicycles, the MN01 for Biomega being one example, to aircraft such as the Falcon 900B. At the same time, Newson opened up his own company in London with business partner Benjamin de Haan. Even though his business was in London, he still kept his house in Paris.

Into the 21st Century

Moving onto the next century, Newson was never in lack of projects and accolades.

Apple Watch by Marc Newson – photo by Haute Living

In recognition of his many achievements, Newson was included in TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People for 2005. A year later, he became a creative director for Qantas Airways, a position which he would hold until 2015. He was commissioned to design the airport lounges for both the Sydney Airport and Melbourne Airport. That same year, he received the Royal Designer for Industry award from the British Royal Society of Arts.

In 2008, he married fashion editor and stylist Charlotte Stockdale. They are now blessed with two children. Then, in 2012, Newson became a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He started working for Apple Inc. in 2014 as a Designer for Special Projects. Newson designed one of the company’s flagship products, the Apple Watch.

Accomplishments and Accolades

Newson has quite a number of solo exhibitions under his belt including his very first one in 1986 where he unveiled his Lockheed Lounge chair.

Armless Chair by Marc Newson – photo by Knoll

He also has collections permanently exhibited in several major museums all around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City; the Design Museum in London; the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney; and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

There are also quite a number of books on design written by and about him. Notable examples are the “Marc Newson” book by Alice Rawsthorn and “Marc Newson: Pop On/Pop Off” by Newson himself and Sue An van der Zijpp.

He holds an honorary doctorate and an adjunct professorship at the Sydney University. He also holds a similar adjunct professorship at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Design Style and Philosophy

A Marc Newson coral red neoprene Embryo Chair – photo by Bukowskis

As stated earlier, Newson stumbled upon his design style early in his career when he first created his Embryo Chair. He is known for smooth geometric lines with an absence of sharp edges. He also tends to use translucent or transparent materials that are surprisingly strong and resilient.

Newson likes to take ordinary everyday items and reinvent them. In one interview he made, he stated that he sees himself as a clarifier, a refiner and a simplifier. His intent is to create the best product of its class.

Impact on Current Design

Marc Newson range is astounding; it would seem that there is almost no field in the design world today that he has not touched. Despite his commercial success, he remains true to his design philosophy. His ultimate goal is to create innovative objects that will enrich the lives of those who use them.

As he is still quite young and active, we can only speculate as to how impactful his legacy would be. But consider this: in 2015, one of his Lockheed Lounge chaise chairs sold for £2.4 million at an auction, the highest bid for an object by a living designer. He still has years in professional career to create more great things and to see it, all we have to do is wait.