Tangerine at 25

25 years of the design consultancy tangerine that I founded with Martin Darbyshire, and soon joined by Jony Ive and Peter Phillips, were celebrated at Central St Martins in mid October 2014.

It was tough thing to do at that time in the late 1980s, in the middle of an economic crisis, and when they were very few new consultancies coming on the scene. I was working at Cambridge Consultants who were well aware I was preparing to start my own company and were fine with that . I noticed that many clients came to Cambridge Consultants for their technical prowess, but their problems were actually design ones. It’s revealing of UK businesses that they value technology over design, but this gave me contact with several companies who were happy to commission Martin and I when we first set up.

Starting in Martin’s house in Finsbury Park, we spent the funds of our first project, for the Peterborough telecoms company Commtel, on two drawings boards, a Mac SE and a brochure. We thought big from the start and wanted to make a different type of consultancy, that used our experience of working in the US with Bill Moggridge’s ID Two ( soon to become IDEO) and a desire to design products that were appropriate to their purpose. We also wanted to bring in talent and share the spoils so both Jony and then Peter were bought is as equal partners.

We were originally called Landmark but were sued by a Dutch company of the same name, which was a bit of luck as we got a better name. After several brainstorms we closed in on a colour and agreed Orange (this was a few months before the launch of the mobile phone company). When we took the precaution, this time, of checking the name, we found a Danish design company with the same name so, as it was coming up to Christmas, choose the variation tangerine (deliberately with a lower case t).

It was a good name that would allow us to move into anything we might want to do and also turned out to be a lucky fruit in many Asian countries.

During the five years I was with tangerine we did some great work not just for big companies but small ones too. I was particularly proud of the work we did for Maxview in Kings Lynn who made TV aerials and completely rebranded them “better by design”.

And, amazingly, we attracted the attention of Apple. The then Design Director Bob Brunner had met Jony when he was student, travelling to California as part of his Royal Society of Art (RSA) Student Design Award. Jony was an already famous designer and attracted Ideal Standard, who had seen Jony’s work, to us when he joined. I like to think we gave a good foundation to Jony’s talent and we worked together incredibly well. Bob was impressed by our work with SodaStream, where we had developed some mechanisms for opening the safety door that demonstrated we had mechanical design as well as form ability.

The project we carried out for Apple was a study on portable computing and is well documented in various Apple publications. The work was good, but we suffered from poorly constructed models that collapsed almost immediately after the presentation. Lesson learnt. After a presentation in Cupertino, Jony told he was staying over a couple of days. His smiling face when he returned to the Hoxton Street studio we were now in gave away his secret. We were delighted for him, although Apple was very different in those days it was clearly a fantastic opportunity for him, one that, after a difficult few years, he triumphed in.

It was with great sadness that I left after five years. It may be difficult to understand, but I had different ambitions and wanted to change the organisations who were commissioning us, and then spoiling design excellence in their delivery. It was clear that in-house was where I wanted to be, engaging with all the people who make decisions that effect design and the quality of what customers receive.

In the meantime tangerine continued and went from success to success. Their big moment was the design of the world`’s first flat bed in business class with their design for British Airways Club Class. This project was not just a stroke of genius, in swapping half the passenger round to get the same number of seats in the same area, but also of the power of persuasion, collaboration and tenacity of Martin and the team. The ethos of tangerine is strong, always doing the right thing and making sure designs get delivered to as close to perfection as possible. I commissioned them myself, at Orange and Cisco, and had fabulous results, as can be seen in the book tangerine have just published to celebrate their anniversary.

Tangerine now has offices in Korea and Brazil and look in great shape at 25. I’m not sure how Martin finds his energy but he is as hardworking and creative as he ever was.

So a great celebration of UK creativity, bringing together some of the best designers and clients, and a host of wonderful memories of great times. Well done tangerine, here’s to the next 25 years.