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In conversation: Mac Collins

By Alice Morby

Iklwa chair designed by Mac Collins for Benchmark

Mac Collins is a designer consistently in the midst of many ongoing projects. Most recently, the recipient of this year’s LDF Emerging Design Medal scooped the Design Museum’s inaugural Ralph Saltzman Prize for emerging talent, a new annual design award celebrating emerging product designers.

During LDF21, Collins created a piece for ‘Discovered’ at the Design Museum – curated by Wallpaper* Magazine and the American Hardwood Export Company (AHEC). Another exciting moment for Collins are the pieces he has created for Finnish brand Vaarnii, which exclusively crafts its collections in Finnish pine. Among the roster of designers who have contributed to this early collection for the brand are Max Lamb, who Collins notes as a career role model.

On the UK design scene

Born in Nottingham, Collins now resides in Newcastle – and is a champion for design in both areas. His work and life are very much embedded between the two cities, and he is proud to fly the flag for creative scenes outside of the capital. “I’m really passionate about other UK cities, because everybody just assumes you're based in London,” he says. In Nottingham, Collins describes the scene as having a strong community-based feel. “There are some amazing studios there, like the artist Wolfgang Buttress, who I work with from time to time. People like him and myself are keen to retain creative people in the city, so that it has the opportunity to become this area with a cutting-edge design community.”

“I’m really passionate about other UK cities – everybody just assumes you're based in London” - Mac Collins

On evolving as a designer

It was 2018 when Mac Collins first presented his graduate work at the New Designers exhibition in London’s Islington. Since then, the world has lived through a global pandemic, and as a result, Collins has become a slightly different designer. “I think the 2020 pandemic actually kind of worked out for me, in a way,” he says, speaking from his home in Newcastle, where he holds a residency at his alma-mater, Northumbria University. “The university closed almost straight away, so I wasn't able to make anything myself for pretty much the whole of that main period of lockdowns.”

As somebody who has become known for their ability to combine design with craft and making – thanks to his debut piece, the ‘Iklwa’ chair – this could’ve been a bit of an issue. But for Collins, it presented an opportunity to work in a different way, and he took on more “design-y design” projects, as opposed to those that were craft-led and required him to be in the workshop.

On his role in design

Existentially as well as practically, this period impacted how he views his own role within the industry – “I don't necessarily want to be defined by the maker title, and I realised I do want to do more work as a designer.” It seems fitting that Collins can cement that path, as he follows in the footsteps of many-a-great designer by becoming the recipient of the Emerging Talent Medal at London Design Festival 2021. 

What’s next for Collins, then? “The designers who straddle the art, design and craft world are inspirational to me – I’d definitely like to be in that position.”