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Designer Talks: Jen Taylor

Jen Taylor is the illustrator behind Hokolo, the spirited yet practical ceramic collaboration with MAKE International. The former architect turned designer was enlisted by MAKE International's Head of Design Keith Brymer Jones to transform her illustrations into stackable ceramics. Taylor's designs combine British and Chinese narrative resulting in products that are fun and playful.

Do you have a greatest career moment? If so, what was it?

Quitting my comfortable job to set up Hokolo and being told by my customers that my designs make them smile. I was featured in an article in a national newspaper and my then 6-year-old son assumed I was on every newspaper and magazine and told everyone about it!

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What was your most challenging career moment?

Changing my career from being an architect working for someone to being my own boss running a business in an unchartered field. It was terrifying but refreshing and challenging!

What is the basis of your design strategy?

I spent my childhood in Hong Kong in the 70s and 80s where everything was bold, loud and colorful. I had never heard of minimalism or modernism until my architectural training in the UK, so the result is my love of clean, bold shapes with lots of punchy colors.

What do you consider to be your design expertise?

Collaboration and outsourcing production have enabled me to build up a network of manufacturers and designers who I work closely with. I love discussing and developing my designs with the team and I often find myself learning something new. This collaborative approach is the part I enjoy most and I am often pleasantly surprised by how the designs evolve to suit a particular production technique.

Where do you seek inspiration to kick-start your creative process?

From the moment I decided on the brand name Hokolo, an amalgamation of Hong Kong and London, it has been a conscious decision to instill British themes in my designs and perhaps parallel Chinese ones in the future. My ideas mostly come from observations around me. I am a bit of a foodie so it's understandable that my designs often reference food. The Christmas patterns have Brussels sprouts, chestnuts and cranberries.

Listen to advice, be open-minded. Design is not a linear process, so enjoy the journey even if you end up somewhere you had not dreamt of.

How do you overcome creative blocks?

Luckily I seldom have creative blocks. The opposite tends to be more common and problematic when I have way too many mad ideas and impulses triggered by something I saw in an exhibition, food, memories, nostalgia or travel.

Is it difficult to strike a balance between your creativity and the objective for commercial success?

Yes - because at the end of the day I am running a business not a hobby. I have learned to be open-minded and really listen to advice. Being creative doesn't mean being stubborn, it's good to accept that initial design ideas can be developed into something quite different, sometimes for the better.

Is there one design or collection that changed everything for you? What was it? And what do you think of it today?

The English Breakfast collection has become a signature style of Hokolo. The pattern designs are so timeless and the graphics punchy. The response has been really great.

If you could do one thing as a designer what would it be?

Only if I can design a weather machine to give London endless sunshine and long summer days!

Is there one person who you admire or consider to be your greatest mentor or design inspiration?

I love Marimekko, Orla Kiely and all designers and artists who work with bold, graphic shapes and colours.

What advice would you give to young designers who are just starting out in a commercial marketplace?

Dream big, follow your dreams, don't take no for an answer. Someone out there can help you make ideas happen. Listen to advice, be open-minded. Design is not a linear process, so enjoy the journey even if you end up somewhere you had not dreamt of.