Listening to Alex Gilmour talk of her designn practice is like listening to the steady rhythm of a river. Composed, confident and in no doubt as to her destination, this diminutive Sydney designer talks with ease about Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, about the vagaries of the industrial design process and about honesty of form and function.
For Alex Gilmour the importance of a stripped-back design philosophy, together with her sophisticated mix of design influences, is the prerfect compliment to her process-driven business acumen - she simply sees no difference. After a few minutes of conversation it becomes obvious that Gilmour represents the next generation of creative, well-educated, business-driven design professionals who seem to have an ingrained sense that every obstacle met is a learning opportunity, that every impediment is a chance to design a new solution and, perhaps more importantly, that every stumbling block is a chance at self-improvement. However, at face value, one could point to an idealism not truly reflective of the real world in which she works; detractors could accuse Alex of a naivety born of unrealistic expectations. However in conversation, and because Gilmour is so obviously possessed of a humility not often found in someone so young, one comes to appreciate through the tone of her voice, by the reflective, considered pattern of her opinions, that she has already made the perceptual shift from student achiever to consummate professional without paying too much heed of the cynical white noise of the industry at large. A UTS graduate, Alex’s considerable talent has not gone unnoticed. She has both a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Design and as a young graduate in 2007 she attracted a government innovation grant to develop her steam dishwasher design ‘Swash.’
Everyone was focused on showerheads and drains, but I thought, ‘What about something that you just need to push a button and then not need to worry about it?’ The result was a Powerhouse Museum Wizard award in 2009 that placed her firmly in the view of those in the industry ready to nurture burgeoning talent. Since then Alex has featured as a finalist in many design awards including the Dyson Australian Design Awards, the DuPont Innovation Awards and she has also been a part of Questacon’s traveling exhibitions. She recently won the 2010 Qantas SOYA for Industrial and Object design, receiving a mentorship with world-renowned Australian designer Marc Newson. However, it is her latest project that is the mark of maturity in this young designer. To remain involved in the very same process that nurtured her own talent speaks volumes of the depth of her overall approach. When relating her philosophy as tutor at UTS, she talks of her students in terms of a patient, considered mentorship: People eventually develop their own style, but to learn from your mistakes, to solve problems, is the most important thing.
Similarly, when relating her experience of working with the craftspeople who produced her strikingly diaphanous Frederick glassware, and despite a frank admission to a stubborn impatience and often exacting demands of those around her, the problem-solving ethos she nurtures in her students comes to light. When faced with the inevitable disparity between original concept and the resulting object, her reaction was not to compromise on shape or colour, but rather to shift her thinking in order to clear a path to new possibilities for Frederick. Armed with a new understanding came a beautifully simple translucence - a jug and tumbler set that speaks as much of a celebration of domestic utility as it does to Gilmour’s considered design process.