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Ed Swan
Product Designer (1979- )
Obscura Views (Design Museum Atrium)
12 May – 17 June 2007

London-based designer ED SWAN creates ephemeral lighting effects that alter spatial perceptions. Inspired by an interest in camera obscuras, ancient image-making devices, Swan utilises these optical principals with an innovative use of materials to produce illusionary projections.

Swan’s new 1:10 and 1:8 pendant lights require close inspection. The configuration of 8 or 10 lenses around one light source, a standard incandescent light bulb, projects images on the outer light shade, giving the work seemingly complex results. The multiple light bulb images are transmitted inversely onto the alluring black satin or opal white acrylic surface, blurring the distinction between interior and exterior.

Swan’s work has been presented by Ron Arad and more recently OKAY Studio as part of exhibitions in London, Milan, Cologne, and Berlin. In 2005 his work gained interest from E&Y, Japan and consequently was installed in Tom Dixon’s first architectural adventure, the Tokyo Hipster’s Club.

UK born Swan studied at the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design before graduating from Leeds Metropolitan University with a degree in 3D Design. He went on to complete a Master’s in Design Products at the Royal College of Art, London in 2005. Swan has won several awards, including the 10 Around Town competition for Sun Microsystems. As a finalist for Garrard Jewellers’ Design Competition, he created innovative jewellery integrating precious stones and micro-electronics.

Swan’s new lighting demonstrates a keen interest in material exploration and controlled viewpoints through illusionary effects and simple technologies.

Design Museum

Q. When did you first become aware of – and interested in – design?

A. Design awareness and an interest in art and design has been part of my life from a very young age. My family were probably my first influence, my father being an architect, my mother having a keen interest in art and design movements as well as being a big collector of twentieth century design pieces, and two elder sisters working in interior design and textile design. Art and design, in my family, were always considered as important in education as the more academic subjects and as viable a direction as any other career path. Creativity is such a strong natural part of childhood but at some point it can be cut off or considered superfluous by some. I have been lucky enough to have parents who recognise the importance of creativity in both personal life and the role it can play in our society.

Q. Why did you decide to study design?

A. I was more involved in fine art and sculpture throughout my schooling, although there were always abstract references to the built environment in my work. It wasn’t until I did a foundation course in art and design that I started to realise I could use my creativity with a more design-based approach. I started to use the workshops and play around with materials and learn about the machinery. At this stage I was still thinking on more of just an aesthetic level but it was at this point that I knew I wanted to follow a design path and learn about function and processes. I find design gives me extra layers of process and creativity that I found art void of.

Q. How has your design education influenced your subsequent work as a designer?

A. Each stage of my design education has taught me there is always more to learn and space to grow as a designer, especially in product design…you have to be a Jack of all trades, to be really great, a master of all! Studying at the RCA helped me to develop my approach and find out what way of working suits me best. It gave me more confidence in my ideas, as well as an invaluable network of friends, designers and contacts from all around the world…that helps a lot.

Q. Which of your early projects was most important in defining your approach to your work?

A. I guess my work leading up to my final degree show at Leeds was when I started to grasp my design approach and understand the importance of the principles behind it. I produced a series of products and systems, which displayed clothing and inanimate objects as something beautiful in their own right, as graphical aesthetics outside of their daily functions. It wasn’t ground breaking but had crossed a poetic language with functional integrity, which, I supposed, defines much of my work.

Q. How have your objectives evolved since leaving the Royal College of Art?

I think a lot of people’s objectives change, and have to change, when they leave the college. The RCA facilitates breaking of the mould and allows you experiment in almost anything as long as it serves a search for an answer albeit an unconventional one, and the design integrity is there. Some people produce amazing work but it holds no place outside the college, which can be daunting once they leave. I think my objectives have developed since graduating to be more considerate to the wider market, society and production while trying never to loose my design language, and the search for new design typologies in my work.

Q. How did the interest in lenses and camera obscuras develop?

A. It started while working on a project where I was trying to control what was seen through a keyhole using slides and slide viewers. This later lead onto a major piece where I created NoTree House, a grounded tree house for urban environments, that used lenses and camera obscura principals to help control views out of the structure to attempt emulating the magical feeling of being in a tree. Since graduating I applied these principals to the 1:8 and 1:10 lights.

Q. Who or what inspires your work?

A. Sometimes it can be something as simple as an intriguing material or some kind of effect which we see everyday which hasn’t been utilised to it’s full potential that can be the inspirational trigger for an idea. Other times I have to start with a story or situation and search hard for the inspiration. Other people’s creativity and energy inspires me but I don’t let them influence my work.

Q. How important is the story behind the work?

A. The story behind my work is always important in the fact that it got me to where it is, some people will be interested in that, others won’t. As long as I can feel proud and excited by the final product and people like it and take enjoyment from it, that’s most important thing.

Q. Where do you see your work going now?

A. It depends on where the next story starts! I do have a few ideas for more lighting and bits of furniture I want experiment with and prototype, maybe for London Design Festival, we shall see.

Q. If you could take credit for the design of one everyday object from the past (eg paperclip, bic biro, post-it note, etc) – which would it be?

A. I think I’d have to say the light bulb… but I guess you can see that with these lights.






Ed Swan portrait


Ed Swan
Cubical Light


Ed Swan
Black Light


Ed Swan
Lights (grouped)


Ed Swan
White Light (detailed)


Ed Swan
Cubical Light


Ed Swan
White Lights

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