Starting out in product design

 8 February 2011

Zoe Murphy is a young designer enjoying great success. Since graduating from university, she started her own studio and her distinctive, colourful and decorative furniture is now in great demand .

Zoe Murphy is a young designer enjoying great success.
Zoe Murphy is a young designer enjoying great success.

Getting started in product design

"One of the best things was having my work sold in Liberty. I sell with them frequently now and have been included in all sorts of events and competitions within the store. It's a wonderful result!

"A great personal achievement was when I opened up my studio in Margate. Often we grow up believing that milestones are only reached at certain ages, or after a certain number of years - getting a studio at 23 felt very cheeky and slightly surreal.

"But when I remember how hard I worked for it, I like to think I deserved the little swelling of pride - a really 'chuffed' moment!"

Developing as a designer

"I studied at Loughborough University, and it was brilliant. I was initially worried about being away from the London scene. It actually meant I was able to focus fully on developing myself in an incredibly challenging degree.

"Liberty has been a great supporter of my work and is wonderful to supply. A lot of local interest aided my development as well – people from Margate who want to support local 'talent'.

"On the opening of my studio an amazing number of people came to visit. I was so encouraged to find that many were from close by who had heard about and bought my work."

"I definitely enjoy the printing aspect of my work the most. I do a lot of woodwork and restoration, but it is the printing that I was trained in and any time I pick up a screen or a pot of dye I am reminded of three years of amazing and creative fun.

"My work is  based on my hometown, but I am aware that other people should want to use it and love it themselves."

"I'm mostly inspired by my hometown of Margate. I love the seaside and the retro Formica cafés and fish & chip shops. Colour is a must for me. Anything bright and graphic catches my eye.

"Margate can be a great source for junk, which is vital to my activities, and is a lot more affordable than practicing in London. There are also a lot of tradesmen and suppliers in Kent that are very important to my work. If I need something stripping, varnishing, veneering or upholstering, and the job is too big for me, there is a whole wealth of talented people in the area.  It’s great to interact with the kind of people that must be the backbone of the antique industry.

Working as a designer-maker

"Some days I will visit local suppliers or collect pieces to work on; others I will work on accounts and emails for the whole day. My favourite days are spent in front of my sewing machine, as these feel like days when lots gets done!

"Promoting my work is vital. I spend a huge chunk of my time doing this. It is important to have a good relationship with the press, and be available and prompt when they require things.

"Having to drive my work to photo shoots and spend time writing emails is important, as you never know who will view what you've said or supplied to them.

Sustaining a design career

"Make sure design is something you love to do. Be prepared to really, truly work hard."

"Things can seem very bleak when you begin in the creative industry. To survive you inevitably have to remain upbeat and positive. The kind of people that inspire me are those who faithfully work hard, knowing an activity may not bear fruit for a while, and who have a good business sense. I find that the constant motivation required to start a business has to come from yourself.

"I would like to immediately work on making my business more stable and sustainable. I currently have to work all hours to keep up with orders and am still learning a lot as I go.

"Once things have settled into a proper routine, I would like to collaborate with other designers and makers, perhaps some in a different field of design. I am always being brought in on really interesting projects, from stand design to illustration work. I would like to explore other areas like this a little more.

How to price your design work

"People are spending less on things, so you must be able to justify your pricing. Not so much explain it, but have the quality to a high standard. So that if they are spending a large amount on something you have made, they are confident why.

"I think that people want better value for their money these days, so prices have to be quite transparent. Once I explain to people how I will go about creating a piece for them and what goes into the work, they are much more interested in having a piece and more comfortable buying from me.

"I also think branding is becoming increasingly important. If consumers are buying something because of the story behind it, or the ethic of your company, it really must be airtight and something you firmly believe in - so that they can too."

Advice to aspiring designer-makers

"People are spending less, so you must be able to justify your pricing."

"I think it’s very important to remain a little humble as a designer, and not be too self-reverential. My work is all based on my hometown but I am aware that other people should want to use it and love it themselves. I hope this means my work is appealing to all sorts of people and so allows them to buy recycled where they wouldn't normally.

"Make sure design is something you love to do, be prepared to really, truly work hard - but remain practical.

"Hot-blooded ambition and determination is not the only ingredient for starting up as a designer/maker. Without organisation and time-management, it would be impossible."

You can see more of Zoe Murphy's work at

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