Three Things I Learnt from Abstract: Art of Design – Episode 8

The final episode of Abstract: Art of Design is about Ilse Crawford – Interior Designer from London.

Ilse is a designer, author and a teacher. Professionally, she’s perhaps best known for her work with IKEA.

Here are the three takeaways from the episode.

It all starts with a vision.

Like so many other artists covered in this series before her, all her work starts with vision too. Ilse knows what she wants the visitors to her place to feel like. She knows the emotion she wants to elicit. She knows the conceptual and physical materials she has to work with and she knows how to use them.

With conceptual materials, she’s thinking about the feel of the space. For example, she knows what the emotional impact is of having a wider dining table as opposed to a narrower dining table. Wider dining table creates spaces between the diners and is not as intimate and close as the narrower one. She knows that a dining table with rectangular, sharp edges does not invite or leave space for more people to join the table than the specified. Whereas, a rounded dining table is more inviting to others.

With physical materials, Ilse knows what emotional impact leather has, as opposed to, say wood.

This all links in with our photography. We have conceptual and physical materials at our disposal. We have conceptual materials like moment, contrast, juxtaposition to play with. We also have physical elements like lines or shapes or light to play with.


Halfway through the episode, Ilse talked about imperfections in the work – so that the user knows that each item is unique and different. Else and her team decided that all the ceramic jars they were producing for IKEA would be dip dyed. The result of this was that the finish on each jar was unique and different to one next to it.

We fall into a trap of perfection in our photography. We want the perfectly exposed histogram with the perfect composition in our images. In photography, we often play it too safe. All the compositions are “perfect”, our choice of exposure is bland. We photograph what’s been photographed millions of times before. We are too scared to photograph in any other way. We are scared to let imperfections be seen in our images.

I say screw that.

Let us move away from sterile, “perfect” photography. Let us make photographs that don’t just push the boundaries but annihilates them. Let us make photographs that break every so-called rule in the book.

Let us be brave with our compositions. Let us be imperfect. To be imperfect is to be human.


I’ve written about constraints before. I know that, ironically enough, having constraints that greatly enhance our creativity and expression. But I’ve never quite understood why. And perhaps the closest I’ve come to a realisation on this is when Ilse mentioned that there is something primal about it – to have restriction and constraints in our way of design – and then somehow or the other, overcoming those restrictions to come up with something beautiful.

I think this definition and reason for having a self-imposed constraint is as good as any that I’ve read previously.

This post is part of a series. You can read about the other episodes by clicking the links below.

Abstract: Art of Design – Episode 7: Platon

Abstract: Art of Design – Episode 6: Paula Scher

Abstract: Art of Design – Episode 5: Ralph Gilles

Abstract: Art of Design – Episode 4: Bjarke Ingels

Abstract: Art of Design – Episode 3: Es Devlin

Abstract: Art of Design – Episode 2: Tinker Hatfield

Abstract: Art of Design – Episode 1: Christoph Niemann

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