Meet the Makers: Astro Lighting
For over 20 years, British brand Astro Lighting has designed and produced pieces driven by the idea that good design demands simplicity. The company’s light fixtures range from artful wall pieces for the home to elegant commercial lighting—all managing to strike a balance between timeless, functional and distinct.
The Capsule Collection—available exclusively at YLighting—is a creative collaboration between Astro Lighting Co-founder and Design Director James Bassant and Senior Designer Riley Sanders. The trio of designs, Orb, iO Pendant, and Halftone, each utilizes light in a distinctive yet cohesive way. We caught up with the duo to discuss the collection and its process, the sparks that started their design journeys, and where their work will go next.
What is your design story? How did you get into design?
James Bassant: I think that design slowly floated to the surface of my consciousness when I was about 16. It was a subject that I just started to care about more than anything else I was studying, and I applied myself to it. After a foundation year, this passion for product design had crystalized, and I knew it was what I wanted to do. After university, I was lucky enough to land a job with a small but creative lighting company and never looked back; designing lights excites me now as much as it did all those years ago.
Riley Sanders: I have always had a keen interest in art and design, even from a young age they were always the subjects that interested me the most. However, my real interest in product design stemmed from skateboarding and snowboarding culture, where I became more interested in the products companies were developing than actually doing the sport itself. A slight obsession with most of my university projects revolved around this area of product development. It was not until after university and starting a small joinery workshop with a friend that my passion for lighting design really began. This is where my love for materials and craftsmanship started.
How has the Astro Lighting design philosophy changed since it began, if at all?
JB: When fellow Co-Founder John Fearon and I started Astro in 1997, we had an opportunity to design the products we wanted to, and the one philosophy that we had from the beginning was a simple test of “would I have one?” It is easy to get involved in the process of design and to not stop and think, do I really like it, and would I have one in my life? On occasion, there can be what I think of as white noise within the design world, but I have to know and rely on the emotional response I get from the products I design.
RS: Even in my short time at Astro I have seen the company evolve, and with the introduction of projects such as the Capsule Collection, it is clear to see the passion that goes into every product and I feel we are rightfully claiming our place within the design realm.
Your pieces often begin with a sketch. How do you know when a sketch has the potential to become a light fixture and what else goes into the process?
JB: Sometimes a design appears in your mind almost fully formed, which you can capture in a sketch and into a product within a few steps. However, more often than not, there is a process of redesigning, refining, and collaborative conversations to reach perfection. I have sketchbooks dating right back to the beginning of Astro and I often refer to these. Sometimes the designs have matured in my mind over a number of years before I even present them as a final concept. This is very true of the Orb, a design I had been thinking about and working on for several years until it expressed exactly the look and function I wanted. If I go back to a design and there is nothing I would change, then that is a good sign.
RS: Sketching is a massive part of the process and a great tool in the initial stages of developing an idea. Loose thumbnail sketches help to dump all ideas onto a page quickly, allowing us to eliminate and move forward with those we can truly get behind. Often however, it is not until we develop the concept into a three-dimensional model that we start to understand proportions and how a product will truly work within a space. It could be molded from card, foam or 3D printing, this is when a product really comes to life and it’s such an essential part of the process.
The Orb features an adjustable mirror. Is it important for your designs to serve a purpose beyond illuminating?
JB: Luminaires, by the very nature of what they produce, light, are functional, and this is one of the elements that still excites me. Designing an object to produce light encapsulated in an aesthetic that is striking, functional and complimentary to a space. It’s rarely simple, but it’s at the core of a product’s purpose and something we never compromise.
How do the pieces in the Capsule Collection relate to one another?
RS: All three pieces are very different, in the materials they use and their function however, there is a distinctive thread of Astro DNA running through each of them. It is often a difficult thing to describe in words but when you see it, or when we come across it in the development process, you just know. It’s perhaps a confidence that they each hold, allowing them to present an individual narrative without overpowering a space.
In terms of design, where do you want to take your work next?
JB: After 24 years as Design Director, I still get out of bed in the morning looking forward to creating a meaningful product. I think that part of our success is due to us continuing to nurture that desire. We are inspired by the world around us, but we also work closely with our customers to develop designs that enhance their projects or lifestyles. Materials, manufacturing processes and sustainable design, each heavily influence our approach and they are certainly a focus for forthcoming projects such as Capsule Collection Volume 02, which is currently in development.
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