writer alice rawsthorn

As a writer and critic for the global edition of the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, Alice Rawsthorn analyses design, and how it affects our lives. Her column is published weekly - every Monday - and is syndicated to magazines and newspapers around the world. Alice is a well-known public speaker and broadcaster as well as a trustee of Arts Council England and of the Whitechapel Gallery in London. For five years, from 2001, Alice was also a director of London's Design Museum. She has also sat on the jury of the Turner Prize for contemporary art, the Stirling Prize for architecture, the British Council’s selection panel for the Venice Architecture Biennale, the PEN History Book Prize, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture and the BAFTA film and television awards. Not surprisingly, she has written many books on design too. (The images above are titles she is the author of, or has contributed towards.)

Alice is talking today at designEX 2012 on 7 Kinds of Happiness.

Which five words best describe you? I have absolutely no idea.

How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? When I was at university I wanted to be an experimental film maker and was offered a place at the Royal College of Art to study film. But I had such a large overdraft that I had to get a job to pay it off. The only job that appealed to me most was journalism, for the foolish reason that it seemed reassuringly like continuing my studies. For all the wrong reasons, I found a career that suits my temperament perfectly. I spent the first twenty years of my career as a "proper" journalist, covering economics and business, and working as a foreign correspondent in Paris, then decided to focus on something that I really loved - design.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? The best advice I have been given, which applies to life as much as to work, was: "do what you think is right, and treat everything as a learning experience."

What’s your proudest career achievement? Looking forward to starting work when I wake up each day.

What’s been your best decision? To focus on design. I had a fantastic career as a "proper" journalist, which gave me rigorous training and extraordinary experiences. I travelled all over the world, met extraordinary people and constantly felt challenged and intrigued. But it has been even more interesting and enjoyable to write about a subject I love, to learn about it more deeply and to celebrate the work of designers and design movements that I believe in.

Who inspires you? The memory of my grandmother who was tremendously intelligent, knowledgeable and intellectually inquisitive with highly sophisticated literary taste, despite a very basic education. She worked as a cleaner to pay for her four children to go to university. I am very aware, that had I been born half a century earlier, my life would have been very similar to her's, and that it is partly thanks to her that I was given the opportunity to lead a more rewarding life.

What are you passionate about? Design. I consider myself very lucky to have found a subject that is so eclectic and dynamic: deeply contextual and constantly changing to reflect broader changes in the world around us, whether they are social, political, economic or cultural. It is impossible to ever learn enough about design.

Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? One of my design heroines is Muriel Cooper, who gave up a career as a gifted graphic designer in the early 1970s to experiment with digital technology, and to try to ensure that the imagery we see on computer screens had the clarity and beauty of the best printed design. I always admire people who have the intellectual dexterity to set themselves new challenges by working in different spheres. She was also, by all accounts, a very charismatic woman, spirited, courageous and greatly loved by her students and colleagues.

What dream do you still want to fulfil? I would love to learn to fly, both jets and helicopters. Though a diplomat friend recently completed an evasive driving course, which sounded fantastic.

What are you reading? I have just finished Peter Carey's new novel The chemistry of tears, which is wonderful, and have started Beware of pity, a 1939 novel by one of my favourite 20th century authors, the Austrian writer, Stefan Zweig. I love literary fiction, but am also a history nut, and a couple of excellent books on the early development of computing have been published recently. I especially enjoyed James Gleick's The information and George Dyson's Turing's cathedral.

images courtesy of alice rawsthorn