This year, as part of the London Design Festival 2013, nine Central Saint Martins design graduates joined arms to showcase under the group-name, CSM Invasion. This year’s CSM Invaders took to The Do Shop, Covent Garden to takeover the store, and display their graduate collections. We caught up with the nine designers individually to find out more about them, and what inspires their work.

Emma Alington sees the design process as one of making gifts, creating items that people will want to treasure. As Emma takes part in this years London Design Festival, we decided to find out more about her creative process, and the medium with which she works, as well as what she learnt during her time at CSM.

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What was your experience of studying at CSM, and how did it affect the way you view design?
My [three years] at CSM were the best three years of my life. I find it really interesting how only now, on reflection, do I release what I really gained from going there. In my eyes it was like one big transition; you go in, work your socks off, push boundaries, sometimes not even realising how every experience is part of the huge learning curve. At the other end, you’re a headstrong and motivated designer, ready to put what you’ve learned into practice. It’s scary, but exciting.
One of the things I found most valuable, and rewarding from being at CSM- and I’ve only fully realised this since graduating- is how it has truly defined who I am as a designer, both my actual designs and my ethos.

Has my perspective on design changed since being at CSM?
Absolutely. I have learnt that the aesthetics of something just scratch the surface of what makes ‘good design’. I think this is one of the most important perspectives I’ve gained over the past three years.
What lead you to think about the design process as creating gifts for other people?
The reason I think of the design process as creating gifts for people is as much about my mind frame, as it is about my designs. It helps me bring out the importance of the material, the function, and the decoration whilst creating something that people will want to treasure. It’s important to me that I create a sense of sentimental value through my designs.

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Subsequently, was there a particular moment, or experience that prompted you to specifically explore luxury gift packaging for this collection?
For my final project in 3rd year, I collaborated with a luxury London based chocolate brand, designing a collection of ceramic chocolate boxes. I have frequently been inspired by decorative foods – in 2nd year I designed a ceramic cupcake box, which is something I hope to re-work and launch in the future.
It was only at the degree show that other people viewing my decorative boxes said they would also use it to package soap, tea, jewellery, cheese, butter…I had so many suggestions! That made me realise that I needed to detach it from being specifically a chocolate box, and let the customers decide the function for themselves. This is something which I think gives the product longevity, too.
I’ve always loved cardboard packaging anyway- and my current range of boxes has definitely made me realise that the niche of luxury ceramic gift packaging is something I want to explore. It crosses the paths of being both giftware and sustainable packaging. I’m really excited for my next step here.

Can you tell us a bit about the physical process used to hand-make and decorate the porcelain boxes?
These boxes and dishes are all slip cast. To give an outline of the process, I firstly hand-make the models in plaster, which I then go on to make moulds from. These moulds are then filled with liquid porcelain for about 10 minutes, emptied, and I am then left with the cast, which is like a ‘skin’ of porcelain.
Once out of the mould, I apply the decoration just before it is fully dry. The actual decoration is a raised slip detail, which is a bit like a ceramic embossed surface. This way you can literally ‘feel’ the decoration. I think it makes it more engaging. I have to dry the boxes very slowly or else the surface detail dries too fast and flakes off. The boxes are then both bisque fired and glaze fired. Once fully glazed, I apply my backstamp transfer, which needs a 3rd and final firing. To make one box from casting it to it’s final firing, takes about a week and a half.

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What has it meant to you, being able to showcase your final graduation collection with the fellow members of CSM Invasion?
Taking part in the CSM Invasion has been fantastic – the nine of us were approached at the launch of our degree show back in June by the DO guys to showcase our work here for the London Design Festival. They gave us complete freedom, which was great but a bit terrifying! The catalogue, the events, the layout, and our products all came together though and I’m really proud of all of us for getting where we are now, considering we only graduated three months ago. We were a really close and driven year, so it’s great to have this opportunity to showcase our work together again.
It’s also given us an idea how to approach things in a commercial context, which has been an invaluable learning curve – pleasing potential customers is a whole other ball game compared to pleasing tutors!

What has the response to your work been?
I’ve had some encouraging responses to my work from both the LDF and our degree show- the fear of when you’re a student and you’re constantly trying to find flaws and improve things has definitely faded somewhat. It’s the most rewarding thing when people love your work (but even better when they buy it!). From my boxes here at the CSM Invasion, as well as my other final year designs, I’ve had some great opportunities and commissions arise so far. It’s kept the momentum going and has really helped me see where I’m going as a designer.

Is there any advice you would give to designers who are looking for platforms like CSM Invasion to show their work?
I have three bits of advice! 1) It’s as much about searching for opportunities as it is creating ones of your own- I’m a firm believer that you create your own luck; 2) Preparation is crucial. It really helped me to enter the mind the mind frame of a designer compared to being a student. Like I said at the beginning, it’s like a transition; prepare for this and you’re on the right tracks; 3) Lastly, talk to people! The tutors sound like a scratched record the amount of times they say it at CSM, but it really is invaluable.

Emma, and the CSM Invasion group are exhibiting their graduate collections in The Do Shop, Covent Garden from Saturday 14th-22nd September.

Tweet them @CSM_Invasion #LDF13

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