Interview with Designer Thomas Mills

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Recently i made a post on the amazing Long Form Library created by English designer Thomas Mills. I uncovered more from Thomas Mills when he agreed to do an interview, from his cycling passion to his broad perspective of creativity and design. Enjoy!

2dots - Can you tell readers a bit about yourself and what you do.

TM - My name is Thomas Mills. I was born in the North of England among the hills. I moved to the country's third city Manchester aged 6. I had a standard education. I studied a photography degree in the late 90's. 
Then i worked as a bookseller for 8 years. I then took a design degree aged 30, completing my studies in 2010. 
Whilst studying I began cycle touring during the Summer and Easter breaks. I crossed most of Eastern Europe, all of Britain and finally, after graduating, I rode from New York to Portland along most of the Oregon Trail in the process. Any Americans will be well aware that we bucked the wind. Oh the English! Now I run a design company called ifsodoso.


2dots - When you were a child, did you want to become a designer.

TM - I loved bikes and built many with my dad. That is a very sedate introduction to engineering i suppose. 
Lego is partly to blame also. You never have enough bricks to achieve your aims. I thought as an adult this may change. It didn't. I loved sky scrapers (hence the many long visits to the States) and as a kid dreamed of visiting them. I thought if I became a designer i could make equally exciting things

2dots - What inspired you to do long form library.

TM - A visit to Ron Arad's Restless exhibition at the incredible Barbican Centre in London. All his creations move in some way. I also read a great poem by Ettore Sottsass entitled Design for the Rights of Man which challenges designers to design for people not money.


2dots - What was the creation process like and what was your biggest challenge.

TM - Fairly straightforward. Lots of drawing. I worked for six weeks from blank page to scale drawing then to scale model then to fully realised computer model. I needed to establish whether to CNC router the panels, or cut them by hand with an angle-adjustable rip-saw. CNC proved not to be an option. So, handmade it was. 
The build was made complicated by the fact there are 108 different angles to cut. However, I knew if i stuck to the drawing it would be okay. At the end there was a shortfall of 4mm when i measured up for the last two boxes. Not bad!

2dots - What is an important factor in designing that matters to you most.

TM - Be passionate.

2dots - How has your work evolved from your first work to present.

TM - My earlier work was very unusual. I always strove to challenge and confuse people. As i matured, I learned to do this in more subtle ways but with the addition of a layer of information that clearly explains the process and the intention of the piece. Be it instructions for usage, or a story to help explain its genesis and purpose. I like to push materials to their limits and this is always the basis for any progression i make.


2dots - Can you tell readers about your company ifsodoso and what it is about?

TM - ifsodoso is a 3D production company, and by that i mean, production of anything sub-architectural in scale. As you can see with the library, we are able to manufacture very large pieces, primarily through ingenious construction methods. We have produced colourful sculptural work for local companies, 3D letters for various clients, we provided Art Direction on two music videos, one of which was for popular British Rock Band - Elbow. 
We also completed a stunning interior for Manchester's Modernist Restaurant - the Rose Garden.
I now co-run a studio and workshops (our own premises) in Manchester which is used by fellow graduates and others. They are free to operate under the ifsodoso banner. I believe that their talent deserves to be employed, so anything we can do to help graduates in these tough times, we will.

2dots - As a designer how do you define creativity.

TM - That which sets us apart from ourselves.

2dots - Aside from designing what else are you passionate about?

TM - Music. Travel. Family. Sport.

2dots -  What are your source of inspirations.

TM - My family here and sadly elsewhere. Those who do it their own way. Anti-establishmentarians from every decade, century and mythical time past. In particular Graeme Obree the greatest cyclist of my generation and a peerless innovator. I really am drawn to people who make a very individual mark, often by accident. Design wise, I love Ron Arad, Piet Hein Eek and Martino Gamper's work. 
They are unconventionally brilliant, and never per'ceivably set out to make money, though i am sure they have. Then there are those long since passed, the greatest of all, undoubtedly being LeCorbusier himself. Who else would dare or indeed dream of suggesting the demolition of Paris, in order to replace it with mile high concrete? No-one! I'm glad he was vetoed. But only just. Incredible. 

2dots - What is your perfect working mode like.

TM - Every so often, i start running around, from task to task, with boundless energy, maybe up to 16 hours without any real discernible break, I'll stop to eat, but find myself contentedly gazing upon my next task with crystal clear intent, minutes later it will be complete and the next task will already have presented itself seamlessly before me and i will be completing that soon too. 
Then as night falls, i will smile and think, i don't really need to stop, because everything i touch right now will work and the second that temporary state of flux is interrupted i will know it is time call it a day. 
I will ride home having tidied up, knowing that the next time i come, everything will be ready for me to continue at pace, until I am satisfied that the completion date is realistic. And at no point will i be what i would ordinarily describe as tired. 


2dots - What books do you read?

TM - Kerouac, Vietnam histories, tales of the Industrial Revolution in the UK (particularly the North), old design theory books (the new ones are a bit smug, there is no wide eyed sense of enligthenment), and tons of Biographies & Autobiographies, especially cycling ones. My favourite book recently was a book called the rider by Tim Krabbe. Its about the thoughts and musings of one man as he races over 120miles in the Belgian rain. 
It encapsilates the tenacity that we all have within us, but that becomes lost if we are not careful.

2dots - Describe your ideal space.

TM - Somewhere between here and the moon.

2dots - Is there something you dream to design in future.

TM - An open to all velodrome in the park near my home. When i was a child, there was an open air cycle track nearby. It was very dilapidated, but elegant. My father raced on it in it's heyday during the sixties. Hundreds would turn up. As a working class past time, cycle racing was very important socially. As the races came to an end for the evening, riders from all the suburban areas would leave together to their respective boroughs. This connected them to each other and the city in a very strong bond. 
Cycling is very popular again, and having witnessed its renewed impact in Portland and New York especially, i would like us to re-embrace it here too. We have a superb velodrome, but like any sport complex, it is privy to the usual rules and regulations. 
I feel that the openness of the track i mentioned earlier, is somewhat lost on this newer facility, and i would wish to build something with no doors or moving parts, rather like the Taj Mahal, a solid edifice, without moveable, lockable barriers. This would allow the track to be self regulated, only the floodlights would link it to the infrastructure, which in turn would be people, not council.


2dots - What do you like most about what you do.

TM - I am my own boss. My decisions can have an immediate and discernible impact on my company, my colleagues, and our surroundings. Many who see our work think it is fantastic, and I'm not ashamed to say that that feels fantastic. As an Englishman this is very hard to admit. 
I find a great deal of our built environment massively disappointing, it often lacks passion, risk, verve or an idea. 
If I see many more Victorian or Georgian or Tudor revival houses in this country, I will crack, I swear. If we can offer an alternative approach, then i will be happy. Obviously, I don't intend to build houses, but, what we do build will be of its own, not a pastiche or a copy or a clone.


ifsodoso official website - http://ifsodoso.com