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New Designers 2021: Meet Roku Gega

Providing a sanctuary for houseplants, Roku Gega’s Habitat design made the New Designers 2021 shortlist, championed by the judges as one of the daring dozen most promising designs. Learn about the theory behind Gega’s idea and focus on a reconnection with nature below.

1. Congratulations on being shortlisted for The Conran Shop and The Marandi Foundation's Designer of the Future Award 2021; how do you feel, and what does this award mean for your future and practice?

Hi, and thank you so much for this opportunity. I feel over the moon to have been shortlisted for such a prestigious award. Winning this award would open many doors in the future.

2. Are you familiar with the work we do at The Conran Shop and of Sir Terence's legacy? Did it have any influence on your work?

Yes I am. Sir Terence strives to design exciting and accessible furniture, and has had a major influence on the way I choose my briefs. I find it inspiring the way he managed to design furniture for the average person whilst still prioritising originality and uniqueness.  

3. Please tell us more about who you are and your project?

I was born in Albania, grew up in Italy and moved to England to study when I was 16. Having moved around a lot I have had to adapt to different cultures and lifestyles. This has taught me how to be adaptable and given me an awareness of other people’s cultures. These traits have been beneficial to strengthening my design skills by enabling me to think methodically about my surroundings both from an ideological perspective and a design perspective.

This year I have noticed how important the connection to nature is for people. In the urbanised world we live in, exasperated by the confinement of the pandemic, it has become a privilege to have your own garden and connection to nature. This correlates to a growing trend where people are becoming more aware of the importance of their mental well-being as well as the well-being of nature. That’s why I designed “Habitat”, an indoor greenhouse that gives you the opportunity to create that connection in an environment you create for your greenery when space is limited.

4. As to your work, who inspires it, and do you have a particular process that drives your craft?

As cliché as it sounds, I take direct inspiration from nature. Whenever I have a new brief I try to implement a biomimetic design approach and search for natural solutions. I am always taken aback by the eloquence and simplicity within the natural details I find.

The common pattern that interconnects all my designs is the inspiration journey that I conduct. I set aside a lot of time at the early stages of each project to explore and collect stories from people and places that I feel relate to the message I want to put forth in my designs. I use this experience to later drive my project. In regards to ‘Habitat’, I visited Norway and explored their society’s deep-rooted connection with nature. This led to the creation of the piece.

5. How important do you think something like New Designers is for emerging designers?

Being able to exhibit with New Designers is already an achievement. Receiving confirmation from such a coveted institution, that you are on the right track, gives you confidence and belief in yourself. Being an emerging designer can be quite challenging to get yourself out there and to get the opportunities you deserve. 

6. Looking around, did you see any emerging trends/shared concerns/materials with your fellow designers?

Throughout my time at university, I have noticed a growing interest in using metal. With its simplicity and strength, it is the preferred material in industrial design. I feel the consensus is that it also gives an urban and modern look to products. In recent times to my pleasure, the rawness of the material has become even more appreciated. 

7. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing emerging designers? Did the pandemic impact your work in any way, and how was it working through New Designers virtually?

As a new designer, the main challenge for me was the difficulty of networking, which was made even more difficult by the pandemic. I feel this is a common challenge for young designers and getting your foot in the door to meet people that allow you to rise to opportunities, is often the most difficult step. I also feel the pandemic has slowed down the production process of my piece due to allocated slots to assess university workshops being majorly limited, as well as the time spent waiting for email replies. I appreciate New Designers adapting to the pandemic and remaining open to offer the opportunity to take part in the exhibition.  

8. What, in your opinion, makes a design timeless?

At the core, the answer is longevity. If a design can’t survive over time it won’t ever become timeless. Additionally, I believe a design must have the capability to induce an emotional attachment for the user by process experience or patina. 

 9. What are your ambitions for the next ten years?

My objective for the next ten years is to become an all-around designer. I want to hone my knowledge and experience of materials and techniques, in order to better convey my work into a physical object. I aspire to make designs that will be cared for and remembered, to deepen the emotional connection to its user. As tricky as it is designing for emotional durability, I believe it’s a good start to have it in mind when working on a project. With this in mind, I want to challenge the mindset of the throwaway society to the lead furniture industry into a more sustainable pathway.

10. Lastly, which is your favourite piece of design history and who is your best-loved designer

I adore the idea of Tripp Trapp. I find the piece’s ability to grow with the user and create an emotional attachment captivating. My favourite era of design is Art Nouveau. The connection between nature and craft involved in producing an object never ceases to surprise me. At the same time, the contemporary era of design is very exciting as gender becomes less cemented.  

Warren William is the best all-around designer I have been in contact with. He has been my tutor at university for the past three years. Although I have only worked a relatively short time with him, his charisma and craziness have excited and inspired me. His influence has shaped the designer I am today and the designer I am striving to become. 

Click here to discover more about our involvement with New Designers and to meet the rest of the 2021 shortlist; plus, be sure to follow Roku here.