Mac Collins transformed his design approach, which until now, saw him designing and making his own products in wood. “I basically didn’t make anything for that period of time,” Collins says about his lockdown experience over a video call. Without access to machinery in workshops at Northumbria University where he graduated from in 2018 and is still a resident, he opened up and allowed others to be part of the process – 2020 marked the first time Collins started collaborating with different companies. A project with American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and Wallpaper* Magazine in particular, titled Discovered (https://discovered.global/about/), offered Collins a platform to design something reflective from the past year, while others encouraged Collins to adopt new skills, like using 3D software. Collins also describes having a mentor to bounce ideas off as part of “Discovered,” which was a first for last year too – “they support you and make you think about things that you haven't considered, so it didn't feel like I was designing in isolation.”
It goes without saying that we’re all struggling with the fatigue of virtual events, but these have helped Collins develop his contact database and feel more visible. “I think I've been able to build a better network than I would have without this pandemic, strangely.” Not being based in London usually meant he wouldn't be able to travel to all events, while now, “I could be sat here in Newcastle and still be present in those talks that are usually made up of a predominantly London community, so I felt less isolated in that sense.” He particularly notes digital sessions with Design Dialogue (https://www.designdialogue.uk/) – a forum to share ideas and information.
Has the last year helped the design community of the UK be less London-centric? “People assume you are there,” Collins says of his experience of living outside of the capital city bubble. As the creative hub of the UK, London still draws in designers from across the country, but Collins is firmly staying put – following a residency at New Art Exchange in his hometown of Nottingham, a space that promotes excellence in culturally diverse contemporary arts through exhibitions, events and engagement initiatives, Collins intends on settling in Newcastle for a while. The momentum of design in Nottingham and Newcastle is still developing, and Collins has a romantic vision of multiple cities in the UK having a space on the global stage of design. Perhaps the surge of staying local has helped the UK design industry expand the lens of discovery in the UK to those unexpected locations, and encourage creative retention, which Collins agrees is currently lacking.