When asked what his biggest design challenge so far has been, Benjamin Hubert doesn’t hesitate: “COVID-19—trying to imagine how design can best serve the global climate we’re going to be moving into,” he says. “There will be social implications and challenges, which are actually all about change. And change is the currency of designers. A new world order requires futuristic designs: different types of products and experiences that facilitate the new way we’ll be living.”
Hubert is no stranger to embracing change, albeit on a more personal scale, having chosen to rebrand his then-eponymous, and highly successful, agency as Layer in 2015. “When you work under your own name, you reach a point where you’re asked to do a lot of the same designs, people come to you just for your taste,” he explains.
“My background and training and experiences are much wider and broader, and we’d started to build a bigger team and a more democratic way of working, so I wanted a name to reflect that. Layer is really about the way we think about the world, and the way we think about creating products. All the layers of decisions people make, all the challenges and frustrations they might have, all the joy and happiness that things bring them. We layer that altogether, prioritize it, and use that as our remit to create something new.”
Change is the currency of designers. A new world order requires futuristic designs that facilitate the new way we’ll be living
Notable Layer creations include Trove, a security device created at the height of the cryptocurrency rush, which looks more like an accessory than a password vault. “Trove came at the time when digital currencies were headline news and people were losing their key chains and passwords. It’s a small, wearable device that you access through your heart rate, so you have inherent access to it, nobody else does,” Hubert explains. “Visually, it’s wrapped in a ‘soft-tech’ aesthetic, something more akin to either fashion or an object you would cherish.”
He’s adamant that all Layer’s designs should offer sustainability and longevity. “We try to create things that people will want to live with for a long time—home accessories that you’d want to have around for 10, 15-plus years.
“I think an item’s longevity comes down to value: how much value can you imbue in any type of product or experience? With our work for brands like Bang & Olufsen, for example, we try to imbue the products with a quality that makes people want to keep them longer, so there isn’t such a fast-paced cycle of replacement. We subscribe to the ‘new heirloom’ idea, that a beautiful piece may be slightly more expensive, but you’ll keep it for years.”
We try to create things that people will want to live with for a long time, home accessories that you’d want to have around for years
As the design world adjusts to the “new normal” of remote working, Hubert says that while “we’re fortunate enough to be designing things that people really like to own,” he and his team are trying to create things that people really need, particularly in more developing parts of the world.
“We are working with charities that need design partners to get better solutions on the ground. That could be the ability to communicate better, the ability to have power in off-grid locations, health issues like sanitation and purification… making the essential available and effortless.”
Finally, how does he see the future of design, beyond the pandemic? “I think we’ll see a lot more digital launches and the idea of the future that everybody talked about, where things are ‘digital first’ and everything is digitally enabled.”