In Conversation with Richard Brownlie-Marshall

Richard Brownlie-Marshall is the Creative Designer at Pret A Manger, working globally with the brand in all areas of design. His background comprises of a wide range of clients including Tossed, Zizzi, Candy Kittens and The Archbishop of Canterbury. In 2011 he launched his eponymous design brand, which continues to create design-centric products for everyday life.

What inspired you to be a designer?
I think design is in my DNA. Some of my earliest memories include wallpapers from National Trust properties I visited as a child or Eames furniture I passed at The Conran Shop. I didn’t know the depth of why I liked it, but I knew it was something different and it interested me. As I got older I became curious as to how things were made and if I were to design it, what would I do differently? Seeing great design and owning products that you love is such an amazing feeling. I knew I wanted to be part of that world and create design that could bring joy to millions of others.

If they were to make a toy action figure of you, what would your accessory be?
It would probably be my mobile phone. Now to clarify, it wouldn’t be because I particularly like talking on the phone, messaging people or finding the next best App – I don’t. You’ll rarely find me scrolling on my phone, as I much prefer interaction in person. I do however love the ease of having that camera in your pocket, wherever you go; ready to capture the world at any given moment. It could be visiting a shop that doesn’t match the design elevations, passing something new that I’ve never seen before or an interesting pattern. Even though I don’t always look back at the ever-growing archive of images, I like to have them, and I’m always ready to snap more.

To what degree have you actually controlled the course your life within the design world?
When graduating from University, it feels as though whatever step you take, your journey is mapped out – but it certainly hasn’t worked out like that. Straight after lessons ended, I had an internship lined up at the Brent Hoberman start-up, I worked hard at the interiors website and went on to eventually become the Design Coordinator. I could see my route of progression in this sector and had a blueprint of what would come next, but life had another plan. After meeting with the founder of Tossed, Vincent McKevitt, in one of his shops, the healthier eating chain seemed to be an opportunity too tempting to miss. I joined as the Head of Creative and was involved in designing the marketing, packaging and interiors for the brand – all on a steep learning curve. The experience I gained in these two roles was very different but led me to start my eponymous design brand, create work for The Archbishop of Canterbury, the plates used in Zizzi, and now, work with all things creative for Pret A Manger around the world. So from what started as a more controlled approach, has blossomed into a much freer movement that incorporates multiple disciplines. I’ve learnt to be open to good projects and always aim to work on things that I can get excited about.

What would be your dream project?
One day I would like to create a new retail concept, that lives on the high street but has a unique perspective on what the shop experience should be. I imagine a very active space that champions design and provides an informative and immersive experience for customers. A place where you could visit every week and see something different. Collaborations with designers, one-off product drops and an ever-changing store layout. It’s very much all in my mind right now, but that’s why it’s a dream, otherwise, I would have already done it.

What’s something you know you do differently than most people?
As a creative, that’s a tough question, because I think great creatives are the difference – and I don’t know if you can summarise that. So for me, it’s being unashamedly Richard. Every project I work on has a client and a goal, but they also have a bit of me. I have to answer why I’m working on the design and what I bring to the job. So from the pitch to the product, I always incorporate my journey as a designer and an individual, and that’s my creative difference.

If you could go back in time and speak to your adolescent self, what advice would you give them about the design world?
Look, listen and learn from those that inspire you – then form your own point of view. There is no definitive design rules that can’t be broken, so don’t worry about stepping outside of that safe zone and doing something different. Creativity can’t be confined and once you break down those walls, there’s a whole lot of world out there.