Design & Living / Design Digest

A Masterclass in Designing Across Disciplines

From marbled cakes to super smart blinds, jewellery designer-turned-product mastermind Kia Utzon-Frank is the definition of a multi-disciplinarian

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© Kia Utzon-Frank

Kia Utzon-Frank’s practice covers a lot of ground, in terms of scale, and physical and thematic context. A graduate from the Royal College of Art’s MA Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalworks & Jewellery programme, she has since been busy inventing, baking and experimenting. Her recent works include KUFcakes, delicious sponge cakes with marzipan icing, printed with images of marble to resemble obelisks; sculptures made with paper that is 80% stone; and the Louver Twisting Comb, a control mechanism for blinds or room dividers which rotates strips of flexible material to reveal light and shadow.

As part of this year’s Clerkenwell Design Week, Utzon-Frank showed her work in Design Undefined at Clerkenwell London. The exhibition hosted her first products as KUFStudios, the multidisciplinary design brand she founded to contain her practice. Utzon-Frank says: “The idea of starting a company came when I was asked to do this show, and I asked which discipline they would like to exhibit and they said ‘No no no, we want the whole thing! That's what’s so exciting’... and that was the first time anyone had wanted that.” So she founded KUFStudios, which is built to expand and contract according to where Utzon-Frank’s multifarious experiments take her.

On Fitting In
Growing up in Denmark, Utzon-Frank had long experimented with creative work, but she always thought that she’d have to fit her output into a particular box. "In Denmark it’s expected that you stay with what you were educated in," she explains. "So, as an example, I’m a goldsmith and it’s expected that I keep doing jewellery, otherwise it confuses people... They’ll say ‘but it’s not your field to do cakes, or a book, or whatever – you’re not good enough at it’. I think, well, if there is something I can’t do I’ll just get someone in to do it and then it’s a collaboration, which is brilliant! What’s the problem? I don’t feel that so much here in London, people seem much better at making connections." 

Given her skill for turning her hand to multiple contexts so confidently, it’s hard to imagine Utzon-Frank faltering. "Well, I was rejected from the Danish design school three times, which was a smack in the face," she says. "I thought you had to have that seal of approval from an institution to be able to do something – and it takes a long time to find your own feet. I’m still not very confident, but I at least know what I can do, and I can rely on that. I don’t have to come up with new ideas all the time, I can focus on reinventing [according to] my core themes and processes."

On Process and Experimentation 
Although there is such range in terms of application, Kia’s work has a thread running through it. Her interest in materials, transitions and transformation communicates via the softening of architectural details in transitional spaces; material deception in her KUFcakes: and the transformation of blinds from a passive to active interior structure.

"I know that when I experiment, something will come out of it. That’s the process, which is the brilliant part of it. That’s why whether it’s blinds, cakes, string structures or whatever comes out of it – it’s just about the experiment and trusting that something will happen." Her work is constantly pushing the limits of her materials and her audience’s expectations and habits. And this isn’t only true in Utzon-Frank’s case, but the commercial market as a whole hasn’t caught up with what is being made. "Every time I come up with an idea I speak to business developers and they say ‘great, what does the market say?’ I think, but this is good, it feels good... and surely creatives should be ahead of the market?" 

A Genre of One's Own 
During the show at Clerkenwell London, Utzon-Frank will be moving her studio to the exhibition space. She’ll be taking it as an opportunity to do lots of making, which is often usurped in daily life by the unspoken admin that goes into creative work. "There is very little making happening at my studio. I’d say creative work is 80% computer, email and managing," she says.

Since establishing KUFStudios there has been a far better sense of cohesion, particularly with the realisation that if you don’t fit into one category, "just make your own box". Her plan is for every category to have its own leg, with her sat in the middle of the web, shooting out ideas. "That’s the goal," she says. "There’s been a battle between designers and artists over what is more important, or just about accepting each other... but the two worlds are merging, which is great. The lines need to blur. Everything needs to be blurred. Just make, play around. Fuck categories."

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