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A quick word with … Jonathan Barnbrook

Jonathan Barnbrook is one of the six headliners speaking at We Can Create on October 27. Design isn't just about making the world a prettier place, he reckons, but a better place in which to live.

My first job was… cleaning toilets in a factory. I remember doing this specifically on my 17th birthday. I did this to prove to my non-artistic dad that I could do any job. He was worried that a 'creative' career wasn't real work. so I took a job in a factory over the summer and did everything manual I could. It involved cleaning oil tanks, toilets, painting roofs with little safety equipment. It was to show I could work no matter what area I was working in. He finally accepted that I was prepared to work, although of course he still didn't understand why I chose to be a designer.

And now the title on my business card is… I don't have a title on it or my qualifications. just my name. Listing the 'swimming certificates' you have won i.e your degree qualifications seems really uncool. Design is an informal area and I don't think I need qualifications to back up my work, it should speak for itself.

Which really means… I always feel slightly outside my profession, not immersed and blinded by in it. I was thinking of doing something similar to Brian Eno who wanted to put 'non-musician' on his passport. I would like to put 'non-designer'. I think it's that distance and understanding in a wider critical and social context, not design just for designers or for the sake of it.

My day starts with… waking up and feeling happy that I have another day on this earth. We are here for a very short time, and that time is paradise if you look at it in the right way. Our consciousness and self awareness is a miracle and we should be grateful for it – the joy and the pain.

And ends with… it kind of doesn't. I carry on until I fall asleep.I don't see my life and work as separate, so it's not as though I go home from work and have a different existence. Doesn't mean I am a workaholic. Just that everything you do impacts on everything else you do, if that makes sense. What I think is always put into my work.

And in between, I… try and do my best, be considerate to others and to be a good person to be with...

My first artistic memory is… I was mildly interested in art and went to the Tate gallery in London on a school trip and happened to see a talk about Duchamp. For the first time I realised art could be ironic, clever, challenging and realised I had to be involved in some way. Art, which had seemed such a dusty thing before, now seemed relevant and important to everyday life.

If I wasn't doing this, I'd… be sleeping, it's such a delicious indulgence.

I'm inspired by… I can't think of one thing I am not inspired by, that does not affect what I do in my work. We constantly live in amazing times. I don't understand it when people are bored. Being bored reflects most on the person saying it, not on the world around them.

I can't live without… ideally I should try and separate myself from all material possessions as is taught in Buddhism. I spend most of my time not collecting stuff, but giving up ownership of things. I have a mental image of all of the things I own, and I have to carry them on my back. I don't want that, I want to be free, so better to have less things rather than more.

True 'style' is… not worrying about true 'style', designers should be not just making the world a better looking place but a better place to live in.

My work in three words is… laugh. love. give.

For more, see wecancreate.co.nz

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