Career Feature: David Barrett

David Barrett, BuyDesign’s Business Development Director, is a senior buyer and design development, sourcing and supply chain management expert with a wealth of experience in the furniture retail sector. His invaluable knowledge comes from a long career as a hard goods designer in Debenhams, Design Coordinator for Furniture and Furniture Buyer & Product Developer at Marks and Spencer, and a furniture buyer then category lead in furniture at John Lewis.

David has joined our BuyDesign team to utilise his industry knowledge for the platform. We sat down with him to discover more about his design journey and his thoughts on the future.

Consumers expect and demand great design, and business needs creative input to differentiate themselves from their competition. BD provides companies with the opportunity to extend their reach within the creative sector further and easier than ever before.

What inspired you to pursue your career?
Since I was young, I always loved drawing and painting as it was the subject I enjoyed more than any other at school. I knew it would be hard to make a career as an artist and it was whilst studying on a foundation course that I came across “3D Design”, which led me to undertake a degree in the same subject. Over the 3-year degree, I naturally became intrigued by any products for the Home as this was the area that I found most interesting. Most of us like to surround ourselves with beautiful products in our homes and I always found bringing together form and function in a product a stimulating challenge.

What have been some of the most rewarding moments of your career?
Whilst in my role a John Lewis, I worked with a Danish supplier to develop a range of furniture that became one of the company’s most commercially successful furniture ranges in its 150-year history. The range started with only two products, but as it evolved, it grew to over 30 items. Some of these were developed from ideas that started from very basic ‘fag packet’ sketches, hurriedly emailed back and forth between me and the factory over the weekend. Some of these products went on to become huge commercial successes. Off the back of its success, the factory grew from a small factory set up to a very large state-of-the-art production facility. There were many obstacles we had to overcome in the evolution of the business together, but it was a real partnership between JL and the supplier where a lot of mutual respect and friendships were forged.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career?
Perhaps not surprisingly Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown prevented some of the biggest challenges. Now it’s almost unthinkable to imagine a life without video calls, but in early 2020 we hardly ever used them. Trying to adapt to this new way of communicating when the Wi-Fi signals and video quality were unstable, although everyone was quick to get to grips with the new norm. In addition, navigating through the impact of Covid through factory and store closures and so on was seriously challenging. My wife and I had to juggle all this with homeschooling our two daughters. I was grateful I worked with such as strong team -bizarrely, looking back, this became one of our department’s best periods. Triumph through adversity.

How has your career path changed since you started?
I studied design at university and spent the first ten years of my career working as a designer, mainly within the retail sector. Whilst working for M&S, I was offered the role of Buyer – it’s quite unusual to move from a creative to a commercial role, especially within retail. While it was a big challenge to get my head around the commercial aspect of the role, it was hugely rewarding to make the transfer successfully. Having spent time working as both a designer and buyer, I now really enjoy bridging the gap between the commercial and creative sides of a business. It can be fascinating to be involved in each part of that journey, whether it is working with a designer on the concept of a range to understanding the costs and how a product will be manufactured.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in your field?
Keep an open mind about your career path as I could never have imagined that I would move from a role as a Designer to one as a Buyer. It provided me with a whole new experience and skill set built upon what I had already learnt as a designer. I was still heavily involved in the creative parts of product development but also able to get involved in many more factors which influence bringing a product to market.

For you, why BuyDesign? Why now?
We live in an ever more connected world where being connected digitally has become even more familiar since Covid. BuyDesign offers the chance for Designers to get their ideas in front of more businesses. Consumers expect and demand great design, and business needs creative input to differentiate themselves from their competition. BD provides companies with the opportunity to extend their reach within the creative sector further and easier than ever before.

Additionally, given the economic pressures we are living through, businesses are likely to be overstretched and BD provides them with simple and easy access to wealth or creative talent.

What does great design mean to you?
For me, Great Design is a balance of form and function without trading one off in favour of the other. I believe Great Design also needs to address a genuine need as opposed to something superfluous to our needs. I.e. not adding to the huge pile of unwanted junk we continue to create. All products nowadays need to have been conceived and produced with a great awareness of the pressures on natural resources.

Article compiled by Wynne O’Brien
Images courtesy of David Barrett

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