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‘Library Founders’: an interview with Lizzie Mercer and James Cann

30 Aug 2020

 INTRODUCTION: James & Lizzie first met at Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) in 2011, 8 years later, they’ve joined forces to form Library Design Studio. In this interview, we find out more about both founders and the story behind Library.

 

Photo: Lizzie being interviewed by Ruth Goodman | Credit: BBC’s The one show

NAME: Lizzie Mercer

TITLE: Creative Partner

 

WHY ‘LIBRARY DESIGN STUDIO’?

We went through a couple of ideas for naming our studio, but Library was the only one we felt came naturally and conveyed a sense of how we worked. We’re both quite inquisitive people, so a Library, to us, represents the various resources we draw from.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE LIBRARY?

The Barbican Library. I always felt like it was a small central-London haven, I love how freely you can use all the Barbican spaces to meet or as a quiet space, it never feels overcrowded.

WHAT DOES A ‘CREATIVE PARTNER’ DO?

Anything, pretty much – It‘s a deliberately ambiguous title. As the founders, we tend to have a hand in everything, but predominantly the creative side.

WHAT’S THE BEST PART OF BEING A DESIGNER?

Starting with a crazy mess of ideas and sorting them to form a complete picture, like a satisfying jigsaw. It’s also a great moment when you finally get to see or hold a finished, physical product.

WHAT ARE YOUR INTERESTS OUTSIDE OF DESIGN?

Life drawing, cooking and being outdoors.

WHAT DO YOU READ/LISTEN TO?

A total mix of everything….my default Podcast would be RadioLab and favourite fiction books would be Max Porter’s ‘Lanny ‘and Robert M. Pirsig’s ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’.

ANY ADVICE TO DESIGNERS?

Be proud of the hobbies and interests that make you different, they’ll undoubtedly give you a fresh perspective.

WHAT WOULD YOU BE IF YOU WEREN’T A DESIGNER?

I’d do something completely different, probably horticulture so I could spend all day outdoors and making things grow.

FINALLY, TELL US A FUN FACT

I’m the Great-great-great Niece of sisters: Millicent Fawcett (Leader of the Women’s Sufferage Movement) and Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson (UK’s first female Doctor). In 2018, ‘The One Show’ did a feature on Millicent’s statue unveiling on Parliament Square, so along with a couple of other family members, I had my TV debut and got to see it’s work in progress, meeting the team and artist behind its creation.

 

Photo: James (centre) Judging | Credit: International Beer and Spirit Awards, Kris Humphreys Photography

NAME: James Cann

TITLE: Creative Partner

 

HOW DID ‘LIBRARY’ START?

An accidental string of events. I was working freelance for a short time after leaving my London studio, when Lizzie & I decided to do a side project together (what’s now ExLibris Botanical Vodka) which required setting up a business. We enjoyed working together, so we joined forces and began designing from our studio above a printworks.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE LIBRARY?

The British Library – for the vast quantity of material they have in their archives. I used to live quite close so I used to drop in every time I walked past.

WHAT DOES A ‘CREATIVE PARTNER’ DO?

In my case, mostly talking to people and problem solving, finding new angles and taking designs from concept all the way to production.

WHAT’S THE BEST PART OF BEING A DESIGNER?

The social aspect, getting to the core of how something functions & communicates and working out how this lives in the real world.

WHAT ARE YOUR INTERESTS OUTSIDE OF DESIGN?

Strategy Board Games, Making/building things (I’ll have a go at anything), cycling. I’m on my local Parish council, so I like getting to know people and helping out, especially pushing for greener agendas and resources for younger generations.

WHAT DO YOU READ/LISTEN TO?

Anything by Malcolm Gladwell, a podcast called ‘Start Up’ and another one called ‘You’re Dead to Me’. Apart from The Lord of the Rings, my book collection is mostly non-fiction, particularly History, politics and economics.

ANY ADVICE TO DESIGNERS?

Don’t necessarily trust your gut instinct, learn to listen to it and grow from it. It’s easy to slip into saying or acting in a way you think is expected, so go deeper and make sure it’s what you actually think, not just an auto-response.

WHAT WOULD YOU BE IF NOT A GRAPHIC DESIGNER?

Somewhere between an architect, artist and builder: anything hands-on designing and building big physical sculptures or structures appeals.

FINALLY, TELL US A FUN FACT

I’m from a family of printers – my dad originally worked as a printer for Jarrold’s of Norwich before starting his own family business printing books and magazines from the garage in our back garden, my four other brothers and I all had a hand in the business at some point or another growing up, I earned my pocket money folding, counting and stacking copies.

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