What are you working on now? "A good cross-section of projects but all of an advanced, 21st-century relevance. I've just been made creative director of Petrox Resources Corp, which is drastically reducing particle pollutant in fuel. I'm in discussions with Elon Musk at SpaceX on collaborating on his space missions and visions for the Hyperloop [a high-speed-transport system touted as a green alternative to California's rail system]. I'm working with Emotiv Insight, in San Francisco, on cerebral auto scanning of brainwaves to transform visions into 3D reality. I'm also working on a public sculpture for Guangzhou, with Yayoi Kusama. I'm talking to some cool guys in China about a new VR [virtual reality] start-up - that will be amazing; they are so smart. Then there's the preparation for my show at the Centre Pompidou, in Paris, 2018, which is a retrospective on my design and art."
How do you balance research with commercial demands? "My research is embedded in my process. Since I studied at the Royal College of Art [in London] it's been my ambition to remain fully informed across art, design, architecture, transport, fashion, science, materials and technology so that my work is as contemporary as possible relating to the times in which we live. My work achieves commercial success but because it's determined by human- and earth-centric needs, it's deeply fused with art and emotion."
How important is it to consider the eco-footprint of your work? "I have remained dedicated and sincere to the cause of environmentalism and ecology since I was 16. It's not a fad for me but a prerequisite that is an intrinsic part of the design process … it's the seed that grows the tree, so in everything I design I look for a reduction in components and resources in order to extrapolate the most from the least, designing for disassembly and recyclability or creating products with like-minded clients who value quality and longevity over short-termism and profiteering. Or I create new typologies, such as my Solar Tree [LED-lit street lighting that turns itself on automatically] for Artemide, my Diatom chair for Moroso, or my Car on a Stick [bubble-shaped vehicles powered by solar canopies on the roof]."
You recently advocated the need for design schools to embrace technology. Tell us about that. "Design schools are pedestrian. They teach instant results. We are experiencing a renaissance in three-dimensionality and innovation … so it's time for a new design language that is evolutionary and fabulously inspiring … I'm sorry, but you simply cannot compare the knowledge and intellect required to design an advanced electric car or Bluetooth speaker with a wooden stool or knitted cushion … one is building a new economy and unique future for humans and the other is just a self-centred, repetitive, inverted act."
What's the one work you are most proud of? "My Car on a Stick is where my heart, soul and technocracy converge in changing our collective vision for a modern future."
How do you see the design world in 50 years? "Unless we smarten up, we are just going to boil the frog … so the future quality of life will be living remotely in nature but super-connected to what's going on via the internet and technological advances in communication and knowledge dissemination."