Bacon’s Law

In the summer of 2017 whilst visiting family in the UK, I had decided to meet up with some old colleagues from my time working in London, and also visit a company called Maynard who had recently won a Metro project in my home city of Melbourne.

I found myself sat across the meeting room table from Julian in Maynard’s Paddington mews studio, signs, models and prototypes filling the shelves with work that revealed Maynard as having a diverse range of project types, far beyond the scope of a typical design studio. In our initial conversation, it became apparent that Julian and I shared a common formative figure in our lives – my father, Nick Butler.

My father grew up in the back-to-back houses of Normanton, West Yorkshire, the son of a policeman in this coal mining town in the north of England; later moving to London to found one of the UK’s first industrial design practices, BIB, along with Peter Isherwood and Stephen Bartlett.

Having attended the Royal College of Art in the late 1960’s, my father later became the college’s Professor of Industrial Design, and it was during this time he met the young Industrial Design MA Student, Julian Maynard.

As a boy, I can remember clearly the fascination in seeing my dad’s work out in the world. His work focused on common everyday objects, from the ubiquitous navigation radars for Decca, to Minolta’s SLR cameras and the classic BT “Tribune” telephone. Despite being a designer, he had little time for the design community and was disparaging of what he considered an introspective design culture, much preferring the company of engineers and industrialists to that of his design contemporaries. He was particularly proud of BIB’s work for Duracell – answering the brief to help them sell more batteries, BIB developed a new range of torches that saw the ‘Durabeam’ capture 30% of the UK market within a year of its launch.

I like to think that this same fascination with everyday objects is reflected in the DNA of Maynard – I know that both Julian and I share this deep satisfaction in seeing our projects enduring in the public domain over decades. From linewide components, such as seating for a major metro system like London’s Jubilee Line Extension, to the Terminal 5 wayfinding system at Heathrow Airport.

Of my father, Julian remembers being struck by his global aspirations and a willingness to venture beyond the limited opportunities in the UK – during the 1970’s and 80’s, more than 80% of BIB’s work was overseas. This willingness to search out international opportunities has also been one of the driving tenants of Maynard, with substantial studios in Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland as well as London. With major infrastructure projects across Australasia, the Middle East, Asia and Europe, Maynard is delivering on Julian’s initial vision, influenced by BIB’s international approach.

So many years after his passing, I wish I had taken more time to talk to my father about his experiences, both in business and as young designer in 1960’s London. I did once ask him which of his designs he was most proud of, and his answer was “that’s easy, it would have to be the business itself”.


Article – Finn Butler.

Image – Durabeam Torch (1982).