From trend to tile: an insider’s guide to the creation of new tile designs

Many of the tiles you see adorning the walls of luxury hotels, trendy restaurants or premium show homes are often the musings of several creative minds: a talented team of designers whose job it is to identify the latest trends and directions influencing the industry and translate them into commercially successful tile collections that suit a wide variety of specification projects.

One creative mind leading the design direction at British Ceramic Tile is Claire O’Brien.  Head of Design, Claire, is responsible for driving forward the design of the company’s diverse product portfolio and has been instrumental in positioning flair and innovation at the heart of the business.  Drawing inspiration from the world of fashion, architecture and interiors, Claire’s passion and enthusiasm for pushing the boundaries of design has resulted in tiles becoming a statement; a surface covering with maximum impact transforming luxury developments, leisure facilities and hotels across the UK.

Raising the bar for design
Within the commercial market, porcelain is the material of choice when it comes to floors but increasingly designers are looking to ceramic wall tiles to bring the wow factor to their projects.  Adding value through design, British Ceramic Tile specialises in creating ceramic tile collections that embrace the latest trends in pattern, texture and colour, effortlessly blending with the porcelain and glass ranges to offer the specification market a full package from start to finish.

The company’s commitment to awe-inspiring design extends to its collaborations with a number of Britain’s most recognised brands, with iconic design names including the V&A, Studio Conran, Laura Ashley and Ted Baker all contributing to British Ceramic Tile’s design-led approach.

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The beginning of the journey
Designed and made here in the UK, these ceramic tiles begin their journey in British Ceramic Tile’s marketing and design department, before moving their way into development and production.  The journey is a road well travelled seeing as the company has been manufacturing for over 100 years, but what is essential is that design and innovation remain central to the tile’s creation.

“Design is the heart and soul of British Ceramic Tile, with the latest trends and influences from the fashion and lifestyle industries shaping the direction of each collection,” explains Claire.  “It’s our mission to excite and thrill our customers, and create aspirational tile collections that raise the bar for design through cutting edge production techniques.”

“Our highly experienced in-house design team is always one step ahead, working 18 months in advance to identify the trends and translate them effortlessly across our market-leading tile portfolio.  The fact that we have an experienced design team in-house means we are incredibly well placed to predict the styles set to define the year ahead, ensuring our ranges meet market demand.”

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Defining the trends
Every January, Claire and the company outline the key looks for the year, predicting the colours, patterns and surface textures that are set to turn heads in interior design and become the key focus for newly developed ranges.  Packed full of design notes and trend predictions, British Ceramic Tile’s Trend Edit brochure is all about inspiration and advice, helping to support and guide customers with their tile selection.

“September to November is an exciting time for the design team and I,” Claire continues.  “It is three months where my focus is dedicated to predicting the trends for the year to come.  As Head of Design, not only do I need to be one step ahead of the trends, I need to live and breathe them.”

“I visit leading national and international design exhibitions, such as Decorex and Cersaie, attend events and workshops with fellow interior designers and read the latest magazines to see what colours, textures and materials will feature in interior design next year.  Around 10 key trends are identified, and brought to life through our Trend Edit, which is where the journey of many of our ceramic tile collections begin.”

For 2017 we can expect to see an extension of existing trends with a softer, more feminine approach, says Claire. “The feeling is more natural, increasingly tactile. Gone are the harsh edges and stark contrasts.  Instead design trends are veering towards the more romantic and textural.  Modern neutrals, such as greige and blush, provide hushed, gentle base tones that marry effortlessly with the ever familiar monotones, whilst bolder accents of blue and green add a much missed vibrancy.”

“Metals are aged and distressed, not brash, offering inherent beauty.  Texture is in abundance with hessian, weaves and natural wood, all combining to deliver that comforting, harmonious feel.  Art Deco is a big trend, one that exudes sheer glamour and opulence, while at the other end of the spectrum we’ll see modern, minimal designs where Japanese influences meet Scandinavian culture.”

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From brief to production line
Formulating the trends into a working design is the next stage for the team at British Ceramic Tile and is where the in-house marketing, development and design team comes together to form the creative brief.  Creative briefs are at the heart of bringing a new tile range to market.  They give clear direction as to the shape, size, colour and texture of the tile with marketing and sales ensuring the tile meets the needs of the customer.

Designs are produced in CAD by one of British Ceramic Tile’s designers and then run in production to create a living sample.  Sometimes the initial sample is successful first time around, while other designs need a number of iterations to hit the brief.

A product manager is then assigned to bring the tile collection to fruition.  With product and marketing now involved, the business can align the design to the customer developing appropriate size formats, materials and volumes to make sure it is viable from a commercial perspective before being put into production.

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Ensuring quality and innovation
Using the finest quality raw materials, modern production techniques and a highly skilled workforce, British Ceramic Tile seeks to set new standards in tile design and manufacture, constantly looking to innovate and push the boundaries of the industry.  Multi-million pound investment in the factory and new HD printing technology over the last three years has propelled tiles forward into the 21st century with almost any design now possible on a ceramic tile.  This advanced production capability, combined with high quality raw materials sourced locally within a 40-mile radius and a design-led approach, keeps the company’s product portfolio at the cutting-edge.

Claire explains: “Our state of the art technology and production facilities ensures that many of our design ideas become a reality.  Without our highly skilled technicians and production team many of the new collections introduced as a result of the latest trends would not be possible.  For example, our new 3D HD printing technology can create stunning waves and subtle structures combined with stone-effects, while our recently launched HD Ultra technology offers four times the resolution of the existing HD range, with even the smallest of details captured and recreated on a tile.”

Once the living sample has been refined and signed off, the tile will be sent to the production line, where it will take four to five hours to create.  The tile biscuits, as they are known, will go through a range of different processes passing through presses and glaze lines, before being stored in specially designed silos to homogenise water content and drying in double channel kilns at 1,070oC for extra strength and durability.  They will then be checked twice as part of quality control and stored at British Ceramic Tile’s UK distribution facility.

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A bespoke approach
But not all tiles start their journey in the same way, as Claire makes clear. “We aim to offer more than just a tile.  Our product portfolio is supplemented by a dedicated specification team, whose role it is to support customers through every project. Assigned at the start of each project, our sales team works closely with design to provide tailor made solutions to suit the needs of our specification customers.”

“We offer maximum flexibility when it comes to bespoke solutions with our specification team able to fulfil even the most unique requirement thanks to our in house capabilities.  If we can’t find a tile from our collection to meet the project brief, we’ll go back to the start of the journey, creating new ceramic tiles from scratch – time and budget permitting.  We also work closely with our supplier base to ensure we source porcelain floor tiles that complement our ceramic offer so that our customers can get all their wall and floor tile solutions in one place.”

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Where they began
HD Slate
Rustic by design, British Ceramic Tile’s HD Slate collection brings a strong, textural quality to walls, seamlessly recreating a rustic slate-effect.  Effortlessly fusing together the look of real slate on a ceramic tile, the HD Slate collection was designed to tap into the trend for urban luxe.

Easy to install, hard-wearing and waterproof, HD Slate requires no special sealing or maintenance unlike natural stone, making it a practical addition to any design project.  Created to add a whole new dimension to walls, the split-face mosaic can be used in wet areas such as the bathroom, bringing a rugged, raw look to an interior design scheme. Av ailable in four neutral shades of oyster, beige, grey and black, the range offers a plain slate-effect wall tile in a 250 by 500mm size, together with a split-face mosaic effect décor in 250 by 500mm.

“With industrial chic key for 2015, we looked to create a number of new tile collections that would tap into the look for rugged surface texture.  Mood boards were delivered by members of the design team, looking at how we could utilise our cutting-edge HD printing machines to create a tile that would offer the same look as slate with the advantages of a ceramic tile.  It was essential that the surface structure had a random look and feel like natural stone.”

“Our in-house design team began on the artwork for the structure.  Once we were happy with the design of the split-face structure, we added a slate-effect print, experimenting with colourways; and grey stood out as the real product hero.  The trialling of the structure was essential to the success of the project with production using several different presses to find the right split-face design.  The range was initially set up as a 300 by 600mm tile, before marketing and sales decided on a more commercial 250 by 500mm size.  The range has been a strong seller for the business as it’s very much on trend and incredibly versatile suiting a range of specification projects.”

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HD accolade
Borne out of the sensational structures trend identified in 2015, HD Accolade features a soothing, organic colour palette.  Taking inspiration from natural sandstone, the collection offers an elegant wave-like design and a raised surface with a matt finish for a natural approach to restorative interiors.  Designed using the latest in HD 3D technology, both the Accolade wave-effect tile and coordinating Riven tile come in oak or grey in a 300 by 500mm size.

“2015 saw the start of a tactile approach to interiors.  Natural surfaces and subtle textures were rising in popularity bringing with them a softer, more organic approach to surface designs.  Design began experimenting with a soft, gentle wave-like structure that would work well with a print.  Not all natural stone-effects suit structured surfaces, but sandstone stood out as the perfect partner.  We scanned in real sandstone to capture the finest of details and recreated it using our 3D HD printer.  The team worked closely with development to determine the finished tile, tweaking the design to add shading and depth to the wave-effect.  Again size was all important with marketing finally selecting a large format 300 by 500mm size.”

British Ceramic Tile is the UKs leading ceramic and glass tile manufacturer.  From its three sites in West Yorkshire, London and Devon, the company produces a design-led, market-leading portfolio of wall and floor tiles, supplying to housebuilders and specifiers, as well as exporting overseas.

Visit www.britishceramictile.com specification for further information.