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Denby Project


Twenty two art and design students were challenged to produce alternative vase concepts for Denby - by transforming everyday products into ceramic objects for floral display.

A visit to the famous Denby factory in Derbyshire was arranged to witness how this highly successful British company manufactures its extensive range of tableware and decorative glazed products. The students were then shown around the design department to better understand how ideas are turned into reality. A trip to Stoke-on-Trent’s Potteries Museum and Art Gallery also helped put the region’s incredible ceramic industrial heritage into perspective.

Once back on campus the students, who had never designed for ceramic production before, set to work making individual plaster moulds to produce slip-cast ceramic copies of their chosen host products. Being free to choose any (non ceramic) product they thought appropriate, everything from footballs to hot water bottles, movie cameras to candlesticks and handbags to oil cans were selected for the challenge.

Once cast, the design brief permitted elements to be removed in consideration of how flowers might best be displayed. Several slip castings were subsequently made and then fired in BIAD’s ceramic workshops before they were taken back to the factory to have their famous ‘Denby Blue’ glaze applied. Made to a secret recipe, Denby have been glazing their stoneware various shades of blue since the 1920’s – with famous names such as ‘Electric’, ‘Orient’ and ‘Imperial’ blues.

After firing at the factory and being reviewed by Denby’s design team the vases were returned back to the students in Birmingham.

The Client

Denby have been making pottery for over 200 years since 1806. Early in its history the company became known for its richly coloured glazes which were to become Denby's trade mark. In the 1930's 'Electric Blue' (shiny blue) and 'Orient ware' (matt blue/brown) became classic giftware ranges and today are popular with collectors. 

The 1970s brought a revolution in 'oven-to-tableware'. Denby's striking designs and practicality alleviated the need for separate cooking dishes and more decorative plates for serving. Denby pottery could withstand oven temperatures and by the 1980's 'casual dining' became more popular. Ranges such as Imperial Blue and Regency Green were able to fit into both formal entertaining and family gatherings.

Graham Powell (MA Product Design Course Director) really pushed us to come from a different point of view and so we put together a project which I think has had some fantastic benefits...It’s so nice to see something fresh and different.

Richard Eaton, Design Director, Denby


Exhibitions at both BIAD and Denby’s visitor centre were brought together and curated by students to show the concepts to a much wider audience to gain their reaction and feedback.

Along with comprehensive descriptions of their chosen design process, the proposals included packaging solutions and supporting 'Point of Sale' imagery. Each vase also was developed with its own product narrative depicting a specific context or occasion, which has been communicated through both text and creative photomontage imagery.

A condensed version of each narrative, of less than 140 characters was also generated to allow for social media friendly versions as a ‘viral marketing ‘campaign’ using Twitter.

Denby awarded prizes to their favourite three designers:

  • Joint first prizes: Moritz Amelung (oil can) & Elena Matyas (mincer)
  • Jia-qi Zhou (hot water bottle)
  • Chang Sung-Ching (coffee cups)


  • Product Innovation.
  • Fresh perspectives of design students working with the Denby range.
  • Student experience working with real design conditions.