Limahl Asmall graduated from London Met in 2010 with a Furniture Design MA. His furniture has been featured in international exhibitions and he won Young Furniture Designer of the Year 2009 – though recently, he’s swapped the world of wood for food. He’s more likely to be seen cooking on a BBC food show or featured in the media as a chef.
Limahl was inspired by his own student money-saving experiences and the needs of increasing numbers of people to cook on a limited budget to change career direction, which led to his website, Tiny Budget Cooking, his award-winning cookbooks, and most recently, a new health app, IBS Coach.
Can you tell us a bit about your background generally and what led you to London Met?
I was born in London and grew up in the Sussex countryside. I have a bachelor’s degree in furniture design and making, and then went on to achieve a master’s degree at London Met. I was drawn to the facilities and history of the workshop which used to be the London College of Furniture.
What were the art and design facilities like at London Met?
I had access to all sorts of equipment. One month I would be milling wood, the next I would be laser cutting, using spray booths or computer modelling for 3D printing. The facilities were world class.
Did you gain any industrial experience while on the course?
We had a live project with a brief set by a large, well-known company. It was a good way to understand how business operates, and to get feedback from designs. The biggest challenge was teaching myself how to 3D print a model: I had come from a furniture making background and was learning digital design.
The most rewarding part of the master’s was the catch-up sessions with my tutor Chris Emmett. We were a good fit and he ensured I was challenged and engaged in the course.
What was the highlight of your course?
Meeting and learning from so many interesting and creative people. Almost 10 years later it is great to see the direction my classmates’ careers have taken. We meet up several times a year and they have given feedback on my projects throughout my career.
Did anything surprise you about your course or London Met?
I was surprised at the breadth of knowledge we were exposed to. I remember one of the tutors explaining to me that by expanding and pushing my design boundaries I would be able to draw from a deep reservoir of knowledge in my professional career. The London Met design degree was about digging a deeper reservoir and filling it up with as much knowledge, skills and creativity as possible.
Have you found that there are parallels between creating furniture, cooking and creating a health app?
Yes definitely, when we’re taught design, what we’re taught is a way of thinking which can be used to solve many problems; from how a piece of furniture should look and function, to how a product or app could minimise the barriers to cooking or motivate someone to achieve a health goal. This is called design thinking and is taught at good design schools and used by innovators in all sorts of businesses and industries, including Apple, Google and others.
At its heart, design thinking focuses on people, ie the users of the product or service. We’re taught to explore and learn about the person’s problems and needs, to understand their perspective, and then to challenge assumptions and develop innovative solutions that can be trialed and tested, and then discarded or iterated. It’s a kind of dance between exploratory creativity and science. I use this whenever I need to create a new product or feature.
What element do you find most satisfying about your career right now?
We’re working to solve some of the biggest health problems facing the UK and the developed west. Tiny Budget Cooking aimed to help the 13 million people in the UK who were struggling financially and living near the poverty line. My current company, IBS Coach, is addressing a large health problem that affects 800 million people worldwide, and one in seven people in the UK. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a lifelong condition that is severely underfunded. There is a one-year waitlist to see a specialist NHS dietitian, and people are not receiving the treatment they need to reduce or eliminate their symptoms.
It is exciting to be part of the digital revolution of health, creating an innovative health app that combines dietary coaching, motivation and psychology for health outcomes. We’re at a point where digital health could meet the needs of millions of people more affordably and effectively than the old model of care.
If you could choose one word to describe your experience at our School of Art, Architecture and Design, what would it be?
What’s next in your career? How do you think your time at London Met is helping you achieve this?
I’m currently working with a great team of international designers, developers and dietitians on IBS Coach. Part of my job is to understand what people suffering from IBS would like in a treatment programme, and then translate their desires and unmet needs into product features that are supported by clinical evidence.
Over the years, my London Met tutor Chris Emmett (Head of Design at the School of Art, Architecture and Design) has supported me by helping make academic connections with course leaders and tutors in the University who might be able to support my projects. The library has also been a great resource post-degree.
Do you have any tips for graduating students and how they can make a success of their lives?
Whatever you decide to do, give it your best and keep on learning from the experience.
Photo by Charlotte Tolhurst