Ralph Selby obituary

·2-min read

Ralph Selby, who has died aged 84 of Alzheimer’s, was an artist, three-dimensional designer and problem solver.

In 1978 he established Ralph Selby and Associates, a design consultancy based at Providence Mill in Wirksworth, Derbyshire. The firm worked in conjunction with leading graphic design companies such as Pentagram and for clients including British Rail, Rover, Boots, Bannenberg yachts and Halfords. His great skill was solving problems in the design and production of physical objects, ranging in scale from a door handle to a retail store.

Ralph was born in Stockport, one of three children of Hubert, a civil servant, and Bertha (nee Roe), a shorthand teacher. After Stockport grammar school he studied fine art at Newcastle University and then taught fine art at Harrogate College of Art and Technology, before becoming head of foundation art studies at Derby College of Art and Technology, a position he held for 14 years. At Derby he met Lu Jeffery and they married in 1978.

I first encountered Ralph in 1988 when I was a young design graduate and Ralph employed me as design and workshop assistant in his consultancy. He was fascinated by anything new and innovative, and working with him was always interesting. He seemed to choose jobs based not on financial gain but on satisfying his passion to learn about new tools or techniques.

What followed was 20 years of working together on projects of all types, with the common theme of three-dimensional design, which in Ralph’s world was an unusual, beautiful blend of art and engineering. I spent happy years trying to bring to life the ideas that were happening in his head.

Many times we would present work to clients with paper still warm out of the printer or me still trying to dry paint on a model or prototype while Ralph was making coffee for a client. This was not because he took a rushed, last-minute approach, but because he wanted to use every moment possible to ensure he was producing the very best work. I could always tell when Ralph was in full-flight work mode from the sound of Renaissance choir music or a Bach cello concerto coming down the stairwell at full volume.

Ralph happily immersed himself in the latest technology of 3D computer modelling. Not many people buy the latest industrial-scale CNC machining equipment to “play with” but Ralph did. He continued to run the business until 2010, when he was forced to give up work after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Ralph is survived by Lu and by his sister, Julie. His brother, John, predeceased him.