Obviously Michael Bierut and Jessica Helfand are huge deals, but I’ll admit i don’t always enjoy their podcast, The Observatory. At times it sounds like you walked in on two older, storied faculty members talking about things you can comprehend, or don’t care about. When they aren’t talking about the projects they’re involved in, every now and again they’ll talk about something pretty cool, like in this episode where they talked about all this, discussed ethics in design/tech, and it was awesome:
During my Fellowship experience over the Summer, I started to become interested in the inner workings of companies and how design companies as entities evolve, adapt or die. This is particularly typified in the leadership of a company—where a design direction comes from a few significant people or a figure-head. The thought that kept coming to me was, what happen when that leadership leaves.
There are many companies where the legacy left by individuals seems to rule the company still—especially with legacy companies like Herman Miller where George Nelson changed the DNA of the company. The work created through his contacts and work with designers are what they still rely on for the vision of their brand as the leader of the mid-century modern style, even though most of their money comes through office furniture. I couldn't tell you exactly why the subject of a company moving from one center of power to another (or completely different style of governing) interests me, but it just seems like a moment in which so much can go wrong. I think it is also because there aren't really many other industries in the world which still work in this way—fashion for instance rotate heavily on design directors to avoid the type of fall which could come from a center of gravity for the company leaving. Take for example the most obvious recent example of Steve Jobs at Apple—I assume we will back on this moment in 70 years with less emphasis, but right now his death seemed to leave Apple stalling in the world of innovation in which they led the field for so long...
This ties pretty well into another example, where companies seem to work in one of two ways—family owned and publicly owned. I'm not sure what draws me to being interested in these two situations, but the differences seem pretty strong, and maybe its because I might end up working in one of these two environments so understanding them is helpful?As a heads up, I'm not focusing on any specific company here, in fact I'm going to make very broad statements which probably don't line up to any company at all. It is also worth noting that everyone who I have met whom work for these companies love them, regardless of what type of company they are, and their engagement with the products and designers is amazing. All of these people are proud of their companies, and proud of the design they produce.
It seems, working in a family-owned business you really have to be invested in the families ideals. I guess this is true of any leadership anywhere really, but with family leadership it feels like those are based on more emotional and individual traits. From what I have seen, there is also only so much room to grow into new roles or to move into leadership positions as they seem to have less ability to grow or adapt quickly, maybe due to capital. In a publicly owned company, it seems the design is led more by a business case, rather than being led specifically by expression and experimentation.
I guess all-in-all this is just something you get to understand once you see the other side of the industry and it is well more than likely that all of these thoughts and observations are seen through a pinhole of a tiny experience within companies in general, but it is something which we never talk about at school which probably has a huge effect on our careers.
Right, so I'm going to write about something a little weird and maybe a little personal, but I feel like most people go through it and that it makes sense to talk about it mostly. There's a bunch of people out there to speak to about professional development in the design industry, and I have done, but I'll admit that I'm still pretty lost as to what I want to do or even how successful I should be aiming to be.
I've always been fairly driven to be "successful", coming from a well-off middle-class background in England, and I'll be honest I'm no different now. In an incredibly naive way, I experience the desire in myself to be some kind of big deal designer but realize that that isn't likely. Being older and a student, the more time I spend in school, and experience the design world the more I find myself doubting the need for any kind of success as I might have defined it previously. By this I mean success as far as recognition through awards, or by other people. I find myself being drawn more to wanting to ensure that I am (and my family are) happy. Unfortunately this is a hugely vacillating feeling which goes from one end of the spectrum to the other, and I have yet to really understand what it is that I want or need.
I'm sure I'm not the only student (and definitely not the only mature student) to feel this way, but it is interesting to me, as the more designers I have encountered in the real world are working in jobs that I wouldn't want to be in. I discover many graduates in UX design (which is totally great, but it seems people are only there because of the number of jobs not the burning desire) or in those totally glamorous which are totally hidden.
Although I attend a state school, UIC, I would say that the class as a whole has been fairly successful, with students and faculty winning multiple awards. Maybe this is part of it—being in a fairly competitive environment which seems to reward certain types of achievement rather than the more artsy style of self-exploration... I'll never forget this huge stark contrast which happened this summer—speaking to two people who I hold in high regard at a conference, feeling some kind of strange fire in my belly‚ I told them I would be huge, that I would be more successful than them. Insert embarrassed emoji here. Looking back on it, it seems so dreadfully pompous and arrogant, but also so way off the mark. I want to do well and enjoy what I do everyday, but do I need to aim to make those around me covet my success? I definitely think not.
So, post the Be Original Americas fellowship, I'll admit I was a bit like this...
But with nearly a month having passed, I feel totally ready to jump back into school and super excited to start using this space as a working journal of experiences, questions, and resources. I'm going to try over the next few days to continue to post in here, a mix of some things that I had as drafts from my summer experience—they'll be loose thoughts, and then some more solid things that I have been working on also.
Ok, so I note ideas down when I have them, and scribble something of what I might want to talk explore. Sometimes I come back to those and think—what the hell was I thinking when I wrote that? This is one of those, but I want to try and publish the good and the bad, and to push myself to explore those weirder thoughts too.
So the note started with this little gem (who knows what I had been reading/listening to/thinking about):
Modernism was born of reaction to Victorianism and the First World War. What do I see when I look at design today and what is it responding to?
I think the general idea revolved around the fact that, having been exposed to the interiors industry, I was trying to think more critically about the world around myself. One thing which I have noticed about the interiors world is that it pays attention a lot to trend, and this may well be true of most design studios, but I think there is definitely a stronger emphasis in interiors. Textiles for example are very close to fashion, in the sense of being very much tied to the trends in material and color which are in vogue.
One thing I wanted to take from this experience, was the ability to recognize a little more what design might be reacting to, and trying to pay more attention to social and political changes and values which might drive aesthetic and functional needs and desires. One example is the movement from economy to gaudiness which we seem to be currently in the throws of, or the resurgence of color in products and the move away from minimalist color palettes. What I really want is to not accept style for what it looks like, but instead to seek the intent in it.
Ok—it's been a couple of days since I have written on here... its the end of this super awesome experience that I have been going through, but I have needed a couple of days off from everything to be honest to prepare for heading back to real life. The good news is that I still have the itch for writing, and I'm going to try and keep this up as long as I can.
I remember asking my professor in a history of design class what the big deal with chairs was.., We were studying the history of design from the early 1800s through to the early 2000s over two semesters, and chairs were artifacts that came up so consistently I just wasn't sure if it was his biases or something that designers do. My memory got jogged about this when I visited the Schaudepot. A collection of "400 of the most iconic pieces of furniture", and 95% of them are chairs. I asked the curator who was giving us a tour, and she responded that there may well be two reasons (these echoed my professors views also), that chairs are a basic article which people desire and need, and that because of the governing principles behind them the core components of them haven't changed over time.
That was one of the most awesome things about going to the Schaudepot, seeing the evolution of chairs—somewhat mimicking the evolution of human industry and culture. As new materials and processes are discovered, they are fairly quickly represented in chairs to either drive function or cost. At the same time, as cultural tastes adapt form and composition of chairs change and even the fundamentals of design (like form vs. function) are questioned through movements like post-modernism.
I guess I'm not 100% why they are so important to us—I mean, honestly, not every chair out there is a statement or an exploration of the tenants of design—but they definitely act as an interesting way for us to view designs relationship with society and culture.
This is more of a quick diary entry than an observation, but sometimes things like this feel like they are worth saying to help keep everything in perspective. After (what will be) seven weeks "on the road" out of my city and state, I cannot wait to get back to design as I know it. I am incredibly grateful for this experience and for the opportunity to visit all of these wonderful companies, but I think it has definitely shown me that I don't want to be someone who constantly traveling unless it is for pleasure or a specific project. All I want to do right now is get my hands dirty in some good old investigative and iterative design. YUM.
In terms of productivity, with writing, sketching and ideation, I heard a good piece of advice yesterday on a podcast: create one thing a day, whether you choose to share it or not is totally up to you (this was in the context of blig writing). That seems like a decent mantra to live by, and will hopefully help me keep things in perspective, especially in those difficult times.
I wanted to spend some time thinking about how my conception of originality might have changed throughout this experience. It occurred to me a good way to do this might be to look at part of the essay I submitted to get the Be Original Americas Fellowship, and compare that to how I currently feel—just so you know, how I currently feel is in flux and a little jumbled, so it's a whole less coherent.
What is your favorite design and why? What does original design mean to you? What do you see as the future of original design?
As a favorite design, the Mezzadro Stool by the Castiglioni brothers always springs to my mind, precisely because it is so original. It evokes the moment in which it was conceived—it seems so incredibly spontaneous. This is an object that could sit comfortably amongst great furniture designs of the decades following right up until contemporary design. It is imbibed with the culture and period of experimentation and form-driven design it comes from, and represents a perfect freeze-frame of that moment in design history, but importantly, is not wedded to the style of that era. The simplicity of the form lays bare the essentials of the stool: its construction is so well considered, it is almost sculptural, and its stark materiality allows it to stand out as something purely industrial. Although originally constructed from found objects and forms—and against the contemporary trend at the time of exploring plastics and new materials—the inspiration of the composition, lightness, and joy it creates is truly inspirational, and even in its mass production form, it still retains its honesty.
With the Mezzadro Stool in mind, original design means many different things to me, but at my core I experience two things: observing original design and creating original design. Seeing another designer’s original design is incredibly exciting. It's a complex feeling because it involves so many emotions—a desire to understand and explore, and an immediate emotional connection with the designer. I cannot help but try to feel the moment of conception or understanding from the designer’s point of view; the path to originality is long, but the moment is a beautiful and bright spark. I have felt moments of originality in my design career already, and I can only explain them as some of the most exciting and rewarding moments, in which the combination of form, material and insight can produce something personal and universal at the same time.
Original design demands intense study. It requires the patience and curiosity that it takes to observe and define a problem or area of opportunity. This insight is influenced by an individual designer’s personality and experience, and is spurred by a desire to explore and solve it. Through this “solution” and exploration, the designer is able to express his or her craft and identity. Original design is the only true form of design, and it is the only form that allows designers to reveal themselves to others. It’s the craft of process and experience, but most importantly, the need to create and communicate in one’s own voice. That is why truly original design can transcend cultures and times; it’s like a great poem, in that it is able to evoke an emotional connection with everyone while being honestly representative of its author.
Instead of attempting to predict the future, I find it easier to explain what I think, feel, and hope. I think that the increased access to information provides us in the design community with the great ability (and responsibility) to continue the mission of educating each other, manufacturers, and consumers in the benefits of quality and original design. Never before have we had access to more people, and had the ability to demonstrate the value in the core ideals of a craft that relies on honesty and ingenuity. We have the tools available to truly inform everyone about their purchases and the effect that their decisions have on cultural development. I feel that consumers’ belief and trust in the notion of quality when it comes to design is shifting, and that by continuing to strongly advocate for these values and ensure they are upheld, consumers will come to hold these ideas more dearly as they are ingrained in the mainstream. The rise of crowd-funding and craftsperson e-commerce is symptomatic of communities searching for originality. I hope that as a community of humankind, everyone involved with the product lifecycle continues to react to looming environmental concerns, and that this continues to attract people to quality products designed to last and not to destroy our environment. It is my final hope that these concerns continue to drive innovation, creativity, and originality in design aimed at bettering our world.
Original design exists in many forms, it is not confined to the sculpting of a body into "new" architecture, it can be the fruit of many labors: material study, manufacturing study, process study.
This leads me to think that original design isn't dependent on shattering typologies, but instead rests on an intent or desire to investigate a relationship between a study and an outcome.
Although this places a strong emphasis on the designers relationship to the outcome, I believe that original design isn't about ego (in fact those designs which break and create typologies often eclipse brands and individuals and become a part of collective consciousness); therefore it is the job of the designer to use their ability to ensure that they edit pure expression of material and form, to create something which is accessible. These artifacts must walk the tightrope between personal (emotional) and accessible (passive).
Original design strikes a balance between extravagance and rationality, holistic nature and details, tradition and deviation.
Authenticity and originality are symbiotic, and cannot exist without each other.
I don't believe that original design has to equate with profitability. An article designed to be sold in high quantity is likely to be more palatable to a higher percentage of people. Outstanding and original design may well be so insightful that it is rejected by society.
Original design will always be original, but will not always be in fashion.
Most importantly, originality is in the eye of the beholder. This is why one of the most important things we can do is continue to discuss it, in the hope that this can lead to a heightened awareness of its financial, ethical, environmental, economical and cultural importance.
This is going to sound incredibly student-y, and incredibly 2012—but the iPhone does a really good job. It's something which is designed top-to-bottom, is hugely desirable and fashionable but most importantly, not elitist. It's a cultural icon that people are willing to pay extraordinary amounts for—but it only lasts for, say, four years. This is pretty much how the furniture industry would like to be, but they're not. Maybe it has something to do with the payment plan you can get for an iPhone? Maybe it's because it does pretty much everything for us? Just think though, if I took the $800 I spent on a phone every 2 years, within 10 years I would have a chair which would last 60 years... It's obviously a pretty difficult think to conceptualize, and to stick to, but an interesting thought nonetheless.
To put the problem in the most plane manner, you have these companies which sell fairly expensive pieces of furniture, but the furniture is incredibly high quality and will last you a long time, if not forever. Cost generally aligns itself with an idea of quality, but also does have the potential to align itself with fashion and desirability. Luxury is not a word that any of these companies want associated with their product, because luxury implies exclusivity, if you asked them they would rather you used quality.
The funny thing is, I think if you spoke to most people, they would say luxury was closer to the mark. The fact is that it is a luxury for most people to have multiple pieces (or even a single piece) of high-quality furniture. Most people don't conceive of furniture in terms of out living them in today's society, which is ruled by seasonal changes in fashion and high turnover of product. IKEA rules the world—and there isn't anything wrong with IKEA per-say, its just lower quality product which is made to be replaced every 3-5 years. I think it would be fair to say that IKEA doesn't make heritage products.
So I guess I have two questions here—how do we walk the line between high-design and high-brow, bringing people into the fold and not being exclusive, and how do we create desire for original or authentic designed products by having a conversation with a consumer and not preaching to them? Come to think of it, one more quick question: its worth considering the market—most customers of these companies are 40+, but tomorrows market are the younger people today who aspire—so how do we push the attainability of these products while keeping them desirable?
So I was listening to this podcast the other day and I started thinking about all of the experiences I have been having with companies and their interactions with customers. This is going to be another one of those evolving and changing posts which might grow as I think about this a little more.
It is undoubtedly important to push the importance of the originality of a product or a brand, but on reflection I think the semantics of the word originality might have been misconstrued the message we are trying to communicate at times. This is totally personal, but to me originality has connotations of individuality, difference and uniqueness. In this sense, its a perfect word to use to express parts of the brand and its ideals. However as I have spoken to companies and listened to them discuss their marketing around originality, they have often spoken about quality, materiality and honesty.
in this context, it's interesting to think more about the word authenticity. I think some of the stories get a little lost with consumers because we're using some of the wrong words to communicate with them. Original is definitely a more powerful and engaging word in general, but authentic is truer to the communication of reliability, credibility and accuracy. I think this is some of the problem I have had in trying to communicate a metaphor for originality—I've been trying to do it for authenticity at the same time.
I've thought about this, and even written about this here a little bit, but haven't ever really conceptualized the thing that feels so weird. Not sure what the fuck I'm saying? Well here's the revelation: lots of interior companies these days are bring the home into the office to create a friendly and comfortable environment. When will this experience reverse and lead to the work being taken into the home unwittingly?
This has been niggling me for a while, not only because I have a terrible time dealing with my own separation issues from work and responsibility. The promulgation of technology and it's place in our homes and bedrooms have led us to spend less and less time offline or detached from the workplace.
My question is, how long is it before we reject the style of home furnishings which are beginning to become synonymous with our work environments, in favor of something which lets us psychologically disconnect from work? Will mid-cenury modern become a victim of the corporate environment it is entering more and more? This might sound completely the opposite of the positive tone of the an earlier post (Listening to societal shifts is important: work/life balance), and it is—I guess I don't think this is a totally good or totally bad situation, but the focus on it at the moment is sure to lead to some sort of response in society.
Your thoughts are welcome.
Honestly—I don't like to start everything that I write with a preface, but I think when I editorialize a bit more than report something, I'm a bit less confident, so here we are with another preface. This is a piece of writing which I think is going to have to develop a little over the course of this experience, and I don't think that that's a bad thing, but it is definitely going to be half baked at this point. Any feedback or thoughts are more than welcome, so please chime in.
Let's start with a bold statement shall we? It seems like consumerism has helped the human race evolve from hunter gatherers into non-gender-specific bargain hunters. I’ll admit I’m a bargain hunter too. Our world is ruled by sales events and deals which present moments of opportunity for us to score those things we’ve always wanted—or things we’re convinced we might need at some point.
The reason I’m bringing this up, is that it seems somewhat central to the whole experience I am having. It is basically an argument between quality producers and counterfeiters—the difficulty being the “education” of the consumers to know why the cost of a piece of furniture is so high. When I have seen online commentary swirling around this debate, some consumers tend to say that the cost is “ridiculous” for a single chair.
Since the beginning of this experience I've been trying to come up with the perfect metaphor for originality within the interior product market, and why cost can be justified, it’s just really hard to find a perfect one, or even one which works in a good context. The thought process behind this was as simple as, "if someone says its ridiculous, maybe you can say: wouldn't you pay for quality for X, this is the same as X".
First off I thought: Designer bags, but that doesn't seem to work for a few reasons. Sure they're expensive, but that's really their defining feature (feel free to argue with me on this point, someone from the fashion/textiles world). They can be made of high quality materials, they can be sustainable and they can be hand made locally, but that doesn't jump out at me. The purpose of this metaphor is for people to easily draw a connection as to why this cost is actually value for money. I would define expensive bags as pure luxury (not a word any of these companies wants to associate with), pure show off, and quickly out of fashion.
How about a precision watch? That's definitely closer. All quality and engineering in it association. Long lasting and possibly even something you'd hand down to a child or grandchild. To me, this one falls down a little in the usage of the item. It's used so frequently that its hard to draw a straight line between a piece of furniture which you might use once a day and a watch which is in constant contact with you body. The other thing that irks me about using this as a metaphor is the aspirational nature of the product. Maybe it's just me, but I don't feel like people see a watch and aspire to own a specific, iconic one in the future?
You have any ideas? Maybe if I lay out some qualities which overlap between these companies:
- Heritage product—it should be able to be passed from one generation to the next.
- High cost for high quality—hand-made, often locally, by experts using high quality materials which mean the item should last for many years.
- Friendly to both the environment and humans—environmentally friendly materials and production facilities promoted.
- Long development process—developed over many years, sometimes utilizing revolutionary design and manufacturing processes.
The reason this feels important to me, is that if we had a comparison we could make between the interiors world or the furniture world, and another consumer sector which suffers from counterfeits, that could help up learn from their mistakes, connect better with consumers and even plant a seed in society, which can help to change values around the topic.
So I wouldn't just usually use this as a place to talk about feelings, or about anything outside of design as such, but to be honest I think this is something that most people experience in some way. I've been thinking about this topic a little bit, due to this awesome experience that I have been going through. I want to start by saying this, Be Original and all of the companies I have been visiting have been so wonderful and these are completely to do with my own psyche rather than how anyone else has made me feel. The reason I wanted to take some time to talk about it is because this experience has actually helped me think about it in a different way.
If you don't know what imposter syndrome is, it's that feeling that you don't deserve to be somewhere, that you need permission to do something, or that you are generally some kind of fraud. Some people feel this way worse than others, and some people have legitimate reasons, backed up by societal pressures to feel that way. Honestly, being a straight, white male from a middle-class background I have less of those legitimate reasons, I feel like, but still tend to get this feeling of not being good enough, or not being acceptable, if that makes sense. Funnily enough, I don't get this when talking to important people as such, I'm totally cool seeing someone as a person—even if they are a CEO or someone I've wanted to meet for a while. I do, on the other hand, feel this really heavily when I step into a showroom.
Maybe it's being surrounded by items which are worth thousands of dollars, maybe its more of a personal ecconomic thing—I know i don't have the money to afford pretty much anything that someone might be selling in that environment. In this context, this experience has been amazing because It's actually allowed me to be more confident. Walking into a showroom and legitimately having a reason to be there and for the owner or someone super important within the company to spend 1-2 hours talking with you is a huge deal. I honestly feel that now, I would feel way more empowered in that environment. That I could walk into a showroom and be honest with someone to say, "look its a near impossibility you'll sell me anything today but I might buy something in the future. Tell me why the first awesome, original and quality product I buy when I become an adult, should be yours. If you have someone who might actually buy from you, or you're super busy right now feel free to blow me off, but if not, I'd love to have a chat with you and learn about the stuff in here." Who knows how they would respond (I have visions of being guided out onto the street with a broom), but I have to be pretty thankful that this experience has made me able to frame that. Not everyone who works at these places is a designer, but most will have a pretty solid interest in something around it and every one that I have met have been excited to talk about their brand, company history and products. Also, they're people—get into a good conversation with them and they'll feel totally cool standing around to chat.
I also experienced this in a totally different context, when I had the good fortune to work on an Emeco chair (specifically grinding and sanding) recently. All of the workers in the workshop were totally cool working on these hugely iconic and famous pieces, and I couldn't help thinking that it was strange. Yes I'm a student, but I'm studying industrial design—jumping on to something like that should feel cool and somewhat natural. Instead I felt worried I would fuck up all these peoples work and destroy a perfectly good chair. It was a strange mix of the jitters, which seems somewhat understandable, and reluctance. I actually loved it, and everyone was super encouraging whilst it was happening, but I could help but notice that feeling and reflect on it later. I guess the thing that I want to emphasize that I got from my time at Emeco is that, that the jitters feeling is totally about experience—the more you have, the less you'll feel it. More importantly though, attention to detail and craft: treat everything you make like it sells for $600. Frame your school projects like this, and your attention to detail and craft should go through the roof. When I thought of this, I wondered why this isn't something I have been taught. If design is all about the person interacting or using what ever it is you made, (not looking at it from a dollar-value perspective) every thing you create should value commanding their attention or interaction. It sounds stupid, but if people are going to be incredibly respectful using and touching your "thing", make it worth that respect.
Ok. Mind-vomit over. I don't know that it ended up really dealing with the imposter syndrome thing, but I know I got some interesting things out of it for me and hopefully they can help others too. If you actually want to read more, this article from the New York TImes is very funny and interesting.
Originally this was a writing which I produced while working on an interaction project at school. Although the piece wasn’t used in anyway within the “presentation” of the project, it helped frame the scope and ethos of what we (myself and my partner Jamie) were looking to do. I’ll warn you, I do go off the rails a little bit in there (I had been reading some Dunne and Raby / Sudjic, and fancied myself quite intelligent), but it was enjoyable to critique the profession a little and to splurge some thoughts onto the page.
We consider that by changing small things, big things will follow. The simple act of opening a door for someone else, creates an interaction between the space (doorway), object (door) and the individuals. The significance contained within the words ‘thank you,’ or even a short smile of thanks, shared between the two people is an act which can facilitate greater improvements throughout society. Although these acts may be considered as the general principal of politeness, it is better conceptualized as empathy for the purpose of analysis. Any one who is better able to consider themselves in the position of another, is more willing to act in a manner they would wish other to act towards them. Then the question becomes not “how can we make people more polite to one-another?” A question unsolvable in its attempt to control the actions of people, but rather “how can we promote empathy through our surroundings, interactions, and environments?”
One of the first lessons a student learns is to call a concept a ‘product’ when talking to peers, professors and clients. This is known to allow a concept to be taken more seriously as a concrete conceptualization of an idea. This is seen as somewhat the norm, and totally accepted, but—as designers—when we look at the choice of words with our implicit knowledge of emotion and engagement, what do we see? The word product instantaneously puts upon us, the need to sell, to gratify and be led by design language which produces the most marketable, most sellable item. It imbibes our ideas and ideals with the juxtaposition at the core of the profession, with which it has yet to fully deal with. To create, or to produce? If we were to take things which we create and conceptualize them under the name of causes, or origins, informative objects which communicate societies attitudes towards each other and itself, perhaps we would be more selective with how we choose to form, color and produce these objects.
Next we must take the conceptualization of the people who interact with these objects. We have learned to call them users, although consumers is used (but often, ironically, frowned upon). The word “users” has a sound basis as a model for naming this group, allowing us to concentrate our efforts and method of design on those who will use the object. It allows us to think ergonomically, aesthetically, and of functionally to an extent, but it does not allow us to think of them as individuals. We divorce the nature of humans and ourselves from our designs by looking at targets of people, a selectively aggressive word. Let us instead refer to our users as beings, or personalities—words evoking imagery of one individual among many, with a network of relationships and emotions.
It makes sense to a degree, the age of the modern designer came with the industrialization of the world, and the two go hand in hand. When we look at other professions who create items (for example artists or architects—both professions from which ours stems, but both of which are extraordinarily older and more academically mature than our own). They tend less to define their works purely by the model of its marketability, but rather by the place it takes in context to the rest of the world, or by its value as an item which causes a dialogue. The history of these professions has not only led to a maturing discourse and critique of the works produced, but also to a (mostly) shared set of ethics and morality. For a second, let us compare two professions, design and medicine. The ethics and morals which form the base of the medical field, such as the hippocratic oath, are central to the professions understanding of itself and the way the outside world understands it.
This ethical protection is something which no medical professional can or should ever break, and although as our society evolves, new ethical debates are raised and change how we understand this relationship, it is clear they give the field a framework within which to protect itself from outside interference, and a clear way for it to place itself in perspective within society. Although these may not be always be agreed upon across the board, they set a standard, and allow us to view the medical field in context as unpartisan life-savers.
As designers we are taught our special place in the world is to be the bridge between other professions, and to protect the user. Caught where we are now, between delivering a product to a client, and following our individual ideals…What code of ethics are there, what morals? We as a profession have none, no guiding moral-compass we all adhere to. And so although the world looks at us as the makers and builders of the objects which surround them, they also look to us as the idea generators for all the objects which are destroying our Earth, and which will stop working after a year to improve profits. We may not be the manufacturers, but we are the foundations of the industry and without a framework of ethics to protect ourselves from capitalism, how can we hope to know how we fit in society. How can we expect to improve the world?
It is hard to consider humans relationship with technology. Although we exist and stare around ourselves at the world, we find it hard to truly see time passing by. Only through situational experiences, such as noticing the changing seasons, or the number of inches a young relation has grown since we last saw them. Without the minutia of the everyday to orientate ourselves we are truly lost to understand time, civilization and our place within it. The bombardment of advancements we are faced with every day, in nearly every field, makes most peoples head spin—the miniaturization, digitalization, device-ication, and localization of objects, interactions and services has led many of us to look and act inwardly. This may be an immemorial human condition as society has advanced, or it may be intensified due to the speed of modern advancement and globalization.
Take the first example mentioned here, the doorway. Place an automatic opening door in this situation instead and everyone who now uses this space is robbed of an experience, the engagement with the door, the space, the moment it takes to open the door and look around at the world, the person who has the door held open for them as they walk through. All of these engagements are trampled and become a completely unimportant moment. A doorway is an entrance into a space designed for effect, or an exit out into the world on which we try to impose design, but which cannot be fully defined by our own desires.
The loss of these moments through the use of technology can truly effect society. Once we are given these advancements which improve aspects of our lives, we fully accept them without reflection on the simple truth of physics. Every action we employ upon the world and each other has an equal and opposite reaction. For all that we gain with the further impression of technology on our society, we lose the equal amount of something else. We would not argue to attempt to remove technology from the world, nor to slow its advancement, but rather ask that its use is considered on implementation so that the negative response to it can be taken into account, and acted upon. Technology is neither enemy nor ally. It should not be an end goal of our endeavors as designers, but a tool which can be used to nurture and rebalance other points above.
Obsolescence fuels strife (in society, the environment, in design, and relationships).
With the advancements in technology leading to changes in scale, quality and power of objects, not to mention the specialization, our number of owned objects increases ever further. As more features are discovered and needed by people to track their lives, our ecological footprint due to technology is ever widening and deepening. This obsolescence spreads out across our whole social ecology, from our individual relationships, to international and even the future of the species. The fierce competition which has overtaken our society to be the first to have, the only to have, the want to mark ones wealth through those symbols which we create. The more fierce the desire, the better job we have done. Someone should not fiercely desire an object to prove their worth to the world, they should fall in love with it and want it to cherish. The fierceness of this feeling is akin to anger and promotes negative emotions, jealousy, hate, fear. Should we be able to create in a positive manner we should hope to endow our objects with love.
Take the most obvious example—the diminishing raw materials needed to produce technological gadgets. Although millions of cellphones, tablets, and laptops are created yearly, the materials we have available to produce them are finite. As the amount of materials we have to produce them decreases or becoming impossible to procure, how will we adapt? Will we shift away from the current capitalist trend to design obsolescence, or will we simply increase the prices and to make up for the units which can no longer be produced? When we look at a product, does it truly seem smarter, more useful, more empathetic to encourage someone to throw a product away because it cannot be updated?
This writing is not advocating for a return to functionalist minimalism, where one design suits all, but rather is petitioning for advancement in design of experiential design. Perhaps looking at how we can create an experience for a personality through their interaction with a cause we produce, we can rethink how we approach the world around us. Consider Autoprogettazione (Mari) and the production of furniture which promotes the purchaser to construct it (beyond the lesser ikea ‘pop and twist’ construction), allowing an experiential connection to the finished object and its simple form. Now consider the maker movement—a movement which is underpinned by peoples want to learn, to build and to take ownership (whist usually committing to an open-source network of ownership).
If you managed to make it this far, I applaud you. This is where the original left off, with the topics Senses and Emotions, Relationships, Reflection and the Environment and the Infinite vs the Finite left to write—and maybe I'll sit down and do those soon for some fun.
I’m one of those people that will literally work myself to death. I will do things to the detriment of my health if I think that either it will improve a project or it will benefit my work in some way. I have no real handle on my work/life balance, and its something that I have been struggling with for a little while—I’m getting there, but I’m not there yet.
I bring this up as I think its pretty easy to agree that the nature of work and its relationship with employees has completely changed with the evolution of mobile technology. Our inability to switch off or tune out has become a situation that many of us have trouble dealing with. Some people use it as an excuse to throw everything into work, and for others its turns them away from environments which promote the practice.
One of the huge things that struck me this week was the design communities insight into this huge cultural problem and use of it—although this “use” might sound nefarious, I think these attempts are more than just marketing or cold hearted capitalization. The opportunity to speak with certain companies like Herman Miller and Artemide, who are responding to this was fantastic. Herman Miller presents itself as a service able to help produce the “Living Office” a space somewhere between home and work, where the comfort of people and their happiness inevitably leads to a more productive and efficient workforce. Artemide spoke similarly about lighting conditions, ensuring that “Human Light” was present, which enabled people to live healthy lives.
So both of those do sound like marketing buzz terms, crafted to catch the eye of a well meaning office manager looking to create the best environment to have their colleagues work in, I think there is a little more to it than that. Looking at it from the positive end of the spectrum, I hope that these small nods to the user in those environments allow thoughts on employee welfare and health to permeate into the culture of the office.
I think in school we tend to narrow the scope of our perspective on the world, and so this insight into framing the problems that people face around a larger societal shift was a huge eye-opener. Hopefully I’ll be able to take this back with me and apply it to projects in the future, and also use it on my journey to creating a better balance for me, my family and my workplace.
Look, I'll be honest—I've thought about buying cheap before, that's why today's conversation at the Be Original Americas HQ was so interesting. As a student, I know that knock-offs effect the industry. It's pretty easy to point to some of the reasons why this is a bad thing—the designer doesn't get the money they should, or the object might not be designed or manufactured in the exact manner.
Here's the thing: looking at these a little closer there are a HUGE number of reasons why this is a bad thing. Here's a small selection to muse on: Do you like your purchases to be poison free? Counterfeit metal furniture has been found to contain lead and mercury... Do you like your purchases to be environmentally friendly or responsibly sourced? Counterfeit companies focus on the bottom line—material, quality and kindness to humans and the environment aren't their focus... Do you like your purchases to last? Let's be real, its cheap for a reason, the level of effort put into copying the aesthetics of a counterfeit are not applied to the manufacturing quality and processes. Take this as an example...
Anyone who has spent time talking with a professional designer, whether an independent practice, small or large firm knows the amount of time that goes into designing something. From conception, iteration, testing, redesign—the cost of these items repays those costs as well as tooling, manufacturing and responsibility. Few huge companies (let alone small firms) have the time or money to litigate compulsive counterfeiters, and so the only thing we can do to support the designers and principles they stand for is to through the power we have as consumers—this means refusing to buy counterfeits, as much as purchasing originals. At the end of the day, originality isn't just about honesty, its about promoting creativity and freedom for designers and producers by showing them we value these principles.
The knock-off culture that we live in today means we don't respect these ideas quite so much, we're all more interested in having stuff, but not having to pay for it—because only idiots do that. I'm not here to preach, I'm here to learn, and I just hope I can throw some of that up on here and help someone else too.