I was reminded of this video which, shot in 2000, is strangely prescient of the times we live in now. The beauty of Hussein Chalayan‘s work never ends it must be said but I have a soft spot for this collection.
“Chalayan’s Afterwords Collection was inspired by the story of refugees, having to leave home in times of trouble. The transformation of furniture into dresses, carrying cases, and a skirt suggests the necessity of leaving one’s home in a hurry with nothing but the clothes on one’s back. ”
I wish more product designers and hackers dabbled with fashion in an intelligent way, rather than interpreting the idea of future clothing as touch screen gloves.
I went to see New Designers last week in London, a yearly pilgrimage. I went to product design school at the beginning of the century and I was really hoping that in a digital age, things would feel, well, modern. They didn’t really. If you’ve never been, ND is a fair for product design graduates in the Design Business Centre in Islington. A real meat market for design talent, they are represented by their schools, still hang posters, and show non-functional prototypes. Furthermore, they are mostly just excited to be in London and so bored with their thesis work they don’t hang out next to their projects. A strange environment to visit to say the least when I’ve been hanging out and working in industry for a while and was actually interested in hiring young talent for Good Night Lamp. I couldn’t help but wonder where these graduates will end up after they’ve taken their summer holiday and realise there’s not a lot of work out there.
If we could imagine a product design undergraduate program that was concerned about giving graduates a fighting chance out there in 2012 and involving them in the growing field of #iot , this is what it might look like:
- An introduction to Social Media / WordPress / portfolio design in Year 1. ND was full of graduates with last minute business cards with Facebook links and phone numbers but no digital portfolios. This isn’t the 90s.
- An introduction to electronics / Arduino / hacking in Year 2 so that functional prototypes become part of the language of presenting ideas.
- An introduction to video prototyping in Year 1. Video is the medium of choice for complex interactions between products and people. Just look at BERG‘s work.
- A constant interaction with industry through workshops / lectures / etc. in small groups. Making sure the time spent together always starts with students presenting their latest project (1mn each) or thinking so the guest lecturer can understand what they are interested in. Don’t make it compulsory but reward engagement. There’s nothing worse than being forced to meet people you’re not interested in as a student but it’s good to be reminded that there is a world beyond the school walls. Something someone told me is “the best time to look for a job is when you have one” and students need to get that.
- Get students to put their thesis work on Kickstarter and grade them on how well they do. This is a brilliant test of whether an idea has legs and on graduation, they will get the money to make it happen. That’s how you’ll get more entrepreneurs out there.
- Give them strong business support so they leave with a Linkedin profile, a good idea of the studios they want to work with, or organise meetings with future mentors who can help them after they leave.
- Make it a group of 15. None of this 100 students a year thing. There isn’t enough work. If you want it, you have to fight for it. And your peers become the first people you work with, help, collaborate with. I graduated with 72 other people and only keep in touch with about 3, 2 of whom have retrained away from design because there was no work.
- Get them to work on a project with computer science or engineering students. Cross-departmental projects hardly happen but they should. That’s how industry works.
As part of RIG, I worked closely with Phil, Andy and Amanda (an absolute pleasure, you should hire them, seriously) to launch FRSTEE a few weeks ago. The most interesting thing about this project for me was the opportunity to work with rapid prototyping in a way that made economic sense. To build a micro-business in the heart of the Silicon Roundabout. That’s what Tech City is about no? I was told in 2000, while at my BA, that those technologies were the future of manufacturing. 11 years later, that’s still the message, but I’d like to think our little contribution gets us closer to that objective. Realistically though, rapid prototyping is still incredibly expensive when you want something that is beautiful, of variable size and made quickly. Qualities that DIY solutions don’t cope well with so far. I’m sure that’s only a matter of time mind you.
The design of businesses and the business of design
Building businesses is the kind of design work I find myself doing. It is a design activity in a strange way and my design background along with the experience of running Tinker has been invaluable. The most important skills I think I’ve developed are predicting future problems and handling money. 2 things I wish they would teach in design school to make young people a little more ready for industry. So here are some quick things I learnt in helping build FRSTEE.
Things you need to remember when building a micro-business
1. You need someone to do the boring work
There’s a ton of boring work in a business. In this one, it’s about collecting the orders once they’ve been rapid prototyped (round the corner on Curtain Road at Inition), checking them, tying a festive piece of string through them, looking at orders, putting the right one in bubble wrap, in a box, printing out the address and stamp (using online stamps by Royal Mail) on a label and finally walking over to the post office to send them. Because each piece is unique, that pretty much prevents us from using smart fulfilment solutions like Amazon. All of this incredibly tedious work is done by Amanda. She is a star.
2. You need to worry about the smallest numbers.
Something to remember is that all of this costs money. Amanda’s time, packaging, stamps, boxes, bubble wrap, tape. Stuff you have to buy and cost out for every package you send out to make sure you’re still making some money somewhere down the line. Tricky when you can’t drive the cost of rapid prototyping much lower than it is, again because of how unique each is. Tricky also because charging too much for a bespoke product starts to feel like luxury and in these economically challenging times, that’s not a good idea. A glass ceiling in a way.
3. Never drop the ball
Not unlike launching a web service, you have to constantly be in touch with people. In our case that means our suppliers and customers. I live in a constant flow of emails, ordering supplies and keeping on top of everything. We send out orders every week so far and that feels good, a rhythm is setting in even if it’s a seasonal product.
4. Always work with awesome people who understand technology
Phil implemented a design that was initiated by Ben. He also built the connection between Andy’s ability to script designs in 3D and Paypal. Andy made the rendering easy and connecting it to Inition a breeze. Magic as far as I’m concerned. When you’re working with people who just understand the technologies they are working with and are willing to learn new things, things just get done much faster. After all these years I value a “yes maybe” much more than I value a “no but”. It’s an attitude that gets you through a lot in a business even a small one.
A few months ago, I started exploring a simple idea around keyrings. This turned into material explorations using laser cutting and wood and finally perspex.
The perspex version I built looked a lot more abstract, a little 1920s jewellery, but later it occured to me that what I had designed, through a material exploration was really a digital map recognition system I’ve called Mapcodes.
The idea is simple: why can’t we use maps to link to maps? An abstract, blocky shape, is easy to recognise with the right software as AR projects have shown, but the marker (qr codes, fiducials, etc) often isn’t human-readable or bares little relationship to the content. Mapcodes would present a simplified map which, if you know the area, you could recognise, but more importantly, your mobile device could identify and point to the digital map for that area, the tfl route, whatever. The gap between the representation and the digital tools is bridged.
Interested in helping me develop a prototype? Get in touch darn it!:)
I’m starting to put together a little map (duh) of digital making resources in London I have used or know about. Mostly laser cutting services for now, but will add more. If you think of anything else, drop me a line!
So for the first time in years, I went to have a proper look at design graduate work (CSM & RCA) as this is the perfect opportunity to take a snapshot of design education before the scary rise in fees when most UK students might apply outside of the UK and schools start to panic.
What I saw was alright mostly, with some flashes of brilliant and brave work. My favorites were the ones that clearly owned their experience and turned it into opportunities for themselves. Students who took the attitude of “the best time to look for a job is when you have one” and created businesses or support opportunities within the framework of education.
Alexander Groves (Design Products) made some fantastic Hair Glasses but also and mostly created a project called Sea Chair where he proposes to turn a retired fishing trawler into a plastic chair factory, fishing the plastic from the polluted seas around the South West coast of the UK.
Mohammed Daud (Design Products) developed a solution to help urban farming less painful physically with a redesigned hoe design. He is also looking for funding to implement the idea at scale in Pakistan where he went to do user-research. This is ideal for Kickstarter.
I also looked at work which clearly made a huge step in making new techniques feel familiar with the language of design. Studio Koya‘s beautiful and delicate fashion and textile work doesn’t even seem futuristic because of our now common acceptance of Lady Gaga-generated dada fashion.
It’s hard in design at the moment, but these kids will make it.
I’ve been thinking about embodied contexts for maps lately, beyond flat paper maps.
I have 3 sets of keys that I carry around and I thought that a simple way of differentiating them would be to design location-relevant key rings. There’s such a familiarity with specific locations like the office, home, your partner’s home, that labels aren’t necessary anymore.
KeyMaps are key rings with a very focused zoomed-in map of where that key goes. The hole in the keyring is the place those keys are connected to. Around them, the area. Something that only the owner could make sense of. Granular, but not too granular.
I think they might be nice made out of wood and generated easily online somewhere.
PaperCamp is a sweet and strange little weekend affair. Mostly attended by friends or friends of friends, you end up having conversations about stuff, work, life and everything in between. Not quite recovered from my recent travels, I hastily put together a short rant on postcards. I won’t go through everything I talked about, that would be too boring. So here’s the executive summary:
- I made people make postcards addressed to someone else in the room and I was sending it on their behalf. They made beautiful things.
- If you like paper things and storytelling, go buy “The postcard Century”. The author collected postcards and shared their message with the readers. It’s voyeurism in its simplest form.
- Look into the history of the postcard, it will show you that issues of DRM, privacy and speed are old conversations we keep having over and over again.
Two thoughts late in the evening as I continue to think about what makes paper different. Not better or worse, just different from pixels.
1. I bought this month’s Wired UK as I’m a sucker for a cup of earl grey and a read and right in the middle of it, there was a perfume sample ( l’Eau d’Issey pour hommes) and that made me happy. I like sticking my nose and inhaling a little portion of an experience someone is trying to sell me. It works because I can try it without buying it. It works because it gets me to stick my nose to a piece of paper. Totally strange gesture which, as women, you are invited to do all the time. To the extent that I’m sure most women know what glossy paper smells like. There’s something there.
2. I’m reading another Duras at the moment. And I like showing off that I’m reading in a foreign language. It’s a peacock behaviour of course. Will pixels help with that at all? Where can we show off now that everyone and their chav cousin has an iPhone, soon an iPad?
Forgive this: a quick and dirty theory that I’ve been working on passively as I read Novecento this weekend lounging in a metal chair in the jardin Luxembourg in Paris and later as I flicked through this month’s Marie-Claire Maison in one of Brixton’s fashionable cafés.
I wonder if design as an activity, a field of practice and an economic lubricant is a way for us to survive. If we assume that desire is a fixed element in society, desire for others first, but then desire for wealth, glory, recognition, happiness, is desire of objects not an intellectual extension of that? Another mirror? Another way to tell a story about the lives we live? Another way to help us achieve the story we want to tell about ourselves?
If I am unable to connect with others in traditional ways and my social reference points are no longer in tribes, villages and local geography, is it not through the Ikea catalogue that I construct a sense of what home should be? In London, you barely get to see people’s houses, the way they live, but you can imagine them through the windows of Habitat. You can decide what your home should look like through the colour choices that Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road made on their second floor for Christmas. “That’s who I should be”, you think to yourself. In the same way, we consume fashion based on what we think is hip or what we want to communicate about ourselves, why shouldn’t it be the same with the objects we surround ourselves with? Psychological survival, the ability to chose who we are through what we show, what we buy, what we desire and what we design. The epitome of that thinking being “design art” that has emerged as its very own field of practice. Art is no longer enough, design and everyday objects need to make statements, call out to us, invite us for me, because we desire more meaning from them than they could initially give us. We long for “the other” whether that is a person or a new pair of curtain rods.
If we didn’t have that desire, if we were perfectly happy with what we had, would we not be empty? And would that be sad In the same way that lack of desire in life is seen as a bad thing and often associated with teenage angst?
Will think about this some more as I don’t think its anything new but it has been said that Pleasure disappoints, possibility never and I think our ability to recognise our dependancy to design, our addiction one might say, might be the key to separating one century’s thinking from the other.