Sunday, November 30, 2008

Collaborating & Connecting

Boundaries are blurred and collaboration rules. This applies equally to the global movement of cultural traditions and to recent cross-over projects in the various fields of design, and even art. As local companies start to embrace a sense of place, people, and manufacturing, they also look out into global world of design and designers for collaborations and connections. For example, the Brazilian company, Melissa, (, is a good example of successful collaborations among different fields. The company works with only recycled PVC materials. The project is to reinvent the company’s name by bringing well known designers, such as Campana Brothers, Zaha Hadid, Viviane Westwood, Judy Blame, and Karim Rashid. They are all from different fields, most of them not related to shoe design, asked to translate their uniqueness into a shoe form. The final products often embody the designers’ style, but refreshing because it is in projects unexpected from them.

The design field gains with these collaborations. First, innovations in how a work came to be rather than how it looks. Different fields of design have different approaches to problems. It shows how there is x ways to get to a common product. Second, collaboration’s opportunities are forms of, as designers, reinventing ourselves. While, designers can get comfortable on the area of expertise, there are more to be learned about when stepping outside of the comfort zone. Third, products associated with well known designers can reach a bigger market. In that aspect, it can be a good market strategy for sustainable, or eco friendly products to broaden their niche in society. Lastly, it meets the aspect that so many modern designers miss when they called their pieces functional: it democratizes design.

As discussed in my previous post, industrial design seems to reach further than solving user’s need and being functional. Like the McDonald’s case study, the whole “functional” concept seems not to be used as first intended and user’s need goes beyond solving problem s to means of delivering a intentional “image”. How a product is translated by users? What kind of images does it convey? From the most complex to simple aesthetics, they carry the designer’s statement. It often reflects the creator’s field of experience. From that point, should one’s field of experience be limited to what he/she is good at? By focusing on developing a certain line of problem.-solving products, can we as designer reach innovation?

In the last ID history class, students had different opinions on the boundaries of being an Industrial Designer. When thrown the question: “Can design and art coexist?” while some students lean towards focusing on primarily solving user’s problem, a good amount want to bring fine art into industrial design. They feel limited when trying to fit solely in Industrial Design terms. I think that the whole idea of Industrial Design be based on problem solving and functionality is not the constraining element, but the definition of “problem”. For instance, re-designing a product around its aesthetics could be not for visual please, but intended to bring a new experience to consumers. Humans are not only body, but mind as well. Thus, the “problem” does not have to be always on the physical interaction, but also on the emotional aspect.

I believe that trying to limit design into categories or fields becomes impediment for innovation. As an Industrial Design student merged into Brazilian, Korean, and American traditions, I want to revel in this opportunity and be able to transcend to communicate globally. I am inspired by companies, like Melisa that show me, yes, this is the way forward, today.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Hybrid Designer

As an Industrial Design student, I have been aware of the many branches in this field. However, more I tried to focus in a specific area of design more I find out new, alternative areas to ID. Different areas of design seem to cross each other and leave us to reconsider the definition of being an Industrial Designer. The “new” designers are more global than before. There is an open communication and appreciation among designers from different countries and fields. This brings alternative processes to design. The results are hybrids of ideas, concepts, and forms.

For me, the excitement in this new scenario is the merge of cultures. A designer that uses their local environment as source of inspiration allows new experiences to users from different backgrounds. Campana Brothers are Brazilian designers that explicitly bring the uniqueness of Brazilian culture in their design. The considerations that the designers take often reflect the historical and cultural particularities. In many of their interviews, they talk about the inspiration of their ideas coming not only from Brazilian nature but also from the social habits. They often reuse existing iconic products or local materials along with local techniques. The final designs are representations of the country’s qualities. The products carry a “message”. The forms are not always aesthetically pleasing or harmonious, but, as mentioned by the designers, “ugly” can be a stronger statement. They make the viewer go back to the manufacturing process and the manipulation of material, where most of the innovation is found. The final form is the result of it but the process is the discovery.

Like the other winner of Miami Designer Of The Year, Tokujin Yoshioka’s exhibition for Issey Miyake shows how an innovation in the manufacturing production brings new experiences to viewers and consumers.

In Tokujin Yoshioka exhibition A-POC Making, the designer creates a space where the impact of the A-POC technology by Issey Miyake and Dai Fujiwara could be strongly conveyed. A-POC (a piece of clothing) is a weaving machine programmed by computer software that “prints” entire pieces of clothing with no sewing necessary. The roll of fabric contains the final garments. It is an innovative process in the garment industry because there is minimal waste of material and the consumers determine the final design. The users can determine the length and size of the garment by just cutting out of the fabric. In Tokujin Yoshioka’s exhibition, he emphasizes not the piece of clothing itself, but the process and the manipulation of material. This visual setting also brings up the idea of mass production. It is almost a piece of art being transformed into mass production. When does art ends and design begin? Does art means exclusivity and design mass production?

In the Campana Brothers interview, they talk about the first intention of the rope chair being one piece, a sculpture, but soon the demand for the chair made the designers think about ways to mass market it. Takashi Marukami’s concept is to bring art to the masses. The artist whole philosophy is about democratizing art by transforming it into products. Better dialogues among designers as well as between designers and users encourages modern designers not to be constrained by one field. There is a Brazilian shoe company called mellissa known for making recycled PVC shoes. The company just started a collaboration work with designers from different countries and fields to create designed shoes. This is an interesting project because it shows how cultural background as well a field background affects in the aesthetic of a product.

All these collaborations among designers from different nationalities and fields of work confirm that there is no boundary in design. Rather than looking innovations in new technology and material, we can reuse and recycle the existing one and find innovation through different ‘eyes’. Innovations are not only in the material but how different designers approach them. All the ideas are influenced by what they studied for, as well as their culture. By using these experiences to design outside of their field, the result is nothing but innovative.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ideal to Material

Looking through the lists of some many organizations presented in the A Better World by Design, I was really inspired to see the collaborative work of different fields of design to a common cause. We as designers want to impact society by solving user’s problems, but in what directions can this mind set lead us? All of the projects I went through were mind opening and potentially started from just questioning: what if? It is hopeful to see that idealistic thinking could lead to concrete solutions.

In Kevin Quale’s blog ( ), he discusses about the humanitarian designs coming from developed countries like U.S and their solutions based on misconceived ideas. I agree with him that creating an image of third world countries around piety hides the potential that they have. By providing immediate solution, such as food, medicine, and money can minimize, or better saying, cover the problem in a short term. However, it is not the best way to eradicate the problem in a long term. I believe that communities in third world countries do have potential to grow, and the best is to notice that and provide them with resources. That is why projects from organizations like KickStar ( called my attention. The company proposes products not intended to solve immediate problems, but, in a long term, to support poor communities being self sufficient.

In Brazil, there is a cosmetic brand called Natura. The company has a specific cosmetic line called Ekos Natura that uses raw ingredients found in Brazilian biodiversity. However, what I found to be most interesting about this project is the preservation of culture and tradition. The mediators of nature and consumers are the indigenous communities that know how to use the nature in a non obtrusive way. There is more than creating a sustainable product, but supporting the natural and historical heritage of the country.

One of the ingredients that the company uses in many of their products is a tree called “andiroba”. Its leaves and seeds are used locally as medicine to prevent worm and lower fever. The company uses the oil that comes out of them to smooth skin and as natural insect repellent.

For many years Brazilian indigenous has been eating this kind of nut as essential antioxidant nutrition. Its oil has moisturizing quality.

I think that these two projects are relevant for their consideration of these developing countries’ culture and history. By providing support through products that would improve their profits or by financing their local economy, these local communities have the means to grow independently.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Design For A Better System.

From Dr. Bruce Becker’s presentation, I noticed that there is so much more than a product and user interaction. There is the service that is obtained through it. I am working in a Cell phone project for older users in one of my studios. By narrowing down our user’s group, I noticed that the more I focused on experience, the physical product becomes secondary. The older user group doesn’t care about how much innovation and technology they can get out of the cell phone, but how efficiently it serves to the purpose: connecting to family and friends. To come up with the best solution for a product, the first step for a designer is to research the market feasibilities and user’s need, they can use these acquired skills to observe and critically analyze the existing system and from that create solutions for a better environment. Designers are trained in a way to think systematically. When designing a new product, they have to be conscious of how it can be made, such as the manufacture order, materials, and cost. It is interesting to see how this project could somehow relate to some of the points discussed in Dr. Bruce Becker’s presentation. When he asked what would be the things we could create to construct a perfect shelter most of the answers were related to creating a “better system”: a system that would facilitate how a shelter work. A set of systems structured to create a better work hierarchy, to make most out of the existing energy and water, and to avoid confrontations among different cultures. All of them could be seen as System of behavior, where one’s action leads to the next. Observe, analyze, and create a system that like a cell phone (intuitively) explains “how to”.

To get to that point, designers have to take into consideration the history and the different cultures for a better assimilation from the user’s part. By that I believe designers are like anthropologist and psychologist. Like anthropologist, designers have to study cultural difference throughout time and space. They have to acknowledge the cross culture and do not impose judgment. Like psychologists, designers have to observed and analyze human behavior through a direct contact with the case studied.

However, contrary to those fields of studies, designers have the ability to use the collected data and come up with physical solutions to improvements. After hearing the lecture, it made me think about the emotion aspect of design. There are a lot of outputs when it comes to creating innovative designs relied on technology. It provides solutions to develop living life and humanity profits a lot from it. However during the lecture, the disruption of one’s before life in the refugee camps called my attention. The displacement of populations caused by natural disasters or political chaos affect people not only in their basics living style, such as location, nutrition, and health; but also, the merge on a different culture, the language barrier, and the separation from people can cause inner turmoils. This psychological distress is something that passes unnoticed or even considered superfluous in times of political and social disorder. However, I think it is an important issue given the fact that people in those situations often don’t express such emotions that are impediment for them to settle down. There are so many things that can be done to make their lives better but what is the point when they don’t feel like that?

This is the time when designers as anthropologist and psychologist can study different cultures, their traditions, beliefs, and habits, as well as observe the common behaviors from people who suffer from that. It would be interesting to see what kind of products and service system we, as a designer, could create as a response to their need. For instance, looking through the Cooper-Hewitt’s designing for” the other 90%”, I think that education is a good point of start because, as mentioned in the website, it “empowers people”. It gives them an opportunity to empower themselves as individuals and from that communities. Individuals are the core for a well working system. All that made me think designers on service of better making the world work.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Product and its meanings.

While designers desire to create innovative solutions that would affect the way consumers perceive the existing products. Designers do not have control on the meaning a product could take. In such transitory society the original intent of a product cannot be permanent. However, a product can reflect the moral codes and their enforcing behavior from a specific time in history.

In the two cases observed in class, the history of vibrator and the history of high heels, their meaning changed according to the way gender role was seen on society along history. These two products symbolized in different time submission and empowerment. In these opposite definitions, how much of its original intent is kept? It seems that a product is full of contradictions that one can never predict. Products with a specific target on mind might in many cases make assumptions or stereotype gender. This is shown when they misunderstand their target. For instance, the first home appliances were intended to release woman from the physical labor of housekeeping, giving them more freedom. However, they in some extent ended up imprisoning woman to the role of modern wife. Further, in today’s society is easy to see home appliances crossing gender. The Dyson’s vacuum is an example of a product released with female target in mind that turned out be more popular among male users. The unexpected behavior can be a sign of changing on gender roles.

A self cannot control how a product would be perceived in society even less what “image” it will produce. The body corset first used among aristocracy in the 16th Century was worn to aid woman to fit to a certain body image. Today, corsets still is accepted as means of achieving a body image, but connected to expression of sexuality. In that case, is it a symbol of sexual freedom or submission to an image? It can be interpreted either way according to the users. A product is never objective but exposed to one’s interpretation.

In that sense, a modern concept in the design field is the emotional products. They bring up responses based not on the meaning of a product but from users past experience that they emotionally relate to when they see the objects. By creating products that are somehow asexual, I wonder if it would be easier to keep their original meaning. By not trying to aesthetically fit to one group, the product would free itself from living up to a meaning that can never be fully defined.

Society creates the image, one cannot act independent to a construction of meaning but it’s a collective act. The meaning to a product it is structurally created given the time and circumstances. The product does not have a particular meaning but it can embody different meaning according to social ethics. And, perhaps, that’s the excitement in innovative designs, the unknown.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

" The Chair Is a Machine For Sitting", Le Corbusier.

From Morris to the Bauhaus and on to today, functionalism has evolved from a philosophy to a style. Reflecting on George Marcus definition of functionalism-“objects made to be used should be simple, honest, and direct; well adapted to their purpose; bare of ornament; standardized; machine-made; and reasonably priced; and expressive of their structure and materials” (Functionalism 1995 p.9)”- it is evident that functionalist design is more than just meeting a utility. Rather, it leads to a consideration of how it should be built, in what material and form, and who should purchase it. This becomes a criterion for understanding and judging modern design, and a reference when putting value on iconic objects.

Never than before, there has been a bigger awareness for design than the current culture. Along with the globalization of information, such as TV, magazines, and internet, people have been exposed to a new lifestyle that values aesthetics and the status that comes with it. Within this tendency, bringing design to the masses has been a source for marketing strategies. In that case, would that be an exploitation of design, or just being true tot he functionalist ideals?

Taking as an example McDonald’s case, the company realized that applying modern design could contribute to the brand’s image. Since then, McDonald’s around London area is renovating their restaurant to a design conscious space. By changing the old, rigid chairs to Arne Jacobsen’s Egg and Swan chairs, the company is making a design statement in order to attract consumers that do care about thoughtful environments. Nevertheless, a whole luggage of controversy is brought when associated with mass driven companies like McDonald's. It raises points for ethical discussion. Critics argue that using such iconic chairs to meet the company’s marketing strategy lessens the design’s importance. It stops being esteemed for its contribution in the design field to means of corporation props. They see it almost as ridicule to Arne Jacobsen’s work which was driven by an ethic that disparaged crass marketing. On the other hand, keeping in mind that Arne Jacobsen was highly influenced by the Bauhaus movement, isn’t the company letting the design naturally be part of what functionalism advocate? The company is making the iconic designs accessible to anyone without class distinction.

McDonald's is somehow providing an experience by allowing customers to interact with the designed pieces. As John Ruskin discussed, there would only be appreciation to beauty when people become surrounded by it. Then, isn’t the company pushing the design field forward? By making good design reachable for a wide public, there is something to be said about perhaps educating people who were oblivious to design and hopefully increasing its appreciation.

For people who have knowledge and admiration for good design, affordability become an excluding factor. With these consumers in mind, there are some companies that see a profitable market that functional designs should have addressed but failed to. For example, White Furniture Industries ( is a company specialized in reproducing iconic chairs, most of them found in contemporaries museums such as MOMA . They are immediately identifiable chairs from Marcel Breuer’s steel tube armchair to Eero Aarnio’s Ball Chair. Significantly they come with a cheaper price than its original market value. As functionalism was envisioned, the reproduced chairs would have eventually been mass produced to an extent that the company is able to offer them for affordable prices. Nevertheless, similar to McDonald’s case, they are between a fine line of accessible design and depreciation of its value. In other words, increasing accessibility can correlate to a decreasing of historical significance diminished by its market assessment. White Furniture Co has been 11 years on the market and its success indicates people’s demand for such designed chairs but their inability to purchase the originals.

· In this scenario, there is the idea of branding and how it plays with the value of a product and the status that one’s get with it. They are reproduction of sculptures that one could only see in museums. Allowing the public to interact with them, even if not original pieces, it can shorten the space between object and users. On the other hand, because they are almost sculptural pieces should a space between art and viewer be kept? By copying the original products and making them accessible to anyone, could it interfere on how people look up to iconic chairs? Many of the company’s buyers are Hollywood movie companies and fashion magazines. In this case, like McDonald’s, they use their chairs to complement an environment not taking in consideration the historical value of the object. By doing so, the concern is: can such an act make the iconic chairs look almost gimmicky? In this case, how can these chairs secure their importance? It seems that they have to either compromise their status or the functionalism ideal. The iconic chairs for their impact in the design history, becomes an interesting point to be reflected on as class makers. Being iconic denotes exclusivity. It is hard to value its functionalism when by classifying as iconic already sets them apart from the public realm. Maybe, the controversy when bringing iconic desings to places like McDonalds’s, is indeed the fear of, by democratizing design, losing its status in society.

· Le Corbusier said “The chair is a machine for sitting”. This sentence optimizes the functionalism concept. While, bottom line, it addresses the primary purpose of a chair, it also connects to machine manufacturing and mass production. It indicates the simplicity of form. Last but not least, it demonstrates the human and object interaction. If a product is designed keeping in mind its user, what is the purpose if they cannot interact with it. In this case, furniture such as from IKEA is the modern accomplishment of functional design. But the question raised is what happens when iconic chairs are put in the same circumstances. While they are close in timeline to the origins of functionalism movement, they seem more unable to meet their agenda than current designs. Because iconic chairs accumulate value throughout history, when they are placed in scenarios such as McDonald’s or easily reproduced by companies such as White Furniture Industries, that is when “functionalism” definition starts being questioned.

Interestingly, by reflecting on what functionalism means in modern society, an ethical question has been brought up. Should iconic chairs support class distinction in order to keep its historical value? If so, the existence of the iconic chairs can only exist by compromising the functionalism ideal, concept that they had first created for. In modern society unless an object can be successfully referred as functional without corrupting its meaning, the definition as a whole should be perhaps revaluated.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mourning Jewerly

What would be the best way of knowing the past if not being a living witness of it? Materials that go beyond time and space, inspirations that continuously inspire, or stories that persist through generation, they are all living witnesses. Contrary to common knowledge, the art of jewelry is more than a piece of ornamentation, but embedded with meaning that lasts generations. For a long time jewelry has been used as means to mourn someone’s life. In this aspect, it affected society and time, and it introduced unusual material intended not for esthetics, but for purpose of demonstrating respect and affection to the deceased. From that, it persists in modern days as a style, or as mementos of life.

Roman Period

Common during the Roman period, cameos were often propagandistic portraits of emperors intended to immortalize the ruler’s image after their death.

15th-16th Century

Memento mori inspired the early mourning jewelry. It was an artistic thought that emphasized the human mortality. The subject matters were often human’s skulls or images of humans in imminent death. It was constant reminder of the ephemeral life. The use of theses motifs are the first signs of mourning in jewelry.

Late 18th - Early 19th Century
In many cultures, the hair is an intimate part of the deceased and kept as a way of connecting the living and the lost members. During the civil war, young soldiers would leave a lock of hair with their family. Upon to their death, the hair would be integrated as ornamentations in a piece of jewelry or placed in a pendant.
Early 19th Century

Jet has been commonly used in mourning jewelry for centuries. It reached its peak after Prince Albert‘s death when Queen Victoria made it a decreed that only jet jewelry should be used in the first year of mourning. Today, jet become rarity since it has been overused and illegal to mine.

21th Century
By literally using the ashes and transforming it into a piece of jewelry, today’s mourning jewelry is not merely a figurative piece of the deceased. The diamond are made with the carbonized remains of humans and transformed in precious pieces of jewelry.