Posted by Mason Currey
| 21 Nov 2014
When Poltrona Frau turned one hundred in 2012, the Italian furniture maker decided it was time to rethink its classic armchair, which had been around since the very beginning. An overstuffed wing chair with a built-in ashtray for the gentleman who likes to smoke at home—clearly it was time for a revamp. So the CEO reached out to 12 designers to take part in a competition for the "centenary armchair"—one that not only brought new life to Poltrona Frau's classic, but that also predicted the future of the armchair in the home.
The winning design was by Satyendra Pakhalé, an Amsterdam-based industrial designer originally from India (who answered our Core77 Questionnaire last spring). Pakahalé envisions a future where work and life intersect more than ever. "The concept was inspired from contemporary life in an increasingly connected world where the boundaries between the domestic space and the workplace are further blurred," Pakhalé says. "The resulting collection is a synthesis between the contemporary and the traditional; between the needs of an evolving society and the excellence of Poltrona Frau's craftsmanship in processing leather and hide."
In addition to the new armchair, the Assaya collection includes a table, a lap tray and a pouf. The idea, Pakhalé says, is for the armchair to provide "a flexible way of living and working, where one could use it as a writing desk and also as a place to relax." The lap tray is provided for the use of digital devices, while the pouf and side table can be used in formal or informal settings for work and leisure.
The project began with a trip taken by Pakhalé to the Poltrona Frau factory in Tolentino, Italy. "I was curious, keen to grasp, assess and evaluate in my own manner the legendary heritage of Poltrona Frau," Pakhalé says. The designer drew upon the company's extensive leather production facilities and craftsmen in the design of Assaya, which is constructed in hide and leather all sourced from Italian and Swedish tanning factories owned by Poltrona Frau.
Poltrona Frau's original armchair, with its built-in ashtray
Posted by Mason Currey
| 28 Oct 2014
Students in the new MFA program will have access to the New School's University Center, which opened last January. Photo by Jacob A. Pritchard
Earlier this month, Parsons The New School for Design announced that it's launching a Master of Fine Arts in Industrial Design for fall 2015 enrollment. As a postscript to our recent D-School Futures series—in which we asked the chairs of several prominent design programs to reflect on the state of ID education—we caught up with Rama Chorpash to find out more about the thinking behind this new MFA. In addition to being an accomplished designer in his own right, Chorpash is the director of Parsons's existing BFA in product design; he developed the MFA program and will be serving as its director as well. (Ed. Note: He was also one of five designers who represented Staten Island in our "All-City All-Stars" exhibition for NYDW2012.]
Our New York–based readers may also want to mark their calendars for this Thursday evening, when Chorpash will co-moderate a panel discussion to celebrate the program's launch. The discussion topic is "Product City: Shortening the Supply Chain," and it will feature the founders of Makers Row and the head of responsible growth at Etsy. That event is free and open to the public—find the complete details here.
Core77: Who is this program for?
Our focus is on supporting both design professionals and recent graduates who want to advance in the field while forwarding the field itself. To this end, we'll also be accepting candidates from other disciplines to enrich studio culture and diversify knowledge and peer learning.
What sets this program apart from other MFAs in industrial design?
The program prepares the next generation of designers to navigate seemingly contradictory dichotomies—manufacturing and sustainability, consumerism and need, globalization and localization, offshoring and onshoring—with an eye toward reconciling them and shaping a more integrated future. To explore some of these tensions, The New School, as one of the only design-led universities globally, provides significant intellectual resources. Students have access to leading experts in economics, ethnography, environmental policy, sustainability management and so on. The program is located in the School of Constructed Environments at Parsons, the only integrated school of architecture, interior design, product design and lighting design in the United States. Our university has over 135 undergraduate and graduate degrees, minors, certificates and continuing education programs.
Distinctive to the curriculum are the local and global design studios, which involve significant off-site work and community engagement. In the first term, students will have the opportunity to do hands-on self-production, as well as conduct user testing in NYC. In the second term, they continue their industry-integrated approach by either visiting or working with international production and supply chains. Students utilize advanced making skills and critical inquiry to design products at various scales of production, from low-volume to high-volume—from desktop manufacturing to international global supply-chains.
Left: Rama Chorpash. Right: Inside the New School's Sheila C. Johnson Design Center. Interior photo by Bob Handleman
Posted by Mason Currey
| 15 Oct 2014
Last month we asked the chairs of 11 leading industrial-design programs to talk to us about the evolution of ID education for our D-School Futures interview series. Since then we've received word of two new master's programs in design that seemed worthy of additional comment. In New York, Parsons is launching an MFA in industrial design—and we'll have an interview with Rama Chorpash about that program in the coming days.
Today, we're checking in on a master's program with a broader, more interdisciplinary focus. The University of Michigan's Stamps School of Art & Design is currently accepting applications for a Master of Design in Integrative Design. It's a two-year program with an interesting approach—the idea is that students with a variety of design backgrounds will work together in teams to invent solutions for a wicked problem that will rotate every few years. The inaugural problem is "wicked healthcare," and Stamps has lined up medical companies, biomedical engineers, surgeons and others to participate in the curriculum.
Recently, we talked to Bruce M. Tharp—a long-time Core77 contributor and a new addition to the Stamps faculty—about the MDes program. The following is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.
Core77: Who is this program for?
Bruce Tharp: We imagine that our ideal candidates are probably industrial designers, interaction designers, graphic designers, interior designers/architects—people in that design space. But we're excited about the possibility of students with other skills sets and proficiencies who also have experienced design in some professional setting. Of course, the program itself is highly cross-disciplinary. There is tremendous integration of non-design information and experts—for the current "wicked healthcare" theme, we have on board medical companies, a children's hospital, biomedical engineers, surgeons, technologists, entrepreneurial faculty and many more who will be integrated into the curriculum.
This idea of designers working to solve big societal problems—is that a career or a profession that exists now, or is it one that you're trying to help create?
The program is what we think is a 21st-century program for 21st-century design. The idea is that these are big, complex problems that are tackled in cross-disciplinary teams, collaboratively, with more of a systems approach. This is the way a lot of designers are now working, and that I would say design is increasingly being asked to work. So this is partly a response to the world and it's also partly a call to the world as well, about what design can do and its potential.
Now, that doesn't mean that there isn't a role in the world for what we would call 20th-century design or design education. In graduate education, that really comes from the MFA model, where you're working independently on a thesis project of your choosing, and it's something that you can generally handle in a year. That's a completely valid way of working and there are lots of applications for that kind of work, but increasingly designers are being asked to do more.
Design has a lot of visibility now, and other disciplines are saying, "Wow, what if we could use design in this way?" So the program is inviting design into more complex arenas. I think designers are really uniquely positioned to work on these wicked problems, but it demands that we be educated in a different way.
Posted by Mason Currey
| 4 Sep 2014
Drop the Beat, a wearable electronic drumset created by Wesley Chau at RISD last year
This is the latest installment of D-School Futures, our interview series on the evolution of industrial design education. Today we have answers from Soojung Ham, industrial design department head at the Rhode Island School of Design.
How different is industrial design education today than it was ten years ago? Will it look very different ten years from now?
For many decades, American corporations had been maintaining their business domains in mass markets by mastering their traditional business practices and manufacturing techniques. Their common interests and strategies were then to grow into global markets, increase efficiency, shorten a development cycle and offer a lower price than competitors. Over the years, many of them have moved their manufacturing facilities overseas to reduce their production costs, and later moved their design resources for further savings.
Meanwhile, over the past ten years, IT companies and startups have established new business models. They brought new design opportunities by researching emerging trends and unmet needs; developing new market segmentation to build their business channels; and introducing user-experience areas in the technological convergence between products and services. At the same time, digital applications like Arduino and 3D printing became more accessible to public users, and brought exciting opportunities to explore R&D processes through the open-source and DIY movement.
Many art schools and engineering schools responded quickly to the industry and offered design programs in UX, entrepreneurship, management and computing programs in their curricula. Ten years from now, I think many programs will be further iterated and even more integrated with other disciplines. In addition, some schools will continue to practice sustainability for ethical design strategies and collaborate with other entities (corporate/government) to create local manufacturing.
Soojung Ham (left) and ID students giving an interactive presentation
Bentwood lighting by recent RISD graduate Connie Shim
Posted by Mason Currey
| 27 May 2014
Left: Seven Stacked Benches (After Shelves) by ROLU. Right: Temple by AQQ Design
This article was originally published in the C77 Design Daily, Vol. 1, Issue 3, on Sunday, May 18.
Last month, with ICFF and New York Design Week looming, I arranged for Matt Olson and Matthew Sullivan to get on the phone with me for what I was describing as "a long conversation about furniture design." Olson is one third of ROLU, a Minneapolis studio whose products include furniture, landscape design, urban planning and collaborative public art, among other work. And Sullivan runs AQQ Design in Los Angeles, where he produces furniture and objects that show a keen interest in the experimental spirit of postmodernist design (although he might cringe at that oversimplification); he also writes a twice-monthly column about lesser-known design figures for Core77.
I chose these two because I admire their work, and also because I thought that they could provide a sort of outsider's perspective on the industry—both make furniture, but their work is more about engaging with design history than producing and selling chairs for people's homes and businesses. Indeed, as I found out during our conversation, neither one considers himself "a furniture designer" exactly, and getting them to talk about just furniture design was impossible. Over the course of two wide-ranging telephone calls, they touched on everything from the nature of capitalism to their youthful punk-rock days and Robert Filliou's theory of the poetic economy. What follows is a condensed version of our conversation.
Maybe we can start by talking about blogging—you're both active bloggers, and it seems to inform your design work.
Matt Olson: I'm an avid blogger, and have been for many years. I started in 2005 as a kind of marketing attempt for the studio, and it was an utter failure. But I got into the habit of waking up in the morning and posting something. At some point, I asked the rest of the studio if it would be cool if I just did it for myself. And then I started writing about what I was actually interested in. It's led us to a wild community of like-minded designers and artists—both on the blog and now, increasingly, on Instagram too.
Matthew Sullivan: Yeah, I was a detractor of blogging at first. But now I really feel that it is an amazing thing, and that it's only going to get more interesting. I also think it's problematic, though, just because it's so image-based. There are lots of images of things that really require your physical presence. Like, Matt, I just saw some Donald Judd stuff on your blog. He would say, I think, that a photograph of my work is meaningless.
MO: Judd would say that. I wouldn't.
MS: But this proliferation of images—like, you can have entire histories that you can scroll through in 30 seconds. Literally, if someone posted the whole history of art, the main pieces, you could be done in less than three minutes.
MO: See, that's what I want. That's absolutely what I want. Because of the Internet, we live in a time when history is free of institutional or academic constraints. And I think it allows the images and the objects in them to live their own life in some way.
MS: Yeah, I think that it does democratize and deinstitutionalize a lot of things. And I like that it makes things less precious. Because that's the most annoying aspect of art—and why furniture in particular is interesting to me, because it's not as precious.
MO: I was actually just reading an interview last night, where one of the Memphis designers was talking about the conflict of trying to make something that was acceptable to her, and all of the sudden it gets so expensive, because it's so rare and difficult to produce, that it becomes completely out of reach to most people. And I was thinking to myself: Well, with online imagery, now you can get the spirit of something without possessing it. That's why I don't really think of what we're doing as furniture design. I think it has as much to do with photography and conceptual ideas as functional furniture.
MS: That's nice to hear you say, because that's exactly how I feel. I always think that that's one of the silliest things about design—the idea that design is solving, like, an engineering problem. I don't think that's what we do. We're cultural; Memphis is cultural. It's not about ergonomics or anything like that. Everyone wants to think that design is a problem-solving thing primarily, when it's really not, or that's not the main thing.
MO: Yeah. I'm good at making problems, not solving them.
ROLU's Box Chair Square (After Scott Burton)
AQQ's Pinget (left) and Sarraute