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Mason Currey

The Core77 Design Blog

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Posted by Mason Currey  |  15 Oct 2014  |  Comments (1)

BruceTharp-StampsMDes-1.jpg

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.

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Posted by Mason Currey  |   4 Sep 2014  |  Comments (3)

DSchoolFutures-RISD-1.jpgDrop 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.

DSchoolFutures-RISD-2.jpgSoojung Ham (left) and ID students giving an interactive presentation

DSchoolFutures-RISD-3.jpgBentwood lighting by recent RISD graduate Connie Shim

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Posted by Mason Currey  |  27 May 2014  |  Comments (0)

AQQ-ROLU-Conversation-1.jpgLeft: 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.

AQQ-ROLU-Conversation-2.jpgROLU's Box Chair Square (After Scott Burton)

AQQ-ROLU-Conversation-3.jpgAQQ's Pinget (left) and Sarraute

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Posted by Mason Currey  |   6 Jan 2014  |  Comments (1)

GoogleX-Smith-Heinrich-2.jpgPhotos by Talia Herman

If you're an industrial designer looking to work in the tech sector, Google is probably pretty low on your list of prospective employers—if it's on there at all. The company employs plenty of UX designers, interaction designers, motion designers, and others who shape how Google users interface with its many digital tools. But Google doesn't really make stuff, and ambitious designer-makers are much more likely to set their sights on Apple, IDEO, frog, or any number of other high-profile companies that do.

That may be about to change. Recently, Google invited Core77 to visit its Mountain View, California, campus and meet some of the design talent behind Google X, the semi-secret "moonshot factory" that has in recent years been designing quite a bit of actual stuff, some of which you've no doubt heard about by now. X was founded in January 2010 to continue work on Google's self-driving car initiative, and to start developing other similarly futuristic projects. The next to be unveiled was Google Glass, the much-publicized wearable computer that is expected to reach consumers sometime this year. After that, X launched (quite literally) Project Loon, an attempt to provide Internet service to rural and remote areas via balloons floating in the stratosphere; it conducted a pilot test in New Zealand last June. X also recently acquired Makani Power, which develops airborne wind turbines that could be used to harvest high-altitude wind energy, bringing its total number of public projects to four.

But what's interesting for the design community is not just that Google X is doing some traditional industrial design in the service of realizing outrageously big ideas, but that it's integrating I.D. with a variety of other disciplines in a particularly rigorous fashion, creating an ideal-sounding nexus of design thinking, user research and fabrication. And it is actively seeking new talent who can help flesh out its multidisciplinary approach.

"We're looking for unicorns," says Mitchell Heinrich, one of the four X-ers I met in Mountain View about a month ago. Heinrich founded and runs his own group within X called the Design Kitchen, which acts as X's in-house fabrication department but is also deeply involved in generating (and killing) new ideas. And what he means by "unicorns" is designers who have the rare ability to excel in both of those roles—as he puts it, "people who have the ability to have the inspiration, the thought, the design, and then are able to carry that out to something that actually works and looks like what they want it to look like."

That may not sound like such a fantastically rare combination of skills, but Heinrich insists that finding people who can do this kind of soup-to-nuts design—come up with brilliant ideas and then actually make them, while also working extremely fast—has been difficult. In other words, the Kitchen has high standards. "I like to think of it as more like a Chez Panisse than an Applebee's," he says.

GoogleX-campus.jpgThe Googleplex in early December

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Posted by Mason Currey  |  30 Dec 2013  |  Comments (0)

C77YiR.jpgPietHeinEek-QA-1a.jpgPiet Hein Eek even enjoys doing administrative chores.

Core77 2013 Year in Review: Top Ten Posts · Furniture, Pt. 1 · Furniture, Pt. 2
Digital Fabrication, Pt. 1 · Digital Fabrication, Pt. 2 · Digital Fabrication, Pt. 3 · Digital Fabrication, Pt. 4
Insights from the Core77 Questionnaire · Maker Culture: The Good, the Bad and the Future · Food & Drink
Materials, Pt. 1: Wood · Materials, Pt. 2: Creative Repurposing · Materials, Pt. 3: The New Stuff
True I.D. Stories · High-Tech Headlines · The Year in Photos

Over the last seven months, I called up 15 successful, respected designers from around the world and asked them each a set of 22 questions about their backgrounds, their current projects, their working habits and their thoughts on design. In the course of conducting these interviews—which we dubbed the Core77 Questionnaire—I noticed a handful of themes begin to emerge. Even though I talked to designers with a wide range of backgrounds and work experience, many of them had remarkably similar answers to several of our questions. So as part of Core77's year-end review, I wanted to highlight these outstanding themes in the form of the following six insights into the design mind.

Designers Don't Procrastinate

One of our 22 questions is "How Do You Procrastinate?"—and I was truly surprised by how many designers were incapable of coming up with an answer. As a writer, procrastination is an integral part of my daily routine; successful designers, by contrast, seem to actually want to do their work. Either that, or they just have a lot more self-discipline. As Paul Loebach said: "If I'm going to work, I'm going to work. And if I'm not going to work, I will take a vacation." Marcel Wanders can't bear to have work hanging over his head: "For me, procrastinating equals suffering," he said. Sandy Chilewich said the same thing: "Procrastinating, for me, is extremely painful. I'm really not having a good time if I feel like, 'Shit, I should really be doing this other thing.'" Ditto Paul Cocksedge, Piet Hein Eek and Sam Hecht. Even those designers who did come up with an answer really had to think about it first—none of my interviewees could imagine indulging in frequent bouts of work avoidance.

Designers Think Most People Don't Understand What They Do

This was another common theme, and it came up mostly in response to the question "What is the most widespread misunderstanding about design or designers?" Over and over, our interviewees said that the general public basically has no idea what industrial designers do. Here's Ayse Birsel: "No one knows what we do. Fashion designers they get, but with product design it's like, 'What's that?' And then people say, 'Oh, so you style stuff? Or you engineer stuff?' And I'm like, 'Neither.' There's no easy answer."

Sam Hecht answered similarly, noting that because "design means so many different things now," the term designer has become almost useless. (When asked what he does, Hecht prefers to say, "I make things.") Fellow Londoner Paul Cocksedge agreed, saying, "It would be wonderful if there were another word besides designer, but I don't know what it would be." And Adidas's James Carnes suspected that "people would be absolutely amazed by the depth and breadth of a designer's daily work."

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