In anticipation of the upcoming 2012 D-Crit Conference, "Eventually Everything," Core77 is pleased to have the opportunity to explore the breadth of SVA's design criticism MFA program through a series of Q&As with a few members of the graduating class.
Derrick Mead will be presenting "Designing for Repair: Things Can Be Fixed" during the second panel of the day-long event, "Working/Not Working," on Wednesday, May 2nd. See the full schedule of events here.
Critical design is a contested territory, an often-nebulous arena of thought experiments fraught with equal parts moralizing and optimism. Some designers have co-opted the mantle of critical design for self-promotional or marketing purposes, muddying the waters further. In other cases, like at The Agency of Design in London, ambitious, idealistic young designers are tackling real problems in materials, energy, and waste with fully functional prototypes. This talk will analyze the Agency of Design's three toasters—the Realist, the Pragmatist, and the Optimist—and compare and contrast them with the work of other bold-face names in product design like Yves Behar's Aesir cell phone, and Oscar Narud's Keel tables. Themes in critical design such as designing for repair, designing for failure, and designing for "cradle-to-cradle" type life cycles will be considered with a special emphasis on explaining why these issues are frequently taken up by unique critical designs, prototypes, and small-run bespoke objects but only rarely dealt with in real-world, mass produced products.
Core77: Why D-Crit? Why Now?
Derrick Mead: DCrit is a culture—its students and faculty are people interested in thinking about the world in a similar way, albeit from lots of different points of view. I love things—materiality—but am constantly asking why?, and remain skeptical of 99% of the "stuff" humanity applies its time and money and resources to producing: design, art, everything. A lot of the "design world" is wrapped up in selling the stuff, or, at the very least, dependent on the stuff's continued sales, to keep earning livings. To me DCrit is important now because it provides a platform for burgeoning critics to sharpen their knives without bias of any kind. As much as we all have our preferred subject matter, the enthusiasm and support that exists within the DCrit program for writers remaining generalists is vital to viable popular design criticism.
Broken Rochester gauge
Is the notion of 'fixability' a corollary to the current trend of DIY culture, or vice versa, and why?
I'd say it's a often bit of both, at least in the sense that I'm hoping to get people thinking about repair. At the more technical end of the spectrum—Thingiverse as opposed to Etsy—quite a lot of the DIY that gets hyped is actually rather unfortunately materials-intensive and "-insensitive," in terms of things like adhesives, or plastics. The potential exists, however, in both traditionally craft-based and tech-enabled DIY, for people to get more involved with their existing belongings, and not just keep cranking out new things, regardless of how reclaimed, or how biodegradable. I especially like hipstomp's notion of "unpretty" DIY, which lowers barriers to entry for getting your hands dirty. People think in broad terms, like, "oh, I'm not a creative type," or "I wouldn't know where to begin, with my broken toaster," but with unpretty DIY in mind, we can all start to consider ourselves fixers. The tools and information you need to tackle repairing things, from clothes to appliances, have never been more easily accessible. I'm particularly excited about physical tool- and skill-shares like The Fixers Collective, in Brooklyn, and Techshop, which is expanding eastward from California, as well as online resources like Ifixit.
Agency of Design - The Optimist Toaster
Has your thesis research significantly changed your worldview?
My research reinforced my worldview, for better or worse.
What's next for you?
Aside from starting a full-time position as a creative recruiter for Wert & Co., I'm developing a curriculum that aims to get student industrial and product designers thinking about repair not only early in their careers, but early in their designs, as well.
Wooden Shovel c. 1870
Derrick Mead has dealt with implements and machines in every conceivable state of disrepair, from farms to kitchens to crawlspaces, and remains fascinated with how stuff gets fixed. He's worked in the past for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and Phillips de Pury and Company, and written for Metropolis, Architect's Newspaper, and Eric Fischl's America: Now and Here Foundation, among others. He is the recipient of the SVA MFA Design Criticism Henry Wolf Scholarship, and received a Barnabas McHenry Grant from the Open Space Institute. Derrick's research has definitively settled on the best toaster ever produced—the Sunbeam model T-20, 1949–1954.
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Eventually Everything: The 2012 D-Crit Conference, featuring graduating students of the SVA MFA in Design Criticism, and moderated by Change Observer co-editor Julie Lasky, will take place on May 2, 2012 at the Visual Arts Theatre in New York City.
This year's conference is comprised of four themed panels, each introduced by keynote speakers, including media historian Stuart Ewen; Pentagram partner Michael Bierut; 2×4 founding partner Michael Rock; cultural historian Jeffrey Schnapp; and Interboro Partners principal Daniel D'Oca. Topics to be addressed include the absence of firearms in design collections, the persistence of an anti-ornament bias in architectural discourse, Main Street USA as rhetorical trope, and the need for designers to make repairable products.
This is the third D-Crit conference organized by, and featuring, graduating D-Crit students. Join us for a richly programmed afternoon of provocation, insight, and inspiration that aims to re-chart the future of design discourse. There is no charge for admission, so sign up today to save your seat.