Objects from the Innate Gestures workshop with guest designer Leon Ransmeier and 3D designer-in-residence Scott Klinker
This is the latest installment of D-School Futures, our interview series on the evolution of industrial design education. Today we have answers from Scott Klinker, designer-in-residence and head of 3D Design at Cranbrook Academy of Art.
How different is industrial design education today than it was ten years ago? Will it look very different ten years from now?
"Industrial" is now "post-industrial"—marking a shift from mass production in an industrial society toward mass creativity in a network society. Students must grasp this new model and make it work for them. The networked world is based on and features more communication, so the landscape of ideas and images is crowded. Old-school skills—like how to make things—are just as important as before, but how and why we place ideas into the culture has changed. Today it is important to design things with emotional resonance that go beyond the classic idea of "human-centered problem solving." On a business level today, designers can practice as "free agents," but this requires us to learn new entrepreneurial skills.
The network society has already launched a version of design culture that is more grassroots and bottom-up compared to the top-down corporate culture that gave birth to industrial design. Soon our design culture will look more like the emerging music industry, where designers will operate more like entrepreneurial musical artists building an audience online while "performing" in the local, physical world. While this presents a new set of challenges for the designer, it opens wide theoretical potentials for design authorship. Ten years from now, design will be more diverse with more interesting things to say, and will learn to speak more boldly to be heard in a noisy world. This change has already started.
What would you say to a prospective student who worries about the relevance of an ID education in an increasingly digital world?
A typical ID education teaches skills almost like a trade school. Students should be worried about programs like that. The skills are necessary but not sufficient. A designer needs ideas too, and a bit of poetry in his or her heart, to make something that achieves a human connection. And a designer needs a critical framework to drive the process. At Cranbrook we teach "3D Design" because we want to define design broadly. Thirty years ago, design was primarily about mass production. Now design has significant areas of overlap with fine art, craft, architecture and fashion. When design touches these other fields, it absorbs some of their dialogue and becomes more mature. A good design education should move students beyond skills toward cultural maturity, so they can see the nuanced connections between ideas and forms. Grad school is the ideal place to develop this cultural maturity because the professional world requires it but doesn't often nurture it.
Scott Klinker and his Trellis Bowl produced by Alessi. Photography by R.H. Hensleigh and Tim Thayer Klinker (left) with members of the 3D Design department
What sets Cranbrook's 3D Design program apart from ID programs at other schools?
Cranbrook 3D is an intense studio-based program with emphasis on each designer building a personal body of work. We are part of one of the best graduate art schools in the world, where designers are integrated into a community of fine artists and craftspeople. When a designer has to show her work next to that of a sculptor or a painter, there is more pressure to have a strong concept and bold form. This environment has a huge influence on how we think about form.
Cranbrook 3D also straddles the contexts of industrial design and fine design—industrial design relates to mass production and fine design relates to areas of overlap between design, fine art and craft. Students' work in the studio covers both of these approaches, so the program is best suited to designers with an interest in both practices.
In some ways our program is more like a European model of education because we have a strong emphasis on workshops with prominent young designers and great industry collaborators. We've recently hosted workshops with young American designers, including Leon Ransmeier, Jonah Takagi and Studio Gorm, and young European designers like Bertjan Pot, Martino Gamper, Max Lamb and Jersey Seymour. We also recently hosted workshops with great companies like Herman Miller and Alessi—both of which have led to new product development. These projects aim to immerse our students in international design culture.
Our program is for designers who want to develop an architectural and spatial awareness in their work, so there is an emphasis on objects for the interior, including furniture, lighting and electronic products. The program is for hands-on makers who have already demonstrated some facility in crafting materials. This focus builds on Cranbrook's legacy of teaching design—from Charles Eames in the 1930s to Michael and Katherine McCoy in the 1980s—but also fully updates the discussion to reflect the complexities of today's context. Our group is a deliberate mixture of industrial designers, architects, craftspeople and sculptors so that a diverse set of critical perspectives can inform the discourse.
The Private Rocker by Kyle Fleet (2012) was made in a year-long workshop with Herman Miller. A critique with guest designer Max Lamb in 2010 after a four-day workshop
What's the job market like for recent graduates of your program? Is now a good time to embark on an ID career?
Cranbrook grads learn to build their own practice. Some start out with corporate jobs to build experience. We have recent grads working for IDEO, Lunar, Nike, Steelcase, Herman Miller and Intel, just to name a few. Others go a more independent route. An increasing number of recent grads are having success making editions and one-offs for galleries in New York City and Chicago. The health of design culture usually correlates with the health of the economy. It seems that the number of students with jobs at graduation has been steadily improving recently.
If you had to give just one piece of advice to an incoming student in your program, what would it be?
Study the connection between idea and form. It's the same connection great artists, musicians and writers must understand.