Here we are, closing in on the end of the Call for Entries for the 2016 Core77 Design Awards. Seems like only yesterday we were introducing you to the first four of our Jury Captains inPart 1 of this interview series. Now we're down to introducing the leaders of our last three categories (here are Parts 2 and 3 if you missed them) and the Final Deadline to enter is only three weeks away!
Emily Pilloton is the founder of the nonprofit Project H Design. Since 2008, she has run Project H and worked with young people ages 9-18 to bring the power of design and building to schools and communities. Emily is trained as an architect with degrees from UC Berkeley and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but found that she is physically incapable of working in an office or for a boss and much prefers the creative chaos of a public school classroom filled with tools and welding equipment. Project H Design was born out of the hope that authentic, on-the-ground, face-to-face work with young people could transform what it means to be a design professional, what it means to learn in the 21st century, and what it means to get dirty and physically build solutions for your community.
Your work has been about shifting the consciousness of sustainability away from its focus on products and toward the social realm. You've also never been a fan of the term "green design." What term do you think could offer a better description/lens for the movement as it moves into the future and why?
More and more I am realizing that the work I believe in is not solely about "sustainability" or "human-centered design" or even "social impact," but about social justice. You can do 100 projects that have some social benefit, but if you have focused that benefit on one privileged group, haven't you missed the point? The idea of justice and giving back power is what drives my own work. This starts with my own story and coming to practice design through my own lenses of power (or the ways in which I have felt disempowered throughout my life in various ways). Design for social justice is similar to environmental justice: giving grassroots AND policy-driven power back to those who have suffered most, and using creativity and brick-and-mortar built solutions as our sword. This is not a hand-out, but a reallocation of creative tools throughout all strata of society. This also means rethinking who the designers of the future are and actively recruiting a broader swath of voices into our industry.
Designing for social impact is an immersive experience in which the designer has to put on many hats: that of an active citizen, an educator, a social worker, a politician, etc. What has been one of the most important lessons you've learned out on the field?
Pick your battles, fight for what you believe in, and don't be an a#*$ole. I have done design/build projects with young people where, in the same day, I have had to be a general contractor, a social worker, a diplomat, a welder, a friend, a parent, a fundraiser and a feminist. The most important thing I learned from having to manage all those roles at once is to stay grounded in who I am, to not compromise on the few deal-breaker things that are non-negotiable, and to be compassionate about the rest. As a creative person in any number of social justice or social impact projects, you're bound to find yourself as the outsider, the rabble-rouser, or the crazy dreamer at one point or another. The best you can do is be strong but humble, and try to learn as much as you can from those who have different opinions or lived experiences.
Pick your battles, fight for what you believe in, and don't be an a#*$ole.
Do you have a go-to prompt for encouraging out-of-the-box thinking from your students?
These are not specific to design or outside-the-box thinking, but I have two go-to prompts for pretty much everything. First, "What would your 10-year-old self do?" (Remaining in touch with the raw creativity and empathy of your youth helps keep us open minded and playful, even when the work feels serious), and second "What would your grandmother do?" (There is a ruthless pragmatism and groundedness that comes from our elders. I think remembering that we are part of a longer history helps humble us to produce more authentic work).
Jim Kraimer is Director of Industrial Design – Europe for Crown Equipment Corporation, which is a leading manufacturer of lift trucks and related products and services. Jim likes to dig deep into research and leverage new technologies that reimagine a new user experience. The latest example is Crown's QuickPick Remote®—the world's first glove-controlled order picker vehicle—which is ushering in a new era of game-changing automation. Crown has won over 50 major international design awards and was recognized by Fast Company Magazine as Thirty Companies that Get Design. Prior to Crown, Jim developed futuristic products for Electrolux's visionary Concept Design Team, and also worked at design consultancies in the USA and Germany.
Crown Equipment is recognized for products that are ergonomic, sleek and user-friendly—words more commonly used to describe personal consumer products. Tell us a little more about your team's design process, how do you inject thoughtful design details into commercial equipment?
"Human-centered" design thinking is at the center of our development process.
This almost seems cliché, since a lot of companies probably say this, but we take ergonomics and user interaction to a whole different level. Why? Because forklift operators use our products all-day long…from the moment they arrive at work to the moment they go home. And, it's a tough job. So, "empathy" is key to connecting to the operator's world, and understanding the job they need to do. That's why our designers and researchers spend so much time in warehouses talking to the users. That empathy leads to purpose, and purpose leads to passion. And that's when designers are inspired to create solutions that make a difference in people's lives.
Developing customer-centric products is important for maintaining the safety, comfort and efficiency of operators in a difficult work environment. What are the most important elements to keep in mind when designing for users in this space?
For decades a major focus for designers was to create good ergonomics for users, because, as you mentioned, this directly impacts safety, comfort and efficiency. For heavy equipment, ergonomics traditionally focused on the physical touch-points for users, such as seating and controls and Crown is known for its innovation in this area. However, today user interface is the biggest challenge and opportunity. Commercial and industrial products are integrating sensor technologies that can provide real-time information about the vehicle and the environment. So the question is… how much information should we show? The challenge for designers is to create an interface that gives users the right information at the right time. In a difficult work environment where safety is paramount, the right interface can help users make better decisions, and keep them engaged in their job.
With new technologies and material innovations, what advancements are you most excited about that will revolutionize design on an industrial scale?
There are several technologies converging upon us at an unprecedented speed, so it's an exciting time to be designing the future. However, I think two technologies are particularly interesting for industrial products. First, "connected" products and people, under the umbrella of Internet of Things, have the ability to create new opportunities throughout the entire value chain, and not just for products, but particularly for new, valuable services. Secondly, automation and robotics are becoming more flexible and scalable, which means that companies can re-design parts of their supply chain with less labor and more efficiency. Nobody can predict how fast these innovations will revolutionize various industries, but it's very possible that it will happen sooner than we think.
Bruce and Stephanie Tharp lead a husband-and-wife design studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan where they also are professors at the University of Michigan's Stamps School of Art & Design. Their studio has licensed and commissioned products and projects for companies like Ligne Roset, Moet-Hennessy, The Art Institute of Chicago, Crate&Barrel, Kikkerland, and Design Ideas. Educated in mechanical engineering, sociocultural anthropology, and industrial design, their practice and teaching crosses disciplinary boundaries of design, business, engineering, and healthcare, as well as the four fields of design: commercial, responsible, experimental, and discursive design. They are currently finishing a book project on discursive design.
Why do you think speculation is a valuable tool for designers working in the present moment?
"The future is not what it used to be; neither is the past. Both are in need of reconstruction if we are to have a livable present." – French Poet and philosopher, Paul Valéry
The original question presupposes that speculation and the present moment are discrete/distinct … Is anyone really working only in the present moment? Speculative design work imagines what our future world might look like, and poses questions about our agency in creating and influencing it. Our work today is intrinsically tied to our future(s), whether this future is nearer or farther.
Speculative design (as a sub-domain of discursive design) has the opportunity to contribute differently to culture, offering glimpses of what might be—whether flattering or horrifying. It can help politicians, scientists, ethicists, industry captains, other designers, and the general population think through the what-ifs of our ever-changing social, economic, ideological, and technological conditions. It's an important intellectual and ultimately reflective endeavor, when done well.
It is also important to understand that speculation is not any more valuable as a tool now than at other times in design's history, although now there is a broader conception of what design speculation is as well as an increase in its sophistication. In general it has been, and currently is, an underutilized mode of design practice.
One example of an early speculative project was Raymond Loewy's 1956 Star of Hope, which was a proposal for a civilian satellite to orbit around the world containing microfilm prints of the flags of every nation and a symbol of every known religion. It would broadcast the message "peace on earth, good will to men", and have a flashing blue light that would make it visible as it circled the night's global skies. He faintly hoped that this concept might actually take flight (and hit up Lyndon B. Johnson to pitch it to Congress), and through this project, Loewy was speculating how this might bring about different social conditions in the world.
This project represents potential that has always been there and should be understood as a core competency of design alongside its other capacities. Where might the world be today if there had been more Stars of Hope? We hope that designers don't miss the present opportunities to influence preferable futures through speculative practices that examine different social, economic, ideological, and technological futures.
Your studio name, Materious, suggests an equal interest in ideas and form. Do you have any advice for designers seeking the sweet spot between speculative explorations and commercial goods?
Yes, we believe strongly in the intellectual role of objects, along with their form and utility. We are pluralists at heart and see possibility and value in the speculative, the commercial, and hybrid forms of both these "opposites," if it is a polarity you are posing.
Within the commercial realm, the role of speculation is to stretch beyond the immediate domain of profit with the hope that new financial value ultimately results. And in realms of speculation that might normally be devoid of economic concerns, some interesting possibilities can arise from a slight shift. One of the things that the commercial offers is an immediate or base relevance (within cultures of capitalism). Speculative design can leverage this for conceptual impact and for its systems of distribution/dissemination—to use its means for alternative ends.
It is important for designers to understand and leverage a broad range of positions or elements—they aren't inherently good or bad. But this doesn't necessarily mean neutrality; designers should be willing and capable of putting a definitive stake in the ground at some point.
We feel it is important that designers can achieve conviction and boldness through open-minded investigation—important issues are never one-sided. The enemy is ignorance, arrogance, and laziness; we would rather see more design with the insight and calculation of a political analyst than with the obtuse zeal of a Trump or Clinton devotee who is merely pissed off, oblivious, or blindly devout to popular ideology. Speculative design is foremost a communicative endeavor, and designers need to be prepared to work in that arena.
In short, our advice for designers is to get smart and put the time in to make an intelligent and informed argument, plea, commentary, or question through your speculative work, and to be open to the potential of many possible tools—be they aesthetic, functional, commercial, or other.
There are some common misconceptions floating around the practice of speculative design that make some people hesitant to take it seriously. In your mind, what elements are the foundation for a successful, provocative speculative concept?
Overwhelmingly, we think success hinges upon good communication of the ideas being considered. It is hard to argue against a good argument. There are smart questions, there is insightful commentary, and there is educated conjecture.
A warning light should go off for a designer if they cannot intelligently articulate at least two sides of a speculative theme, just as a good debater can take either side of the aisle. This should be foundational. While speculative designs can be rejected on the basis of ignorance or close-mindedness, it should be the viewer's deficiencies that are at fault and not the designer's. Dismissal should occur because of difference of values rather than sloppy thinking.
One of our primary criticisms of much discursive work is how it is positioned to make an impact. The most successful speculative designs affect thought. If a designer really cares about the topic and wants to spur reflection and influencing thinking, are they merely posting their design work on their website and moving on to the next design?
Are they fully aware of and can articulate their intentions with their work, as this is seemingly the foundation from which all their other decisions extend? Have they crafted an effective message which will ultimately be embedded within, or emanate from their designed artifacts? Have they thought through the many possible articulations for the artifact and chosen the best one that supports their messaging? (I may love shoe design, but does that mean that it is the best vehicle for my message?) Do they have a targeted audience, as different audiences respond differently to different mediums and messages? Have they thought through the contexts in which their work will meet its audience and leveraged environmental attributes? Have they thought through ways to increase interaction and perhaps dialogue with their audience? Do they know the type of effect they wish to have on their audience and have they positioned their artifact and messaging accordingly? (It is a lot easier to just make someone aware of an issue than persuade them.)
Part of the challenge so far has been with the work of the designers—better work is easier to take seriously. But the other challenge of our audiences understanding the role and value of speculative work will take more time. More work, more exposure, more theorization, more criticism, and more competitions like this one will help pave the way.