Each year during New York Design Week, designers from all over the world flock to the city, filling venues throughout the five boroughs with a seemingly endless array of new products. Don't get us wrong, we love to see the full gamut of works on display, but there is something particularly refreshing about designers who opt to challenge the design world right in the middle of one of it's most important annual exhibitions.
That's why we've had our eye on Grouphug, an alternative design collective founded by the director of product design at littleBits, Krystal Persaud. Each year, the group stages a pop-up show during New York Design Week, each time tackling a different big-picture theme—probing "those problems that make you think 'Man, the world is so fucked up,'" as they state on their website. Over the years, they've established a thought-provoking platform that lays an important foundation for generating discussions about the productive role of design in our society. On the eve of their exhibition opening this year, we sat down with Persaud to find out more about how Grouphug started, what motivates them and where they're headed.
Core77: When and how did Grouphug start?
Krystal Persaud: I moved to New York from Atlanta in the spring of 2013. NY Design Week came around and I remember going to a handful of events and feeling underwhelmed. It was embarrassing to see shows that have not evolved past furniture or lighting designs. I know that ICFF is a Design Week staple, but there are over 40,000 industrial designers in America—what's everybody making? It can't all be chairs and lamps. For New York to continue to be the most forward-thinking city in the world, we need more experimental, visionary work.
After 2013's NYC Design Week, I thought, "I live in New York... I know some designers... why not try to organize a show I wish existed?" So in 2014, we hosted our first show, Trigger, about gun violence. This was followed by Feed Me in 2015, a show about the future of nutrition. Now we're on our third show, Judge Me, about combatting prejudice.
One of the projects selected for this year's show is Tru-Colour bandages, a new take on band-aids that redefines what "nude" means.
How does the name "Grouphug" reflect the collective's mission?
I never liked the nature of design competitions. Trying to design the "best" piece to win a spot in a show always pits designers against each other. When designing solutions for a big problem, it isn't a competition. It's more about bringing designers together and feeding off of each others' ideas. So I liked the idea of this collective feeling like a "grouphug" of designers—a creative space where you submit an idea and are welcomed into a community of people who are also passionate about what you are trying to do.
It's hard to find a name for a socially conscious mission without sounding mega cheesy like "design for good" or something like that. Whenever you have a name like "for good" or "for impact" it cues the eye roll... I wanted the name to emphasize a sense of joy and fun–to attract optimistic people!
Also on view is this Pantone-esque guide to human traits by Spark Corps.
What considerations go into choosing each year's theme?
Every year during the exhibition we put out post-its and paper and ask visitors to tell us what big problems they care about or worry them. When forming a theme, we try to pick a topic that is broad enough that designers have some freedom to interpret it, yet specific enough that the final output can be tangible. For example, this year's theme of "prejudice" is universal enough that it personally touches everyone, but they all have a different take on it. I think it's important to give designers an avenue to act on things they are passionate about. We've talked about tackling themes like population, energy, and addiction in the future.
The GenderTimer app allows you to measure how much speaking time is given to women vs. men during tv shows or even in office meetings.
What's next for Grouphug?
Good question! We get a little bigger every year. We try to push designers out of their comfort zone and give them the opportunity to design things they don't get to every day. Most of the concepts shown at our shows are prototypes that will never make it to market. That's ok. We hope the process of tackling a big problem for a design show will inspire designers to continue thinking about theses issues in their professional lives as well. Success to me is building a tight-knit community of designers who are passionate, curious and ready to rumble.
We want to continue disrupting NYCxDesign with fresh ideas. We've talked about adding more interactive elements to our programming next year—like running a hands-on workshop or a design charrette around the theme we choose.