Agata Jaworksa: Droog

While Droog is perhaps best known for quirky furniture, their recent endeavours have looked at different aspects of design. Today Agata Jaworksa spoke at Northumbria University about her own work investigating transportation for growing produce, and the Dutch design group Droog’s forays into dead stock and the grey economy.

Polish-Canadian-Dutch designer Jaworksa (“I’m Canadian today, as there’s another Canuck in the audience”) has a personal connection to Northumbria: she has worked with current PhD student Giovanni Innella on a number of projects in recent years. They both went to the Design Academy in Einhoven, where she did her thesis work on the potential for transport to do more than just ferry around ‘slowly decomposing’ produce. Inspired by such case studies as the UPS-Toshiba collaboration where the courier company not only collect broken goods, but actually service them, she looked into how transportation could help ‘make things in transit’. Her chosen produce was mushrooms due to the high harvesting cost. While the model won’t work at present as mushroom growing is still an art more than a science, the work has been carried on in other places and was awarded the 34th best invention of 2008 by Time Magazine.

Her work at Droog has included a number of projects. The main underlying theme that she and Innella brought to Droog was that of what industrial design would be without the the industry.

A project that came out of this was ‘Design for Download‘: an online tool that would allow people to make their own Droog objects within some curated boundaries. [The limits of what can be created reminded me of a presentation I saw about the Burberry site: where they will not allow you to make terrible fashion choices!] Another was Up, focusing on ‘deadstock’: taking unsold stock from various manufacturers and inviting designers to be ‘revivers’. There were some inspired results such as fused chairs and carpet shoes, but ironically the biggest selling item was a set of ceramics that no one wanted so were coated with blue silicon by the curators. When they attempted to do this with business partners, they got some other interesting results (e.g. magazines turned into pencils) but ran into an unexpected problem: businesses do not want to advertise that they have dead stock through repurposing it.

The Open House project attempted to transpose the ‘outsource everything’ grey culture of New York to the suburbs with results ranging from classes to a museum of the suburban house. Thanks to the support of one member right from the start (as well as a grant from the Dutch government and other partners in the US), the project was well received by the local community, if not by the New York Times. (Jaworksa notes that the Times’ criticism was that they didn’t address the necessary underlying structure, but believes that had they done this it might not have been news anyway).

The final project she talked about was inspired by a news item that income tax might be replaced by goods tax, thereby making materials far more expensive. The Material Matters show at this year’s Milan Furniture Fair was themed ‘Material Future Fair’ and included a number of provocations as to what a future with materials as a luxury might be like. The results included rented beds, dead animals being made into products, and “plastic is the new gold”.

She also made a number of interesting points about Droog. While the movement’s initial celebration of found objects for design made it appear to be all about nature and sustainability, the movement has made an effort to contradict this, ranging from a series based on plastics to one dedicated to high tech. For all of the wittiness, the movement makes an effort to remain accessible. Jaworksa does a lot of writing for the projects and has noted that any writing that becomes too academic is immediately rejected.

Interaction Tyneside: Periodically Transitioning Families and Designing in Stereoscope

This month’s Interaction Tyneside went from defense families to Toy Story, but shared a common thread of being based on personal journeys.

Reunion and technology-mediated separation in periodically transitioned families

Kostas Kazakos

Kostas Kazakos Kostas Kazakos. Also note the wooden box at bottom—Hugo Glover’s stereoscope!

Globe trotting Kostas Kazakos (born in Greece, spent some time in Texas, now doing his PhD in Melbourne) discussed his PhD research on HCI and periodically transitioned families. Based on his personal experience as a child in a defense family, he had noted that there hadn’t been much attention paid to this type of family (an atypical one as opposed to the separated one from divorce).

His work is specifically looking at how HCI can be involved in the reunion phase of these interactions (something which is specifically of importance for children). His research subjects (‘grounded theory, not ethnography’) is comparing a number of families that deal with periodic transitions, in defence and in academia.

So far he has noted that academics use modern networking technologies such as Skype and mobile phones in ways that those in defense do not (while one audience member asked if the families might have just been sticking to the offical line of servicemen not giving away their locations, he has found that those situated in Afghanistan and the like usually don’t have cellphone signals even if they have phones).

He also noted that defense families had an asymmetrical relationship in terms of tech use and had many more rituals related to the reunion.

Is S3D (stereoscopic imaging) a vision of the future or of the past?

Hugo Glover

Product designer turned animator turned lecturer Hugo Glover also used his own history to help shape the direction of his staff research at Northumbria University. He had stumbled on the power of stereoscopes as a graduating student: he got a lot of attention by mailing out his product design portfolio as a Viewmaster with slides.

His work uses the realisation that product design, animation, and stereovision exist in their own silos based on the relationship to the screen (around, in, and for respectively) and attempts to bring them all together in the Fourth Window project.

Hugo Glover showing the different discipline relationships to the screen

He is particularly interested in looking at the role of appropriate context for stereoscope: it worked for Avatar because it already has an unreal quality, and Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams allows people to access a world that they will never be able to enter because of the risk to the cave art.

He also shared an interview he did with  Phil ‘Captain 3D’ McNally of Dreamworks (coincidentally a Northumbria graduate as well), who believes that 3D is only as much of a gimmick as film is in general, and has enabled the company to think through 3D from the sketching stage. While early stereovision (think the reviled 50s movies) suffered because the bad quality of film had nauseating effects, this is not a problem anymore and so he is able to create mini-boxes that have a higher resolution than the Apple Retina Display.

He also demonstrated his Stereoscopic Box MI.

John Vines trying out the stereoscopic box (M-I)

(As part of my stepping back from non-PhD related work, I’ve also temporarily stopped livetweeting and gone back to good old sketch-noting. For those that are interested, these are below.)

Notes from Kostas' talk

Notes from Hugo's talk

Talk: Andrew Byrom

The Cumbrian accent belied his long flight from California, where he’s based as a lecturer at CALU, but the English sense of humour was well intact as Andrew Byrom stepped the audience through his astonishing 3D type works and his enduring love for the Eames’ design duo.

Byrom has been inspired throughout his design career by the Eames’s and their embrace of constraints, and has happily misappropiated Eric Gill’s statement that “letters are things“. He highlights this in his various experiments with materials and processes that ‘force his hand’ into unusual letterforms that he would never think of on his own. These range from his “Interiors” welded furniture with f’s falling over or his neon tube ‘Interiors Light’ (“see what I did there?”) pieces that involved heavy collaboration with fabricators, or just making it himself. (It doesn’t hurt that he worked in a shipyard for several years before studying graphic design).

He encouraged students to prototype rather than just make things on the computer—he knows that his work could be made in Photoshop but actually wants them to be real and resolved to be a full alphabet—and to get used to failure in the sense that ideas may need to be revisited. He cites his St Albarn stencil kit for his son as inspiring his later Play (?) tubing set, and a temporary letterform idea blowing down the road leading someone else to exclaim that it looked like a kite.

“Design shouldn’t be about playing around. It should be awful, painful, trying to get ideas.”

He had a provocative statement for students: we need less time and less money as it forces us into action. He used the example of the Eames Museum project, where the extreme time constraints forced them to have ideas and run with them, even coming up with creative solutions (they needed so source a Jeep and realised that some had just appeared in the recent Captain America movie).

He admits that he’s always been drawn towards considered work since his student days where he made ‘ugly but interesting’ work, and uses his free time as a lecturer in a US university to consider his practice. He also actively discourages his students from doing internships, as he worries that ‘the real world’ can dampen their creativity (as he found that it did his when he was forced to work to tight deadlines and thus create work he wasn’t very happy with). Similarly, he’s done work where he’s asked for forgiveness rather than permission: he and a student created the first known works that used Eames’ words without a single Eames object (an interactive postcard and bandanna). The famously-restrictive Eames estate were shown nicely resolved work and signed it off.

“When you get a brief from a client or lecturer and you think ‘I know exactly what to do’, don’t do it.”

He also advocates that designers get used to self promotion… but without business cards. He uses competitions to get visibility for commercial work, and dedicates every Friday afternoon to doing so. He also believes that traditional business cards are of no use to designers (they get put away and found again when the person can’t remember you anymore) so always makes unconventional ones, from a face mask of himself that he handed out as a student and sat in an agency’s office until they called him to his current once made from his old desk so that he can say “from the desk of Andrew Byrom”.

One nice little easter egg: he admits that the person lying on the towel in his UCLA cover is a sly reference to the person lying on the towel in the Eames’ ”Powers of Ten’ video.

For those that want something a little more visual, my sketchnotes are below.

Around the World in 90 Days

A quick update on some of the things I've been up to in the last few months:

Whew! I'm taking a step back from most industry related events (including livetweeting!) and sideprojects for the next few months in order to focus on my studies. For those that are interested head over to my semi-blog about it, Aesthetics of Touch.