Sunday, November 30, 2008

Design as Guide in My Life

This semester, through History of Industrial Design, I was able to explore various aspects of deisgn that I did not previously consider nor even heard of.

The first week's assignment "Designing for the Passed" allowed me to widen my designer's eyes for different fields that design can be applied and be open to the unusual fields. "History of Light" assignment inspired me to think a little poetically about how each design metaphorically speaks to me. Form and Functionalism is an important conversation for all designers and by thinking about it, I realised that I had an interesting point of view about Form and Functionalism. Industrial Design is not something that can simply be explained or described to someone who does not know Industrial Design because even though it pursues aesthetics, it considers a wide variety of aspects that may not seem apparent. One of the many aspects that a designer should consider during their creative process is giving meanings to the creations. Whether it is a product, a space or a system, every decision making leads to meanings for each individual with different backgrounds. Designing for a specific user group in mind helps to focus on the most important goals without deviating from the original plan. When it is designing for the other 90% of the less privileged people, this is especially important becayse their actual needs might differ significantly from what the designer imagined. From "A Better World by Design" conference, I learned to appreciate slow, soft and low-tech designs and their structural beauty. What is "Art" and "Design" is an interlaced subject that affects each other. The best "Art" and "Design' are the ones that are well-thought out and executed.

In my personal experience of attending an all-girls private boarding school in a small town in New Zealand for five years exposed me to smaller, quieter and more grounded environments as opposed to a large scale and fast corporate city setting. What I believe in design is fundamental goodness in each design of a certain quality rather than rushed designs with mediocre quality.

There is definitely something fascinating about large corporate styl designs: they reach out to the general public efficiently and they have the ability to influence not only each individual consumer but also politically and globally. Each design has more power to share its intended experience with people that it can really make a significant difference. Because of this reason, the most ideal design world will be that the corporate settings design for honest intentions that are not affected by secondary factors such as profitability. However, in the real world, sometimes profitability speaks before honest good designs because profitability is also part of a good design.

Since I am still a student I understand idealised design process that RISD has taught me. When I graduate, the process will still probably share the same fundamentals but the application may differ depending on the company that I work for. Nancy Austen, the professor for History of Industrial Design class, suggested that I might be interested in starting up a small community-based design firm, possibly run by only women. I agreed that it was a refreshing and interesting idea for me to consider because I have always imagined myself working for bigger companies. I am not quite ready to take up on the leadership role idea and be a responsible figure yet but I will always keep the idea of being responsible and designing to lead a group of people whether it is a small group for women or for a large scale of people in a corporate environment because both settings offer different styles.

Runnign a small design firm would allow me to create my interpretation of good designs for people who respond to similar aesthetics. On the other hand, in bigger companies, I can participate in creating a larger scale design trend that people who are targeted to react. I believe I will make the best decision I can when the right moment comes to me. I do not have to do everything at once because in one way or another, I will be designing for the rest of my life either professionally at a company or unprofessionally at home. The application of what I pursue may differ time to time but it will be the best decision that I could make in that given situation because I believe the design process that designers use to solve problems can also be used to guide me.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Art | Design

It is hard to separate what is Art and Design. One can easily argue that Art is a form of expression and Design is a mean to solve problems. Unlike Science or Mathematics, Art and Design are not something that can easily put into exact definition because they depend on the individual artists and designers’ interpretation of Art and Design. Interest in pursuing aesthetics and the critical thinking process are some of the grounding factors that I think are fundamental to both Art and Design.

The design studio that I was particularly interested in was the BY:AMT Inc, founded by Alissia Melka-teichroew. Personally, I have always appreciated the aesthetics of ornate antique luxury. It is recent that I have been getting more interested in modern functionalism approach to beauty. BY:AMT presents a hybrid of the two styles through their creative design approach. Their humourous and almost sarcastic ideas about traditional luxury are expressed with cheap and modern materials like acrylic. The Diamond jewelry line best describes their design style. Taking the famous Tiffany’s setting diamond ring, they re-created the symbol of love in an affordable and whimsical way by laser cutting different acrylic in the ring’s silhouette.

It may seem like an “artistic” approach where BY:AMT did not necessarily research the user market with a design brief but they definitely solved some of the possible issues in this field. The Diamond rings satisfy those people who cannot afford an actual diamond ring by presenting an alternative product. They utilize the modern technology of laser cutting to consider manufacturing process. Their choice of material allows different variation of colours and thickness for each consumer to customize their own individual style. The rings also address the issue of giving values to the material; an inexpensive piece of acrylic became a very precious ornament.

This week’s research allowed me to realize that people respond to “good design”. Defining “good design” varies from each people because everyone has different values, experiences and lifestyles. What may seem like a very useful design to an urban person may not necessarily work in the same way for a farmer in country. Satisfying everyone’s needs and desires is very difficult and researching to figure out the market’s demand can take a long time and money.

I started to wonder what would happen if the designer puts more thoughts into designing something “good”, instead of spending a lot of effort into defining the target user group that will potentially purchase the design. Selling design is important but that is not what designers should do. Designers should create “good design” that will naturally sell well because it is that good. The good design may seem like “Art” because it was created with different thought process behind. However, if it is done well that people respond, isn’t it good design?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Better World by Design Conference

As one of the volunteers, I am very proud to take a small part in this nation-wide event. As much as I wanted to be more fully involved over the whole weekend, I was only able to participate in 2 workshops.

The first workshop that I attended was called “Open Source Robotics” where a RISD faculty, Paul Badger discussed about Arduino boards. Arduino boards are computer circuit boards that can interact with other software programs. As much as this workshop was interesting in terms of broadening my horizon to other software products that I was not aware of, I felt that this workshop was a little too advanced for me to fully understand since I am not tech savvy at all. However, I felt there is a huge potential for industrial designers in this field because Arduino boards are the foundation for interactive devices and in order to design interactive devices and systems, understanding what makes things interactive is important.

The second workshop was called “Bamboo: Structural Grass”, conducted by Miya Buxton, a second year graduate student in Architecture at RISD. She visited Indonesia to study vernacular building structures and became fascinated with architectural capabilities of bamboo. Bamboo is not tree so it has different structural qualities than that of other trees used in construction. With the direction and understanding of fiber in mind, one can design beautiful geometric forms with bamboo. It grows very tall in a very short amount of time (which helps with sustainability issues: more materials in less time and land area) and thickness and sizes vary according to species. As an alternative source for construction material, bamboo is ideal for smaller houses but it is crucial that there is a way to grow bamboo locally to reduce carbon footprints. It would defeat the purpose of sustainability if one were to import bamboo from overseas because transporting bamboo via ship exhausts gasoline or diesel, contaminates the sea and threatens the sea creatures. This workshop widened my knowledge of bamboo in terms of its structural qualities. Inserting metal parts such as a screw is not as effective as inserting a thin piece of bamboo when making joints. Utilizing nature on its own method works the most effectively with bamboo.

This allows a different approach to designing architecture because the designer has to design around what it does the best. Most interestingly, those vernacular building structure was developed over centuries ago when there was not advanced technology like the modern days. They learned from the nature, time and the experiments which we often overlook now. We can learn so much from the nature and just with time passing but we are always in a rush to find out the answer in the quickest way that we often do not get to enjoy the process and the excitement of investigating.

Miya’s soft voiced presentation made me forget about how busy and fast the design world is nowadays and imagine the old days when they approached architecture not as a mean to make more money and fame but to construct a functional residence area that was also aesthetically pleasing.

I wish that after RISD I get to design in an old fashioned manner so that my design reflects most of my thinking that was not too heavily influenced by the politics of the real world.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Design for the Other 90%

It is amazing how many entrepreneurs are willing to make some of financial sacrifice to better the rest of the world. Instead of applying their knowledge and energy to design better and more chic high technology devices for the upper percentile of socio-economical group (which will ultimately bring fame and money), some choose to work for the other end of the spectrum.

Whether they work for the fame or acknowledgement in the field, the organizations and companies that are introduced in “Design for the Other 90%” ( are rather philanthropic. They consider helping the less fortunate people their top priority. It is also their motivation and driving force to get up every morning and continue with their research. They deserve recognition and support for their hard work more than what they are getting.

Even though designs like “one laptop per child”, “LifeStraw” and “Solar Aid” are developed for use in less developed countries, also known as “the other 90%”, those technologies and devices are not used by the whole of “the other 90%” yet. Only a small number of people out of the 90% are fortunate enough to have the devices distributed to them.

Then, what these organizations and companies are doing is not technically for the whole 90%. The intention of designing items that are crucial for the people in specified locations is definitely applause-worthy. However the implementation of the design needs to be more wide-spread to be wholly “the other 90%” effective.
What could be the other possible designs that will address issues that are not fulfilled by smaller companies is government scale support and propagandas so that more people understand the importance of designing for the other 90%.

There are bigger corporate companies who take the initiative to help the people but that is not enough. We need to start looking from a different perspective and start analyzing why there is such discrepancy between people becoming extremely obese and dying from it to dying from malnutrition.

One way to design to help solving this problem is to stop wars. Wars create more people to suffer from malnutrition, lose their shelters and get infected by disease.

In the long run it may also be effective to stop causing people to be in needy situations than trying to design objects that aid them. It is not quite within the designers’ reach to be involved in politics and make executive decisions on whether or not to conduct more wars. However idealistically speaking, if there are no more physical wars that force innocent people to lose their homes and the effort to plan the strategies were used to resolve the core issues that “the other 90%” face, the world would be a little more beautiful than it is now.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

How Products Get Meaning? - Tampons

There are things that are inevitable for humans because of who we are: we need to eat, drink and sleep. We also need to keep ourselves warm and sheltered. We need to form communities among ourselves and feel that we belong. We need to love someone, make love and leave traces of our existence through our personal achievements and the baby.

Although sexual intercourse and conceiving a life may seem romantic and beautiful, preparing for the right moment is long and cumbersome, especially for women. Menstruation is a big part during a woman’s lifetime because it signals that the woman is ready to conceive a baby. As much as it is cumbersome and annoying, it needs to be respected in a similar level to conceiving a baby because it is a privileged opportunity that women have to symbolize that they are ready to be responsible for another life in their wombs.

However, on average, a woman gives birth to 2 children in her lifetime. For the 2 children, she suffers from her menstruation pains and the inconvenience of dealing with it every month for several decades.

There are a number of drugs developed to aid period cramps and sanitary products to help manage menses. Sanitary pads and tampons are two of the most widely used products used among women for their convenience and disposability.

In case of tampons, they are originally from the ancient Egyptians and further developed to absorb bullet wounds during wars in the 19th Century. They are commonly favoured for their convenient packaging, the ability to allow active body movements and comfort. Women can easily carry a few tampons around, play sports such as swimming and are not limited to choosing a certain type of outfit, which sanitary pads may not offer.

However, despite all the convenience of tampons, one can start to wonder the poetry of tampons. It is a little weird inserting treated cotton and rayon mix into a woman’s vagina, where the sacred act of love making happens and the result of love making and 9 months of patience and endurance comes out. Tampons are invented to absorb the inconvenience of menses to allow women to participate in daily activities without being bothered and they definitely satisfy many women who cannot afford to take their time off during their periods and constantly need to be active. One can argue that they serve their purpose of creation and that is the end of the discussion. Women love to use them and the manufacturers are happy to design new packaging and style constantly to attract more women. On the other hand, one can start thinking how strange and disrespectful to use tampons, treating menstruation as the same level to bullet wounds.

In the case of tampons, their utilitarian design satisfies many users that their poetic meanings are often overlooked and it may not even necessary to consider starting a conversation about a different idea since it is women, ourselves, who both give birth and use tampons, and happy about it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Industrial Design

When I was first heard of this 1,000 word essay assignment, I was not sure where on earth to start. Then, I started thinking “what are the products that I use without really thinking about their purpose of existence?”

There are many products around that make me wonder, “I wonder who first came up with this idea”.

Of course, there are the known inventions like telephones and light bulbs but my recent interest – cosmetics, is one of the many that I wonder every day. I wonder, for example, who came up with the idea of a lipstick.

Cosmetics help the user to look and feel more beautiful by solving complexion problems, disguising impurities or enhancing features. Nowadays, we are flooded with new products launched on the shelves attracting prospective customers. There are television commercials, magazine advertisements and internet advertisements promoting endless number of products that eventually make one look more beautiful than before they put on the product.

Desire to look more beautiful, is one of the most instinctive nature that all living plants, flowers, insects, animals and humans have in common. Flowers bloom in bright colours and animals tend their fur to look shinier. Cleopatra, one of the classic beauties from history, is known for using various home-made remedies to make her skin feel softer and enhance her good features. Presently, many people, especially women, spend minutes to hours making themselves more beautiful with a minimum of one product (lotion?) to a good dozen of them (toner, moisturizer, daily cream, eye cream, SPF cream, primer, foundation, powder, blush, eye shadow, eye liner, mascara, lipstick, lip gloss). Often in situations, women are expected to present themselves with certain amount of make up to show professionalism or diligence.

Here is the dilemma: the most-talked-about in design world, “form and functionalism”

“Beautify-ing” or “Grooming” is something that is hard to discuss about “form and functionalism” conversation because functionalism is something that is simple and achieves simplicity from the natural and un-ornamented form. Design can be broadly defined as that it solves problems while pursuing aesthetics.

However, in the cosmetics world, which pursues the one same goal of solving problems while pursuing aesthetics, the more complicated the user is with the lines of products, the more likely to be more beautiful in form. Of course, we cannot overly generalize everything about cosmetics, but in most cases it is an agreeable statement.

Like John Maeda says, we won’t be able to appreciate simplicity without experiencing complexity. Right now, many people are taking the complex approach of presenting ourselves more beautifully. Society expects us to be ornately presented in order to gain respect and attention and that has become the social norm. Women spend a long time trying on different shades of eye shadows and lipsticks and men also spend some time in front of the mirror, fixing their hair or beard. We all spend more money than what we essentially need to on purchasing the newer and better product that may not even guarantee more beauty that is equivalent to the sum of spending.

Followed by the design movement of functionalism, I hope, we soon start realizing the newer and better approach of maintaining beauty. Our natural skin tones, size of eyes and colour of lips are specifically and uniquely designed for each individual. The geometry, proportion and scale of each individual are designed in harmony of customized biological process.

I think it is worth trying functionalism and appreciating our natural assets without ornamentation. Maybe then, we might be able to pay more attention to observing how they behave, speak and think instead of looking at them.

However, I am aware that decorating ourselves is probably one of the last things that we will take functionalism approach because we love beautiful things, we love making us look more beautiful and we love complicating ourselves.

For me, Industrial Design is understanding human behaviours like this in a formal way that I can apply this knowledge into my future design solutions. For example, I recently purchased a make-up kit named “Primpcess”. It contains colours of eyeshadow, a mascara and a concealer, which can easily be found elsewhere. However, because its name is “Primpcess” and my desire to look more beautiful communicated with the brand, I purchased the product.

Hopefully, in my design career, I will be designing products that communicate with and satisfy our basic, yet sophisticated desires and needs.

By the way, utilizing the convenience of the Internet, I found out some of the brief history of a lipstick.

“Lipstick is known to have been used around 5000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia, when semi-precious jewels were crushed and applied to the lips and occasionally around the eyes. Women in the ancient Indus Valley Civilization applied lipstick to their lips for face decoration. Ancient Egyptians extracted purplish-red dye from fucus-algin, 0.01% iodine, and some bromine mannite, which resulted in serious illness. Cleopatra had her lipstick made from crushed carmine beetles, which gave a deep red pigment, and ants for a base. Lipsticks with shimmering effects were initially made using a substance found in fish scales called pearlescence."(Wikipedia)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

History of Chair

By re-visiting some of the points that George Marcus has made about functionalism, I realised that there is a clear distinction between functionalism and functionality. I believed if a product was functional from an engineering perspective, the product represented functionalism to me because it meant that the product was designed with effective use of materials, geometry and process.

However, I gained a different perspective from reading this one more time;

Functionalism - “the notion that objects made to be used should be simple, honest, and direct; well adapted to their purpose; bare of ornament; standardized; machine-made, and reasonably priced; and expressive of their structure and materials - has defined the course of progressive design for most of the century.” (George Marcus, Functionalism, 1995, p.9.)

Functionalism is not as simple as describing functionality; not only did the object have to be functional, the object had to allow the user to experience elegance and satisfaction from the essence and the simplicity of the form.

It is interesting to notice that the five chairs that I picked for the timeline still can represent functionalism that Marcus described because all five of them express their simple aesthetics through their structure, use of materials and purpose.