By MA Culture, Criticism and Curation student Gili Yuval:
The first day of London Design Festival was exhausting. After visiting showrooms, design-product launches, commercial displays and some design school graduates exhibitions, there was still one question in my mind – what would be the best definition for good design in 2014? Is it luxury? Is it innovation? Is it the craft and DIY movement that attracts people to the design fairs and to showrooms?
To be honest, I was confused. I couldn’t find anything exciting in a display of a new lighting fixture collection or in the display of the new Martino Gamper chair. I couldn’t stand the thought of entering another showroom no matter how many drinks were on the house (and they were). This made me think of the design industry, where branding and uniqueness are so important, that sometimes they all look the same. After I got out of the “Restless Futures” exhibition that showcases a global mix of key recent graduates from Central Saint Martins, I was thinking – these graduates have so much creativity and enthusiasm. Are they in danger as soon as they enter the design industry? Does the current design market and industry erode creativity due to outside pressures of efficiency with time and cost? I don’t have a clear answer, but I admit that it is quite easy to be creative when studying in art school. You are being pushed to research what exists and what can be done differently. You are surrounded by talented people who come to school every morning and think: How can I do it in a new way?
It is far more challenging in the industrial sector where competition, lack of time, and supply and demand considerations are pushing one to produce. Having those thoughts in mind, I came back to the exhibition and chose some projects that I believe may have an interesting connection between what the creative spirit of the academy enables and the current commercial design industry.
The exhibits are divided by the “Restless Futures” programme into four themes: Disruptive Technologies, Democratising Innovation, No More Stuff? and Expanded Boundaries. The modest but excellent exhibition-design helped visitors to distinguish between those themes, not a simple mission in a square space like the Lethaby Gallery. No more stuff? “How the designer might operate in a world of diminishing resources in which the orthodoxies of endless growth are being questioned”.
This part of the exhibition can be easily related to eco-systems, recycling and to the process of creating new things out of old materials. I found Forrest Radfors’s “Unprinter” very interesting. The Unprinter is a machine that dismantles electric waste. It deconstructs obsolete products such as an old mobile phone, extracting non-ferrous metals and disparate plastics by their density. This is a reverse process that gives the consumer the option to be environmentally responsible.
Democratising innovation “The projects in this section show how innovation may be opened up to others in a more democratic manner” The most important section of the exhibition is also the one with the least potential to make an impact on the commercial design world. Democratic innovations are created with the consumer in mind as part of the design process. This makes it accessible and intriguing for the consumer. For example, Timothy Robert Klofski created a programme that trains designers in writing code titled “The Face of Code”. By creating a well-designed and accessible interface, this programme enables designers to improve their capabilities and empowers them professionally.
Other projects in this section support a more “Do It Yourself” approach, which gives the user more independence to create on their own. The “Open Tools” project is an open source web platform designed for the sharing of making tools. “The Alternet” encourages people to take active resposibility on their privacy online.
Disruptive technologies “Disruptive technologies are those that, either by default or intent, transform economic and social life, disrupting existing ways of working and acting”. Technology as an agent for change was the leading consideration for works in this section. Since technology progresses so fast, sometimes it is hard to notice if the generator for change is technology itself or other factors like social habits or data. Nonetheless, it takes a while to test change. Therefore it is hard to distinguish whether projects in this section present real breakthroughs or just sustain innovations for existing developments.
The most interesting project here is “Wax Porcelain” by Katharina Gross who created a new formulation of wax-marble-polypropylene. This new material pushes the boundaries of the furniture making discipline and allows the design and development of unique, custom-made furniture from an affordable material through a rapid production process offering radical low cost solutions.
Expanded boundaries “A broader and actively outward engagement, in which the methods and concepts of design are taken into other areas – not as subservient modes of communication, but as catalysts and vehicles for new collaborative ways of thinking and acting.” This section strengthens the notion that we shouldn’t look at design as a stand-alone discipline. Integration between design and other fields such as biology, psychology, technology and others is key for creating new disciplines and knowledge.
For example, “A Body of Skin” by ceramics and jewellery designer Gigi Barker presented the combination between the human body and a synthetic material such as silicon. The outcome is a soft silicon sofa that was processed over and over again until it became pleasant to the human touch.
Agricultural techniques and design intersect in “From Insects” by Marlene Huissoud. She created new materials thanks to tracing the behavior of insects and mimicking them. These projects challenge commonly found structures and develop new ways of thinking and production. They demand creativity, experimentation and deep research into multiple fields.