How do you like the idea of living inside a shipping container? Kinda weird? But that’s not the case with the Adam Kalkin’s prehab homes made from shipping containers. The architect makes container homes that are good looking, transportable and recyclable. He isn’t the only architect to make shipping container homes, but what he creates is exceptional and luxurious. The best examples that explain his creativity are the Bunny Lane, his own home built with a 19th century clapboard cottage inside an industrial hanger, and the Push Button House, which takes just 90 seconds to expand to reveal a five-room home. Anyway, Kalkin charges $150-$400 per square foot for his container homes and the cheapest of his creations sells for $50,000.
I sat in the context room and waited for the students, who had chosen me, to arrive. They came in one by one till there were 17 of them. This was the first day of class and we had just done face-to-face balloting, and asked students to go off into the rooms of their chosen tutors. We began talking and I heard about their project areas one by one. Before the end of the class I knew with certainty that I would have a big challenge in front of me in tutoring such a disparate group of students. I made notes and attempted to put the projects into either my research interests or into categories which could be my general competencies. Later that day I was to wonder at where the large number of sustainability projects I had helped students shape had gone, and if they were still doing those projects. To be fair two of the projects I was hearing did look like sustainability projects.
It has since taken me a week to arrive at an understanding of my task of tutoring the fourth year students in my group. In this period I have met the students on two occasions and have read their proposals. I am approaching my tutoring task from a learner centred perspective and this has two key aspects to it. One, I centre the learning process away from the content of the project into the development goals of the student, and two, I work on the expressed intent of the students, as in their proposal text, to clear away the unnecessary or the high-sounding prose to arrive at the core of the interest of the student. The first goal is a focus upon the ability of the student to function as an Industrial Designer in a product development context, and the second goal is the articulation of a project that can sustain the student’s interest and would motivate them to deliver their best. In my reading of the proposals and in the conversations with the students I did encounter a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about the essential nature of the Industrial Design profession, and this became a theme in my communication with the students. Significantly I saw the students privileging the rational, design looks like engineering, and the prescriptive, design looks like policy making, in their articulation of goals. Half the students wanting to do vehicle design seemed to have a cultural cringe about confessing to a desire to do car design, and when confronted with the fact that their text seemed to be going in circles, confessed to the cringe. Similarly other students, whose projects looked like product design projects, were not comfortable saying so in plain terms. This is probably a cultural issue with the program and I ought to address this in the Research Methods course next year.
The crux in essence is that Design has to be reinstated at the centre of the project, and issues of concern for populations, the environment and passion for manufacturing have to relocated to the periphery. The composite design thus looks like an onion with design issues at the core, and the successive rings being the passions and ideologies; corporate greed, consumerism, sustainable transport systems, ethical issues, poverty, war, development, food miles and so on to name few. We need to reinvoke the purpose of design as being the improvement of the quality of life of people.
I have been looking at students who have all come in to the studio to work on areas which are neither about the campaigns I am working on nor do these topics easily overlap with any of my projects. In effect my supervision of these students will be in areas quite different from my current research focus. First there are seven students interested in vehicle design and this is not my area of expertise. I am quite happy to dabble in vehicle design at an upper pool level where the focus was not upon vehicle styling so much as visualizing models of car sharing and designing propositions for vehicles that could fit in car-share systems. Therefore my supervision of these students would benefit from the assistance of an expert such as Bernie Walsh, a former Ford-Holden employee with 20 odd years of experience.
Among the other six students, two did not come into fourth year with a proposal for a project. The four others on discussion turned out to be interested in working on projects that engaged people and their practices with some showing a significant focus upon the home. Reading into the proposal text I kept finding references to individuals and micro-events and there seems to be a unifying interest here. These projects are yet to be completely worked out – but early indications are that they could go in the direction of product design with either a sustainability, or a cultural and aesthetic focus.
Today I spent some time with each of the students and talked to them about their projects. This was a process of cleaning up their intentions and goals. I am keen to ensure that students do not undertake projects where the risk of adequate delivery of outcomes exists. I therefore asked students to write a reflective essay about their skills and abilities in design. Called ‘capability statements’ this was an assignment they undertook after class in week 1. My intention here was to focus the student’s attention upon their own design practice so that they could conflate their dreams – life goals and notions of design practice – with their final projects. Additionally I would use their capability statements to look at their presentations in week 3 where they explain their project plans.
I am motivated by a principle that I can best tutor students and support them in areas I have a depth of knowledge and expertise in. I believe the final year is where the significance of Industrial Design is made manifest, therefore I am focussed in this year not on a solution delivery by students but on the delivery of a sophisticated and refined design. This necessarily means I work in areas where I can claim expertise. This is crucial for the students as they are working upon a project that will last a year – and will have a refined outcome. They will in this period look upon me for guidance that is consistent and deep in knowledge. I am therefore thrown back to reflect upon and list my capabilities for supervision which informed the content of the feedback I gave students today.
- Expertise in: (a) Product Design and Development, (b) Sociology of Objects, (c) Design Theory
- For Vehicle Design: (a) Can do research plus strategy, (b) For designing I need external support
- For Product Design: (a) Can do research plus project construction, (b) Can do form development, (c) Can do prototyping
There seem to be two streams emerging:
- Vehicle Design: There may be a critical mass of 6 students who are showing an interest in Vehicle Design. In this lot only two are speaking of car design in the context of the industry. The other four are either hiding their intentions (cultural cring about car-design?) or seem to think the right way to design vehicles is to treat them as products. Now there is a long history of design students/ programs doing vehicle design as product design – and so is something that can be done by bracketing problems to be addressed. But if Vehicle design is treated as a specialist area then the outcomes can be more focussed – plus we can get a special person/ a specialist to interact with the students. This last will raise the bar of expectations and will be better as a proficient vehicle design project. So will all the students like to focus upon car design? Suppose the answer is a yes then the stream can be titled – car of the future (1) and engaging with the propositions/competitions (2). And the project can be a form one, and the intellectual project is one of a journey into aesthetics and history of styling. The inquiry becomes one of ‘form’ (form development – ways and approaches) and ‘ways of styling’ (on method and techniques/tools) – thus making the project inquiry led and propositional. With this last the project is a year 4 level project. I have to add a caveat that it is possible to go down the path of ‘no private ownership’ as a Campaign. But as treating the project as focussing upon ‘form’ – I allow for a professional grounding – which satisfies
- Product Design: I class the other set of projects as Product Design – These are projects that have a product outcome. For example – the study of ‘micro activities’ – towards the goal of water conservation promises an exploration into peoples practices. The study of ‘peoples practices‘ – how people wash, say – constitutes an inquiry. The study offers a tool set for the research – and offers a theoretical body of work to back up the study. This class of project sits well both as a formal and aesthetic exploration as well as the potential for a “design for manufacture” project. Examples of projects in this category could be: (a) the design of artefacts for responsible use of water, (b) the visualization of a system/ kit for retrofitting towards a closed system (of energy, water and waste), (c) the design of a drinking water fountain series to encourage a minimization of the sale of bottled water, (d) the design of an object, series, for the home that is ‘socialized’ and culturally sensitive, (e) similarly the design of a non-object for the context of the home of the ‘elite’ in the way of jewellery/ collectible.
At thi point I am setting aside my current passions for Social Innovation and Service Design to revert to my past preoccupations – 1994 to 2003 – with (a) Vehicle Design, and (b) Product Design. The significant aspect in that framework was my complete absorption with form and aesthetics. In time this focus shifted and deepened to become theoretically grounded (about peoples practices – food, gifts, myths – and aesthetics) and politically aware. I was teaching stuents who were going into the auto Industries – Daewoo, Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha, Ford, Toyota – in large numbers. They were also being recruited by firms like Timex (watches), Titan (watches and jewellery), Whirlpool, Electrolux. The Industry focus required the students to be ‘form’ experts first – the manufacturing thinking was done by engineers, the market thinking was done by marketing, and the ‘innovation’ was in the project of ‘redesign’. The other category of students developed projects – clocks, lamps, chairs – that worked well for their future potetial as designer-makers.
In my move to Australia – one thing changed: there was no campus recruitment of students by big Industry. Students left uni without jobs.So the job in a big firm did not come into uni to define the kinds of projects that students would do. Or so one thought – till I realised that in the absence of real industry something else took its place- the phantom of ‘what industry wants’ and the notion of industry itself was used for anything from a consultancy to one off installation. I tackle this – obliquely of course – in a paper – ‘taking on Australian ID etc’.
In addition a few other things were different – car design was frowned upon (as lo brow), and form was not a preocupation. What I saw was a huge focus upon skilling up for doing models and CAD – both of which in India in those days were downstream functions and hired out skills. The students came with their own peculiar notions of design – its all about problem solving, its all about manufacturing, its all about chairs – which stayed unchallenged in them till they graduated. ‘What is design at its core’ – was not a visible part of the conversation.
So we got a few categories of practice – which let us say are not central, though valid ways of looking at design but often neglecting form, history or culture.
- Design-Engineering: Focus upon the making of things.
- Design-Management: Focus upon strategy and branding.
- Design-Art: Focus upon making outcomes that fitted the ‘art’ label.
- Design-Research: Explorations of unique phenomena.
At this point I did up a typology of practice – what designers do when they leave and take up work – to check how well these trainings work with that picture.
I then realised that – the final year has one meaning for me: that of addressing the needs of students. The project of supervision then becomes one of getting the students to reflect and take stock of their capabilities and aspirations. And the project they construct has to be one that takes heed of their passions and their abilities. Two things!
I was on the phone with a student and I was hearing that my fourth year tute did not have a specific theme. This is an interesting comment.
I will explore this in this post. Later.
If you are looking at the Object – products as we call them – then you would be well advised to look at the critiques of consumption. In this Baudrillard is particularly significant – both his categories of objects and the notion of the object as a sign.
In his early books, such as The System of Objects, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, and The Consumer Society, Baudrillard’s main focus is upon consumerism, and how different objects are consumed in different ways. At this time Baudrillard’s political outlook was loosely associated with Marxism (and situationism), but in these books he differed from Marx in one significant way. For Baudrillard, it was consumption, rather than production, which was the main drive in capitalist society.
Baudrillard came to this conclusion by criticising Marx’s concept of “use value.” Baudrillard thought that both Marx’s and Adam Smith’s economic thought accepted the idea of genuine needs relating to genuine uses too easily and too simply. He argued, drawing from Georges Bataille, that needs are constructed, rather than innate. Whereas Marx believed that uses genuinely laid beneath capitalism’s “commodity fetishism,” Baudrillard thought that all purchases, because they always signify something socially, have their fetishistic side. Objects always, drawing from Roland Barthes, “say something” about their users. And this was, for him, why consumption was and remains more important than production: because the “ideological genesis of needs” precedes the production of goods to meet those needs.
He wrote that there are four ways of an object obtaining value. The four value-making processes are as follows:
1. The first is the functional value of an object; its instrumental purpose. A pen, for instance, writes; and a refrigerator cools. Marx’s “use-value” is very similar to this first type of value.
2. The second is the exchange value of an object; its economic value. One pen may be worth three pencils; and one refrigerator may be worth the salary earned by three months of work.
3. The third is the symbolic value of an object; a value that a subject assigns to an object in relation to another subject. A pen might symbolize a student’s school graduation gift or a commencement speaker’s gift; or a diamond may be a symbol of publicly declared marital love.
4. The last is the sign value of an object; its value within a system of objects. A particular pen may, whilst having no functional benefit, signify prestige relative to another pen; a diamond ring may have no function at all, but may suggest particular social values, such as taste or class.
Baudrillard’s earlier books were attempts to argue that the first two of these values are not simply associated, but are disrupted by the third and, particularly, the fourth. Later, Baudrillard rejected Marxism totally (The Mirror of Production and Symbolic Exchange and Death). But the focus on the difference between sign value (which relates to commodity exchange) and symbolic value (which relates to Maussian gift exchange) remained in his work up until his death. Indeed it came to play a more and more important role, particularly in his writings on world events.
Welcome to Soumitri’s class. This class, for those of you who have not been in one of my classes, is about you. It is about your project and your opportunity to deliver a truly amazing or endearing project – being an intellectual tour de force or a culturally sensitive outcome. Such a goal can be daunting and quite paralyzing. I come into the picture here as my main task is to help you deliver on your goal. You may have seen some of that today, where the discussion was all about ‘getting our goals in order’ before we started off on our journey. I would like you to see today’s class as a preparation for the journey.
I have asked you to go off and write up your capabilities statement as a way to align your project goals with your life goals. It is my belief that you can deliver best when you are completely honest and totally committed to the project as the preferred course of action. Often we do projects where we feel its ‘the right things to do’ and often we do the ‘right thing’ at the cost of the ‘thing we would rather be doing’. Take the case of humour and affection; how many of you think these values have a place in your design?
If you think they have no place then you probably also think that design projects ought to be serious. Now consider the proposition that the companies that make consumer products are a form of evil – that these companies make products just to make money and at the core would be quite happy to make anything that sells. The reason it is difficult to find these kinds of companies is because they spend a lot of money to develop a public image that shows them as ethical and good. For concrete examples to argue this point for yourself go and look at the texts on the history of advertising or films such as Erin Brockovich. If you then end up becoming convinced that all corporates are evil what would your design response to them be? Would you still design products to entice people to buy the or would you design their products with a subtle message? We enter in this way into ‘design as life’ where you do not take anything as a given, much less subjugate your values to that of a corporate. In the realm of design as life you allow into your work humour and many other emotions and curiosities that enrich our lives.
If there exists a category such as ‘design as life’ would would the other categories be?
Because of its roots in art design has some really fascinating values, which unfortunately we forget when see it as something else – as often design begins to look like engineering (where we focus strongly upon making it work technically), or management (where we focus upon strategy and making laws), or environmental science (where we focus upon quantitative asessments of eco-impacts). Now all these are good projects – and it is good for you to do them – only they are better done when you are enrolled in another discipline, especially when you may be looking to do a masters, which provides you with the theory and tools, and then in time gets you a job doing such things for a living. Designers are creative people and it is good to remember who we are by asking our near and dear in our families. If you ask your mother who a designer is you will get an answer that is common wisdom and you probably ought to make it right in your fourth year by checking to see why you are not becoming atleast that. Look at the work of Max Lamb (http://www.maxlamb.org/) and let me know what you think about it.
Imagine a situation where like a plumber you are available for hire in other words you wish to respond to an add inviting industrial designers to respond. The question for you is – are you employable? At the very least you may need to check if your sketching abilities are okay, if your CAD skills are okay and if you have work to show to prove that you can function as an Industrial Designer. Years ago I was on the 7th floor in the Kokubunji studios of Hitachi in Tokyo confronting a similar moment. I was 30 years old, I had an offer to stay and continue working in Hitachi, and was feeling good that I had found what in those days in Japan was a job for life. Seen another way this was a validation that my skills and problem solving abilities were okay, or probably a bit in demand as I do stand out a bit, especially among japanese people. I left and went back to India months later, that had to do with matters of the heart, and for years have idly wondered what life would have been like if I had stayed designing products and trains (that too). It was to turn out that I was not one for corporate environments as my passion is teaching and changing lives, usually of unsuspecting students, in small ways.
I know to most people it looks like I work in the area of sustainability and so ought to be doing all this eco-design stuff and other stuff all these other people are doing. The miss the point for I am flying the flag of a future world or making a critique of designing objects for rich people, which you dont need to do for you haven’t been touched by poverty in the same way as I have been, or just being provocative. I did run a waste business for almost five years, see video at soumitri.blip.tv, but I did not do any technical stuff or even any environmental science stuff in that project. The project was a design project which became two social entrepreneurship ventures but I was primarily motivated by my desire to prototype my solution. In fact in the UNEP meetings in Paris the others who were all often working on policy I was the chap who ‘prototypes’ his ideas and this resulted in my relationship with Carlo Vezzoli of Polytecnico in Milan.
Infact one of my abilities I am quite comfortable with is my ability to work with people. I actually seek out projects where there are people and I argue for designers to be more in tune with peoples thoughts – which I do by listening to their faint voices.
As you can see I began to do the assignment I had set for you. But have to go now.
(now thats about 1100 words)
If I have ti improve this text I will go back to it and break it up into different arguments and put subtitles. The I will mark the points I am making and then figure out a way to prove my claims.