Sunday, November 30, 2008

When I grow up

When I grow up, I don’t know what or who I will become. I want to be lots of things. I know that I want to be a designer of some sort, and that I want to make a contribution to the time line of design. As we have explored during the semester, there is no one time line to the history of design. Any one history or time line for industrial design would leave out too much. So the question is, when I grow up, how I will approach the issues in the world; will I be a “green designer”, a “humanitarian designer”, or … it’s an endless list really…

Throughout our lectures, I have been trying to analyze and question how I feel about the topics we have been exposed to. And in the end, find out where I fit in to this extensive interdisciplinary of design. At first, it was kind of a struggle because the more I explored deeper into the areas in design, the more confused I got. I guess I had never really questioned where I stood as a designer and why I wanted to do what I wanted to do. And as soon as we started writing these short essays, the small organized pile of knowledge on design in my mind turned into an ever-expanding chaos. It’s like Gödel’s Paradox: “All systems are either complete but inconsistent, or consistent but incomplete.”

At first, for me design was solving problems and it had to be meant for a specified user group. Throughout the lectures and my responses I realized that there were so many things that we had to keep in mind during a design process. It didn’t end with just solving problems. It was so much beyond that. Looking at my blogs, my classmates’ blogs and our discussions in class I realized that people had different perspectives about designs. This meant that it wasn’t only about function; design is also focused on how people approach it. People don’t only use these designs; they think about the designs and interpret them in their own ways. This means that design should not only bring solutions to problems and be functional but go further and evoke emotions in people and make them think. Because people are not robots, they have minds and emotions. And this is where the chaos in my mind started to organize itself.

My sudden realization was that I wanted to contribute to help solve the issues of the world but my approach would be just like the Campana Brother’s described, for me “design is to bring emotions, bring fun and bring joy to people”. As I compiled all the explorations I made in my blogs, I combined what I liked about each topic and came up with where I stand in the field of ID. Now, I feel comfortable and enlightened about my approach on design and where I want to go from here. I am ready to grow up more…

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Art + Design

Before I came to RISD, I felt like there was a distinct line between art and design. I interpreted design more like engineering and solving functional problems. Art was meant to be experienced, it wasn't functional. Today, having spent 2.5 years in the RISD environment surrounded by artists, I lost that line. And I'm glad I did.

I don't think we as designers would go very far without thinking like artists. Without the inspiration process we go through, (that we do just as if we were artist,) we would always end up with the boring solutions that wouldn't bring an innovation to the way we perceive objects. Most of what we do in ID RISD is based on user groups and if we did think like an engineer and not an artist, all our works would be functional but they would be dry, there would be nothing else to get from our work.

In the presentation last Monday, I enjoyed being exposed to Tobias Wong’s rather obnoxious approaches to design and the video we watched about the voice activated blender “Blendie” because they had successful points of view. I know it’s an extreme approach but we cannot say that these designs are useless because they make people think and they evoke certain feelings in the users or the audience. And this is how design separates from engineering and becomes something more. As Campana Brother’s described in the video we watched in class:

“A designer goes much deeper than function or form. Today, he brings emotion, because otherwise all the chairs, if we have just one chair it would be so boring. So I guess people nowadays they like to have a relationship, kind of interacting with pieces. And for me, design is to bring emotions, bring fun and bring joy to people.”

In my design studios, we always have assignments where we have to design towards certain user groups where it is very marketing oriented. I was never pushed by a professor to go any deeper than the function and form and I didn’t really question it because my mind really worked more like an engineer than it did like an artist. But I somehow felt unsatisfied with the design process I followed in the projects as I developed my understanding of design. There was something missing. In class, seeing the Campana Brother’s and how they explained design brings emotions and joy to people made me feel safe and refreshed. That is what I want to do.

Maybe I won’t be helping the whole society by solving their problems by I will try to make the world a better place by creating design that matters because it evokes feelings in people and makes them feel more alive and also makes them understand the issues in the world. Maybe I won’t be a humanitarian designer in the sense we talked in previous lectures but I will certainly create design that matters.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

better world by design

inspirations from nature... BIOMIMICRY

"The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone."
~ Janine Benyus

Although I wasn’t able to attend this weekend’s Better World by Design conference, I was looking through the resources to learn as much about the contents of the conference as possible. Eventually I ended up in the website looking at the question “How would a butterfly inspire your next design?” This made me smile, because I knew that it wasn’t necessarily talking about the aesthetics of a butterfly, it was rather talking about looking at a butterfly to invent Innovation inspired by nature because “nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. They have found what works, what is appropriate, and most important, what lasts here on Earth.” The science where the nature’s solutions are imitated to solve human problems is called Biomimicry.

Biomimicry is a subject that I have been recently exposed to in my advanced studio “Reactive Matter” and have been amazed by it ever since. The course description for the class started with answering this question “How would a butterfly inspire your next design?” and it was mainly the reason why I was so intrigued to take this class. So, for example the international governing body of swimming, FINA has rules which limit technologies the competitors can use in an Olympic pool. However, new Speedo LZR RACER swimsuit made use of the hydrophobic property of the wings of certain butterflies so that the suits drag less and Olympic swimmers can swim faster than previous records. This is one of many examples of biomimicry. Biomimicry is more importantly used to come up with new ways to solve green and environmental challenges which is really impressive. I think it is incredibly wise to imitate the nature to solve our design problems and I think that these websites about biomimicry are great access sources for visuals and case studies to inspire me in my design solutions. The website even has a search bar starting with the sentence "How would nature..." to provide us with inspirations from nature.

Check out the websites below for more information on biomimicry:

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Design that matters

A revolution in design

“The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”
-Dr. Paul Polak, International Development Enterprises

After our lecture on Monday, I came home both excited and overwhelmed by what I had just learned in Dr. Bruce Becker’s lecture. It was overwhelming to see the depressing number of refugees and the conditions they were in but at the same time it was an exciting opportunity for me as a designer to be involved with a very important issue in our world and to actually design things that matter rather than designing for market-based “needs” that our worlds revolve around. This lecture helped me see the bigger picture which I could get involved in.

I have always wanted to create and improve design that matters, but I didn’t know to what extend I could push it to. To make the world a better place, I have always thought about how to improve the problems I observe in my surroundings, which apparently only respond to the richest 10% of the world’s consumers. Even if I tried to design for the less fortunate I would always end up designing towards the 10% because the issues I had to solve in order to come up with a satisfying design for the other 90% felt overwhelming and I was often discouraged. And I thought that it would not make sense for me, as a single designer, to tackle the problems I cannot solve by myself. It is ironic because I chose industrial design to contribute and make design that matters but after seeing the rate of consumption, our limited resources and the amount of waste, I ended up feeling useless because world doesn’t need any more stuff.

Dr. Bruce Becker’s lecture made me realize that there were so many ways I could contribute by creating design that actually matter by designing to the other 90%. As I looked into the website of Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum’s exhibition ( I found out that of world’s population, 90% “have little or no access to most of the products and services many of us take for granted; in fact, nearly half do not have regular access to food, clean water, or shelter.” Dr. Bruce Becker’s lecture informed me about refugee’s living circumstances and made me realized that it is our responsibility as designers to come up with humanitarian design solutions for such users who really need our help.

And I also learned that instead of being discouraged I should try to solve at least some aspects of the problems in humanitarian design. Maybe as a single designer, I cannot solve all the problems by myself but together “one soul at a time” we can help make the world a better place by creating design that actually matter.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Meaning of Products|Relationship between Designer and Society

Meanings of Products are initially created by the designer who is influenced by the society of his time. However, as time passes and the world changes, the consumer products are marketed towards change, and so the society can alter their meanings. The new version of the design is now designed towards what that certain time's society expects from the design. So, the designer is influenced by the society again. Even though, the designer looks like the one in power, it is very hard for a designer to overcome a society's way of thinking at that time. In the two case studies we examined, the changes in the meaning of the exact same design were dramatic due to the time era the product was in.

After our class last week I started thinking about how interesting it was that in old times men used to wear high heels and today it is not acceptable for men to wear high heels, it is a product that is meant to be worn only by woman. The relationship between a certain design and how it is assigned to a certain gender was something I have never really questioned before. However the more I thought about it the more I realized how products get meaning not really based on what designer wanted people to interpret but rather by the society’s reaction to that product in a certain time period. As the society’s perspective on certain issues shift, the meanings embedded in the products shift as well.

Astonished by the thought of the major changes in society’s reaction towards vibrators and high heels, I started wondering about the relationship between products and gender roles people have to fit in to be accepted in a society. Products help people define and reinforce their roles in a society. Like girls in today’s world reinforce that they are girls by wearing bracelets, necklaces and rings. Gender roles are social constructs. Simply put “Based on the anatomical difference between men and women, each is prescribed varying and often stereotypical social roles that are reinforced at the individual level and by larger society”.

Gender roles are reinforced in everyday design. The first example I could think of was that women wear fancy jewelry with gemstones that are considered feminine while men wear simple, plain jewelry which are considered masculine. Then I suddenly remembered the day I found out that the fancy ring my grandmother was wearing was passed onto her from her father. I first thought she meant to say her mother. Because, you know, women are the ones who wear those fancy rings with gems on them in today’s world. I tried to correct her but she insisted on saying that it was from her father, and in fact most of the fancy diamond and precious gemstone rings in her jewelry box were once worn by his father. I was not happy about it because for me it was unacceptable. How could a man wear such feminine rings? Was he gay? My grandmother explained to me saying that back in the day, these rings were fashionable accessories that men wore. As a kid, I was very confused. However, now I can see that society constructs the meanings of products and as the world evolve; the meaning of products change according to the changes in the understandings of our society.

This critical thinking helped me realize that as I designer I could only go so far by trying to give a product its own meaning. Because it is really hard to make people see my design in my perspective, everyone will have their own understanding and often, this will be the understanding the society accepts as a whole. In the end, society re-fits the meaning of a design and customizes it in its own truth.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Functionalism and IKEA

After the discussion we had in class about the definition of functionalism and the questioning of IKEA as functionalist design, I decided to write an essay as a response to this discussion. I will do so by tracing functionalism back to William Morris and explain how it eventually led to the interpretation of IKEA as functionalist design, and why IKEA doesn’t actually fit into the definition of functionalist design Bauhaus had, and in some sense IKEA rather is what Morris fought against.

From William Morris to the Bauhaus, functionalism has evolved, some aspects of it have changed, and the original form of functionalist design emerged. However it is interesting that in today’s world the definition of functionalism have many different interpretations which depend on personal opinions; this eventually shifted the true meaning of functionalism and led to the conception of IKEA as if it inherited the functional design of the Bauhaus movement which I completely disagree with. I find it amusing because IKEA’s designs actually oppose Morris’ idea of functionalism. There is an important difference in the overall concept of the Bauhaus and IKEA and we can see this by going through the steps of functionalism.

Even though in today’s world people have many different conceptions of what functionalist design is, in reality there is a pretty solid definition of functionalism. As Nikolaus Pevsner mentions in “Pioneers of Modern Design”, Morris laid the foundation and with Gropius its character was ultimately determined. George Marcus defines functionalism as: “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.” People in today’s world have different thoughts about functionalist design because they have probably never heard of the original form of functionalist design like Marcus’ definition above. So these people classified IKEA as functionalist design because they only had a vague idea about the topic and they do need better understanding of the roots of functionalism to critique IKEA.

Looking back to the root of functionalism, we can observe Morris’ thoughts to comprehend how the whole functionalism notion started out. Morris’ hostility to machinery combined with his questioning “What business have we with art for at all unless all can share it?” can give a sense of the aspects that can be identified in the definition of functionalism today: What this means is functionalism was actually founded as a view against industrialization and supported having designs within reach. Moreover, he was not against all machinery but he was fighting against the poor quality of mass produced designs those were done by machines. Unfortunately, achieving good quality mass produced designs which were economically accessible without industrialization was untenable because all the designs Morris provided ended up being quite expensive. So, Morris is the one who put the ideas for functionalist design on the table but he couldn’t really resolve the issues concerning him about the topic due to the fact that even though his firm made beautiful handmade products, they were expensive so they were not designs within reach. Morris posed the question and thought about the solutions the problem and the next generations transformed the notion of functionalism just a little bit so that the problem could be resolved.

Morris first inspired the Arts and Crafts movement with his thoughts and then Deutsche Werkbund who followed the same path by promoting the alliance of artists, craftsman and mass production. These lead to the Bauhaus. Bauhaus is the time when functional design was ultimately transformed and determined to become the definition we know it by in today’s world. (It is Marcus’ definition which I quoted in the beginning of my essay) The Bauhaus responded to Morris’ idea of functionalism by trying to create the most intimate union possible between art and industrialization. In Bauhaus, they stripped the ornamentation and made use of machines and manufacturing techniques to create durable, good functioning designs that are mass-produced and economically accessible. So they have basically achieved everything that Morris was asking for. However, it is interesting to see that if Morris’ work and Bauhaus are compared stylistically, anyone can see that they don’t look related. There is nothing similar about them. That is because “Morris’ designs for hand-crafted objects inspired by medieval prototypes and Bauhaus designs for mass-produced objects inspired by Euclidean archetypes. A theoretical link can be identified between them in their shared functionalist notion that beauty results from the truthful representation of construction, materials, use. But Morris’ apprehension of the machine is antithetical to the Bauhaus anesthetization of the machine.”1

After going through the foundation of functionalism, I don’t feel comfortable putting IKEA anywhere in the functionalist design category. Because, IKEA is NOT functional! First of all, IKEA is not a good quality product, it breaks apart and that was what Morris was fighting against and that’s what made him bring up the idea of functionalism. Morris was frustrated that all these machines were creating these bad quality mass produced designs, which is exactly what IKEA is doing. So, after this point it doesn’t matter if IKEA products are economically accessible or not; then Morris could have done poor quality cheap designs too, but that was not the goal of functionalism. People always get the feeling that IKEA is functionalist design because it is very similar to Bauhaus in “style” but while ‘form follows function’ in Bauhaus, in IKEA nothing in literally “functional”, they just resemble Bauhaus designs. Form and style do not relate to the notion of functionalism in the sense that not every functionalist design has to look alike, we know how different Morris’ and the Bauhaus designs are.

Going through the history of functionalism, I realized how many things we have to keep in mind during a design process and I realized I have to find a good balance between some aspects of design in order to reach a conclusion. Since Morris wouldn’t open his mind to new technology, he couldn’t solve the problem he had in hand. Bauhaus was open to new techniques and it managed to balance everything so it was a successful design revolution.


Weingarden, Lauren "Aesthetics Politicized: William Morris to the Bauhaus" Journal of Architectural Education

Marcus, George “ Functionalist Design an Ongoing History”

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Functionalist Chairs Through Materials

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.)

Throughout the history of functionalist design, there were always some innovative designers who tried to integrate new materials and new processes to their designs. Each of the chair designs I have selected for my timeline have unique forms because they were influenced by the functionalist approach. The designers carefully investigated the characteristic of the materials they were dealing with and how it could be manufactured. This functionalist approach leaded to simple but brilliant designs where “form follows function”. All the chairs below demonstrate the investigation of the designers to create a chair that is cheap and easy to be manufactured while taking nothing away from the function of the chair itself. Today, there are so many new materials and new processes which make me wonder how I can apply them in my designs to make something simple, unique and functional.

1859 - The Thonet No.14 by Michael Thonet
The design of the chair is focused on its functionality and mass-production. It is bare of ornament and made out of 6 pieces of steam-bent wood which could easily be taken apart similarly to IKEA furniture we have today. The natural characteristics of the material enabled this simple design. By 1930, over 50 million units of this famous design were sold.

1928- Cantilever Chair by Marcel Breuer
Marcel Breuer made use of “steel tubing” to come up with a functionalist design in his “Cantilever Chair”. The form language of the chair is truly inspired by functionalism; it is geared towards manufacturability and expresses the characteristics and the structure of the material. It is a timeless design.

1986 – The Panton Chair by Verner Panton

The Panton chair is made from a single polypropylene shape. Danish designer Verner Panton pushed the limits of the material and struggled with ways of constructing this chair since 1950s. This simple and unique design is a classic award winning modern chair which caused a sensation when it was finally unveiled in 1968.

1968 - The Blow Chair by de Pas, d'Urbino, lomazzi & Scolari

This first mass produced inflatable chair made a statement about designing with new materials out there by using transparent PVC and a new technology.Eventhough it doesn’t look like a conventional chair it is well adapted to its purpose; it is light, cheap and easy to mass produce.

1999 – Air Chair by Jasper Morrison
The Air Chair is a brilliantly simple design made out of one piece, gas injected polypropylene chair. It is not only light and strong but thanks to its advanced manufacturing techniques it is mass-affordable too. This is one of the most recent designs that make use of the functionalism notion in every aspect of the design.