Ahh Paris, you fine mistress!

Pretty much everything that needs to be said about our Paris trip.. ūüėÄ

Keeping an Eye on the Future

I found Sam Russell’s talk this week to be very interesting, intuitive and informing. He comes across as a well-spoken young lad who looks like he is straight out of¬†college. However, he has already led a remarkable design life in terms of his skill, his determination, range of ideas and his willingness to travel and get into new cultures. I really liked that about him.

Ski Lifts

Some of the projects he took on were very appealing. For his Final Year Project (FYP) Sam decided to re-design the common ski chair-lift. His re-imagining was far more sleek, more smooth and definitely had a lot of effort and research put into it. Unfortunately I have no photographs of the model for this blog but I can tell you it was a really nice model, well executed and very modern. I think it’s completely necessary to put in the amount of time he puts in, the extra hours, the late nights¬†as well as all¬†the cognitive research.

How water was carried before

Another project Sam took on was a water-carrying device. This is where Sam, to me, became a bit more interesting in his approach. Mainly focused on the sub-Saharan deserts and plains of Africa, this project was aimed at a completely different demographic that his ski lift FYP. One of the things Sam talked about was branching out and trying new things. Anyways, his water-carrier was a simple idea, drawing on the elemental design of the wheel as well as user information, user problems and user suggestions. It’s clear to see that Sam is very user-orientated and it’s really good to see someone take on the problems at the core.

Water Roller

How water is carried after

Design for society and design for sustainable usability were some more key aspects to Sam’s design thinking. Don’t just make something, throw it out there and hope for the best. He was adamant about going to the heart of the problem, immersing himself in the culture, getting to know the people, his users and understand what their problems are. This allows him to take in all details that¬†can arise like sustainability and re-use in a society. The product that is designed may not be used by the locals for its intended purpose. This research and design thinking was epitomised in the life-jacket project Sam took on for 12 months.

Ugandan Fishermen

Quick back-story: In Uganda several thousand fishermen die each year. It is down to mis-information on the risks of working with water, not being educated enough, not using the health precautions and facilities already in place and not being able to swim. Through many iterations and many prototypes, he tried design after design until he found a suitable solution. But throughout the process Sam was practicing what he was preaching. He immersed himself in the fishing habitat, learned everything he needed to know, talked to the locals, went fishing with the locals, had local craftsmen and women help in his designs and his prototyping tryouts. The feedback gained was immeasurable and invaluable.

Involving the locals in the process

The finished product

He gained insight into how products are actually used in these areas, and why people don’t use them properly. His design was easy to use, had very little straps to work with, the instructions were images so as to avoid the multiple language barriers and the locals were very encouraged to use it. But most importantly, for design sustainability, the internal material that gave the life jacket its buoyancy could be removed and used in the fishing trade. If the jacket was broken, or not needed, fishermen could simply cut it open and use the contents for another purpose, as well as using the material itself for other purposes.

Instructional infographics

That is probably the biggest lesson I learned from Sam; design for sustainability and re-use. We have to fully understand the user and the environment, and design to meet the real needs therein.

Our Project - Renewable Water Source - Kayakers and rowers collect water in paddle, use of paddle filters the water, open and drink

There Comes a Time…

We had a guest speaker in recently. Peter Sheehan came to talk to us about the industry we are involved in, about the trials and tribulations everyone faces out¬†in the harsher, wider world. From his presentation I found him to be a very peculiar man. First impressions were not great, I will admit. I found him to be self-loathing and slightly pretentious ( his profile picture being the most off-putting element of his display). However, by the end he had convinced me otherwise. His values are what stood out for me, particularly his follow-through, his inventiveness, the readiness at which he can manufacture a design, his ‘no-holds-barred’ attitude to design conformity and idea of building a brand.

'Ominous' by Peter Sheehan

Okay, where to start? Initial impressions aside¬†I could see that Peter was building a brand. He wasn’t so much pretentious, but more a character that needs to be in your face if a company is to launch. And I¬†began to understand that. He had broken away from Logitech previously because he felt his abilities were underappreciated and his vision for his design path did not match up with theirs. So he broke off, and I really admire that. The ability to say ‘ hang on a second, I’ll do things my own way if you won’t let me’. And promoting himself is a key aspect of getting the business off the ground. I can see he is much happier at this place, where he can control his own path.

Peter's Logitech Design

Logitech Trackball Mouse

What I¬†also admired about the man was that he encouraged us to travel. Quickly I am beginning to change my mind about Peter. Traveling, he feels and I feel, is such an integral part of who we are and what we need to experience. We need to get out and see the world. As I¬†alluded to in my previous blog post, our little benign country is not the centre of the universe, nor will it ever be. Already I¬†have been to most of Europe (Spain, France, Denmark, Italy, Turkey, Austria and Greece) and this summer I intend on traveling to Belgium, taking in Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands on the way. From these trips I’ve learned a lot¬†about different cultures and societies, different expectations and life values. I travelled to Colorado to meet a friend a few years ago¬†and we drove to the west coast and back. And it is these experience that teach¬†us about life more-so than anything else. I feel that I have more places to go, but hopefully these experiences will help me to understand a wider, more populus demographic.

Get Out and See The World

So by now he has me completely hooked. I am paying attention (despite the heat) and taking in all of his little bits of advice. What clinched the deal for me was his views that we have to do it all for ourselves and sometimes we have to be able to say ‘no’. I really got into what Sheehan said about college, and prescribed courses, expectations and criteria. It’s a load of BS. We shouldnt have to be coaxed into writing these blogs, we shouldn’t¬†have to reach a specific number of conceptual ideas. We certainly shouldnt have to reach a 2.0 QCA to be told we have ‘passed’ and we definitely shouldnt have to butter up the lecturers to achieve a decent grade. Hell, we shouldn’t have to be graded! At some stage, like Peter has done, we are going to have to stand up, say no and do things our own way.

Designing in a Barren Wasteland

Is Ireland a prosperous, culture-rich environment for aspiring designers to build their trade in? An interesting question, I think. My answer would undoubtedly be no.

In our little design culture class, we had an exercise to try to discover some of the things that best describes Ireland as a whole. These are the characteristics that give life to life in this country; they are our culture. Such aspects as religion, the catholic church and priesthood were familiar themes. We seem to be forever bound to this sense that we owe the church everything, that the priest controls our family’s perspective and that we should always feel the harsh guilt set upon us by the church. Other cultural amenities include the pub, drinking culture, laziness and the idea of “sure feck it, we’ll be grand”. Unfortunately it is a mentality that stains our existence. We are bred on a life surrounding a pub, where aspirations of a decent night out revolve around getting shit-faced and puking in a bin on O’ Connell street. The main influence that makes us Irish is our humour, or rather our racist-humour. It spreads from the casually racist grandfathers and grandmothers who would think nothing of¬†their words¬†to the destructive and hateful views held by young people who don’t fully understand the others they insult. We like to pass it off as humour, as ‘banter’ but it is very, very racist in nature.

Catholicism makes a slave of us all

You may be wondering what all this has to do with design. Well¬†I firmly believe that it is the culture and the influences of a society that greatly determine the people who will rise to the top of their respective¬†piles. Unfortunately the spread in Ireland¬†is turning sour. People, and in particular designers, can only make it happen for themselves.¬†¬†They can only find themselves in the world if they can manage to get themselves out of our own little-minded world. We, as a nation, put ourselves down too much. We undersell ourselves, then give our lives to work and the church, and we only reward ourselves with narrow communal sports and binge drinking in a local pub. The train that is leaving for the future? Yeah, we’ve missed that.

Philip Treacy Collection

And so I feel only the designers that get out make the best of what they have. They move to more accepting cultures, more aspirational environments like New York, Tokyo, London, Paris and Los Angeles. One such example of what I am getting at is fashion designer Philip Treacy. For those that don’t know, Philip Treacy specialises in hats. Extravagant hats. He has designed sculptural masterpieces to sit atop the heads of Lady Gaga, Sarah Jessica Parker and¬†Princess Beatrice. 36 hats designed by him were worn at the British Royal wedding of Will and Kate last year. That’s an astonishing number when you consider how high a profile event this was. He started in Galway. He lived¬†in a¬†house with seven brothers and sisters and made gimmicky hats to pass the time. But at one stage he said enough was enough, packed his bags for London, sold himself as a brand and made it big.

Philip Treacy's Designs for the British Royal Wedding

To reinforce the idea of getting out, my chosen designer was Cedric D. Gibbons. An altogether unfamiliar name, no doubt. But just look at the statuette and its clear to see the impact he has made. He started in Ireland too. He lived in Dublin and moved to Los Angeles to let himself prosper. He finished his acting career with 11 Oscar wins (second only behind Walt Disney with 26) and was an original chair-member on the panel for the Academy of Motion Pictures. He designed the trophy that every actor in the world aspires to win. That is some achievement.

Oscar Statuettes

Cedric D. Gibbons Design

And my whole point is that Gibbons, like Treacy, got out. They got out of this rotting wasteland and went someplace where their talents, abilities and aspirations could flourish. And unfortunately for most of Ireland now, especially designers, we too will have to look elsewhere to make a decent hash of our lives.