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.

Colour me Pink or else Render me Useless

The visionary impact of a solid, well executed rendering is not to be understated. A good render is what gives life to an otherwise lifeless, motionless line-drawings. It’s what¬†sets apart the great from the mediocre; the aspiring¬†artists from the production-lined illustrators and the heartened designers from the lacklustre doodlers. I believe in bringing that life to my images, my drawings, my Photoshop sketches or any other kind of line-work I do. And I like to believe I’m good at it (but lets not dwell on my brilliance).

Scratchboard Technique

From a young age I’ve been privy¬†to artwork and decent decals on paintings. When travelling abroad, (think: Irish family, two kids. Where else, but sunny Spain?) my brother and I used to get these paintings done for us. Just on the side of a busy street or in a park these artists lined up along the way to craft images from spray-paint cans, canvases, knives and their own skill and ingenuity. I’m not one hundred percent sure but I think it’s called ‘scratchboard’. Anyway they were always incredible. They made these vast landscapes of trees and animals, intergalactic oddities and well-worked imaginations of the solar system and its planets. They were truly beautiful and often done only in one colour (along with black). This, at my young age, was where¬†I learned of the brilliance of a good render.

But as time goes on and people like these artists begin to push themselves, the ideas just got bigger and better. There are great examples of sidewalk renderings spread throughout the world.  They encapsulate imagination, vision, style, colour, vibrancy and life all in one. The drawings are done on the ground in chalk. Slowly, layer by layer, the colour is built up until the pathway is covered in a sublime achievement in artwork rendering. The ones below from New Orleans and Madrid, respectively are single-view renders. The idea is that they only look perfect from one angle and distorted at any other angle. Some are beautiful and quaint, some are loud and obnoxious while others are interesting and topical. They one thing that they are not is lifeless.

Waterfall Wonderland - New Orleans

Reebok 3D Street Art

And so the natural progression from here is physical graffiti. No, not the super awesome Led Zeppelin kind, the kind you find sprayed on walls and tattooed¬†on your idiot friend’s shoulder blades. It is an often beautiful artwork form¬†that lends much of its influences from rendering. The importance of relaying a message, the need to vibrancy and the need to be seen (or heard) are key characteristics that the two share. However, and sadly, graffiti is much too often blamed for violence, degradation¬†of societies and general lawlessness. It is an absolute crying shame that the incredible pieces around Limerick City (namely the Dock Road ‘wastelands’) are painted over and destroyed with a common shade of peach. Banksy on the other hand tries his (or her?) hardest to keep the fire going.


Sums It Up Beautifully

And to finish, here is our render. Not quite in the stylistic brilliance of Banksy or the excellence of the street artists, but it is a collaborative effort and yielded an incredible amount of fun.

Now Accepting All Awards and Accolades

Hacking away at Limerick City

I’ll reiterate here what I said¬†I liked about this module at the beginning of the semester; it isn’t predictable, it keeps you on you toes and it challenges you. All of these criterion were included in our “Design the City” task for week 4. We were taken into Limerick city, away from the comforts of the studio, away from the handy tools, the layout pads, the pens, the papers and the people we know. So yeah, that kept things interesting and got us thinking on our feet. The whole point of our excursion was to study¬†the environment, take in the locals, the structure of the places, evaluate what’s there and what’s not and come up with a solution for whatever we find.

Chicago's "The Bean"

Countless cities across the globe have sampled this culture of using what they already have on the landscape and simply making it better. It can be a complex set of circumstances that yields a design solution, or¬†a minute¬†change that alters the way the public sees something.¬†An example of these¬†is “The¬†Bean” in Chicago’s Millenium Park. A highly reflective, highly polished metal structure in the shape of a bean which has drawn the attention of the public beautifully, as well as encouraged other aspiring designers to emulate its form and take the idea behind it a little further.

"Jelly Baby Family", Marble Arch, London

Some more fun examples that I’ve seen myself¬†are “The Jelly Baby Family” set up in Marble Arch in central London. Simple, colourful, vibrant and a little bit of fun. I personally loved the idea that the city of Las Vegas, Nevada used for one of their hotel / casino complexes, The Stratosphere. Check out the video to see the 3 theme park rollercoasters they’ve shoved on top of a skyscraper….yep, skyscraper. It was such a fantastic experience and an incredible, exciting use of limited space in a city such as this.

A more interactive design hack for a city appeared in Barcelona a year or two ago. Granted it was part of a mobile network advert, but it still drew a crowd and showed great creativity. The designers took the popular (and by popular I mean extremely addictive) android game “Angry Birds” and scaled it up. It sat in the middle of a plaza in Barcelona and allowed great interaction between the oversized game and the community. I feel they are the best design solutions, the ones that can inspire and involve all.

Log / Bench

So for our design hack, we were given a small stretch of road and a riverbank walk on the outskirts of Limerick. I was kind of glad though, because every other team had a section of the concrete jungle, while we were the only group with a bit of scenery, some green. And we approached it in that manner by evoking the scenes of the city from afar. By the river we decided on installing benches that would fold away. When away, they looked like logs that would blend into the landscape and when open the allowed for comfort and relaxation. So from here we decided to make picture frames, or rather, kitchen windows in the trees that allowed the person relaxing to look out at the city. From differing angles the user would see different views of the city.

Elevated View of Scenario

View 1 from Benches

But we also had another idea, for joggers¬†/ runners / walkers. From the angle of their eye line¬†(i.e. standing up and not sitting down) they would only see out into the river at close range. So why not give them something to look at too? A floating flower-bed was our solution. Connected to the land, they could just float around close to the bank and provide some beautiful scenery. A more interactive design solution to promote the city’s beauty from the outside. Like I said, I believe those are the best hacks, the ones that inspire and involve.

View 2 from Benches

Aerial View

This is a rubbish post

Last weeks class was pretty entertaining. I mean, usually when you hear a guest speaker is to come in and give you a talk for two hours that light in the brain automatically switches off. “I’ll coast this class”, few say it but many think it. However, the discussion we had with Dr. Renee Wever¬†of TU Delft was very interesting. I’m calling it a discussion rather than a talk or a¬†lecture as it never felt like he was talking down to us or spoon-feeding us any PC crap.

His degree is in sustainable packaging in design of products. More so, Renee is interested in influencing consumers and their littering habits through intelligent and sustainable packaging and design. One such example of the kind of products¬†TU Delft are behind is the F-Hybrid¬†Fuel Cell moped. We’re told it uses alternatives to batteries in the form of Hydrogen and Lithium-Ion cells. The product greatly reduces emissions, can certainly reach qualitative speeds as well as getting the consumer from A to B effectively.

Dr. Wever¬†also had a couple of inside hints and tid-bits¬†that definitely kept the discussion fresh. For instance, he talked about how certain car companies (Toyota, Ford) will preach to the high heavens about having one (singular) car model that is the epitome of green and eco-living. |t will reduce carbon footprints, improve capabilities, further the cars life and warranty, save you money and all this other crap. They say this so that they appear to have a “green” ethos, but behind closed doors the companies are already 95% of the way through production on their next top-of-line, gas-guzzling monstrosities known¬†as SUV’s (plural). I agree wholeheartedly with Renee here, and i believe that appearance is everything in the fickle world of green living.

As the class wore¬†on, Dr. Wever¬†rejigged¬†the whole class and formed groups of students together to brainstorm ideas. The ideas we were looking for, as we found out, were ways to alter a persons habits or behaviour¬†through feedback and alterations in the landscape. We wanted to change¬†someone’s¬†(if only one) perception of cleanliness, litter and their green ethos. Behaviour adaptions proved most difficult; how do you alter someones habits without inducing fees or retaliation? Scripting seemed a better option. A good example of scripting is the speed bump. You, as a driver, don’t need to stop at them or even slow down, but the benefit doing so¬†allows your suspension to take it easy and stay healthy.

So our idea was simple enough, reduce the size of layout pads used in our design modules to A3. This was purely for cyclists, and purely to encourage cycling around campus. If the layout pad sizes are reduced, it means the pads can now fit into a decent size ruck sack, which in turn allows for easier transportation when atop a bicycle. Instead of falling half off of a bike, while desperately clutching at the pad as well as the handle-bars, the pad can now fit in a bag that can sit neatly on your back. Boom! Job sorted kid.

Don’t let the truth get in the way

Storytelling is such an important aspect of our lives, one that is often overlooked or dismissed as a genuine trait of the Irish people. However, we just seem to have this incredible knack for telling a good tale. Whether it’s the simple story of Bridie¬†telling her neighbours of that troublesome young lad down the street that “do be doin’ the drugs and what not”, or one of¬†the countless yarns of the middle-aged generation telling us how Ireland nowadays is “gone to the dogs”. We love to tell an old wives tale or two, and the truth is not always the first port of call.

The Oscar-nominated short film, Granny O’ Grimm is a perfect example. The truth is supplemented for entertainment, the animals in the woods become the dreadful, winged, fire-breathing dragons of the old Fanmorth Forest and the left-behind grandmother becomes a fearsome and wicked witch to be reckoned with. And this exaggeration, it’s fantastic viewing! The stories are far more interesting, far more enjoyable, easy to imagine and easier to bend the truth.

Another fantastic example of excellence in storytelling, is the 1957 black and white film ’12 Angry Men’. Here is the case of a youth accused of murder; his trial consists of the eleven bigots that believe he did it and the one man who gave him a chance. The selling point of this film is that it is solely based in one room. The entirety of the film, in one room with diverse, strong characters and an increasingly poignant sense of storytelling. These were the days when the story was the key to selling whatever it is that needed to be sold.

For our class this week we concentrated on loosening up and getting the story to flow. Through interaction with other students, we sifted through ideas and ways of getting a story out. It was probably the most fun I’ve had (inside college hours) since I came back from the holidays. Not an ounce of truth to the yarns, but enjoyable and hilarious. We also had to sell our own product as an exercise. This was perfect, i¬†had been taking in all this talk of adding a back story and a context, with characters and situation, adding all that to the products. I felt I could make my waste disposal project romantic (ambitious, i¬†know). I had this whole tale of my girlfriend and I on the Costa Del Sol for a getaway picnic on the beach, the stars were out, the soothing sounds of the oceans¬†swept through the night…and yet¬†I had nowhere to throw my rubbish.

Waste Disposal Project

And as designers-in-the-making, this is a vital lesson that we ought to learn. A good story is sold on its characters, its context, plot, imagination, twists, and guile. A product is sold much in the same fashion. If you can tell the story of the product, its history, its place in society through imagery and intelligent composition, then there is no reason for your creation not to catch the eye of any manufacturer. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If you can make it tell a story then it is worth far more than that, especially to a designer.

What is Product Design?

Rarely do¬†I get¬†much¬†enjoyment from mandatory college course modules, such is the disdain of trolling through¬†Materials Processing and the inevitability of getting lost amongst the mish-mash of Technological Mathematics. However, this semester has offered a respite, Contemporary Design Culture to be exact. The reason¬†I am developing a slight fondness for the module is that the students aren’t molly-coddled into a vague sense of passiveness, but are rather engaged thoroughly throughout the class.For instance, we are straight up asked simple questions. “What makes a good design?”, “What does a product designer do?” and “What is product design?“. Easy enough, right? It was very intiguing to see how little light was shed on these questions by the very students participating in the course. The last question garnered particularly blank stares from all, myself included, but¬†I guess starting from scratch is all part of the learning curve. A statement is put forward, and the few who are brave enough share their views and encourage discussion. That’s what¬†I like about this module, it’s direct. Us students are invoked into the arguement, the situations, the designs, the briefs and the beliefs. We are involved. We are beginning to think.

The part¬†I enjoyed most however was the debate. Is product design art or engineering? Either, or. No middle ground. Persuasive arguements about aesthetics, style and fashion managed to sway opinions towards art, while discussions of function, performance and consistency pulled it back in engineering’s favour. I felt it was a good move on the part of the lecturer to get us up off our arses and get involved in the process, to open us up and have us thinking.

As regards the videos played on-screen, there were a few interesting observations for me. Designer Yves Behar of Switzerland talked of adding value to objects. “It is the value and experience that we put into the products that truly create the greater value. The value we bring can be about environmental issues, sustainability, low power consumption, function, beauty and business strategy“. I admire his views that a product becomes so much more when a thought process is put behind it. Long-lasting, functional products that don’t damage our world are the kind of product that are a¬†neccesary in our lives.

Harvey Moscot also highlights quite brilliantly that the greatest products are the ones nobody thinks about. The ideas that have been there through the years, the ones that are ever-present in society such as varifocal glasses, the blazer and the t-shirt. Simplistic, original and timeless, these are the kinds of ideas we, as designers, should aspire to envisage.

The Classic

Moscot Glasses