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.

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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

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