Finding Beauty in Function
Sixty-three universities across the UK took part in New Designers Part II which ran from 4-7th July. Product, furniture, spatial and graphic designs were all exhibited. The feature section, One Year On, as in New Designers Part I, exhibited various ranges designed by 2011 graduates which are now commercially available.
The gender reversal between Part I and Part II was striking! While most Part I graduates were female, most of those at Part II were male, demonstrating the difference in population between Industrial Design and Textile Design courses. The friendliness demonstrated by graduates and teachers alike, on the other hand, was consistent throughout both New Designers parts. Each time they were more than happy to explain their work to the public.
This article follows New Designers 2012 Part I, published last week. I am Zeyu Wang, in London, a fresh reporter on all things creative.
My first impression of the second part of New Designers was that of a show somehow much more preoccupied with the reality of life. Most products displayed were functional; they felt familiar and failed at first to excite me. Naturally I reacted against this popular preoccupation with mundane function; in order to cheer myself up, I looked for the most dramatic and visually stimulating piece I could find, preferably something chic and unique!
Luckily I found the work of Markos Ioannides, who studied Furniture Design at London Metropolitan University. The shelves he designed are certainly unique. He used expanding foam to fill the gap left between shelves and the frame which supported them. As he chose not to hold the shelves into place, their final position was dictated by the expanding foam, it self-solidifying into random shapes as it expanded. Markos explained his intent of breaking away from the traditional idea of designer makers with perfect finishes. Markos has created a production process which allows a certain amount of randomness to contribute to its design. These shelves are in part self-created. This process unavoidably results in a certain lack of finish. The designer, however, embraces this and I had to agree with him that this process made the design more spontaneous.
In contrast, Ben Sharratt from Plymouth University clearly intended to design some unprecedented cabinets. His collection of cabinets is entitled Forces, Particles, Space, Time, each term referring to one of the cabinet designs. His translation of concepts ranging from atoms to space, along with his unusual approach and audacious use of rusty metal, justified his tutor’s comment: he certainly has done some thinking before his making. I only asked him to produce three cabinets, and look what he has created!
Following this visual feast I feared that I would once again be swallowed by the mundane. I wondered what could possibly justify showing so many products already available for retail? Product design is often said to be concerned with problem-solving and the fulfilment of function but perhaps designer’s problem-solving skills should be used to improve our quality of life. I realised this idea of ‘increased functionality’ was the key aspect of many of the products exhibited. In addition, there was a general concern for the sustainability of the product. This also contributes to an improved quality of life since sustainable design causes less damage to our environment.
The spoon collection by George Phillips, a graduate from Northumbria University, is an example in case. George designed different spoons: one oval-shaped, one with a hollowed centre and the last one only half of an oval. These shapes were each designed with a different food in mind; the half oval-shape, for example, is intended to eat cheesecake! George’s idea is primarily to make eating in public easier and more convenient but he also intends to make it more beautiful through a change as small as choosing the ‘correct’ cutlery. Similarly, Wholemilk, a design by UWE Bristol graduate Ralph Edwards, consisted of a range of breast milk bottle-feeds. This design was inspired by social changes; fathers are no longer the predominant breadwinners and no longer are women the predominant caregivers. The family dynamic is changing. Ralph’s system allows the mother’s breast milk to be stored and fed to the baby later by the father or another care-giver. Quality and ease of life is improved as his design effectively satisfies the demands of the new family system in contemporary society.
My first impression was that a show merely concerned with function was not tenable. Suddenly I became aware, however, that the balance found by each designer between functionality and aesthetic, their choice of prioritising one over the over, made each piece fascinating. Paying more attention to some of the designs I realised how the recent graduates overcame the shortcomings of products already existing on the market. This was an exciting discovery.
As I was leaving my reflections were interrupted by a student asking, Excuse me, would you like to observe 24 product designs from University College Falmouth without seeing the actual pieces? My curiosity was certainly stirred up. The student first guided me to a shelf to choose a postcard with simple drawings of respective designs. She then asked me to put my hand, holding the postcard, into a big white scanner in the middle of the stand.
An image of the product appeared in three-dimension above the postcard, shown on a television screen. We are having an independent exhibition elsewhere in London later in the month, so we think this is a good strategy to promote our students and event here. It minimises the costs in terms of spacing and money, the student explained. I totally agreed.
Even from an amateur point of view, New Designers Part II was a thrilling experience. Information and knowledge happily shared by graduates and lecturers. Additionally, being myself more particularly interest in fashion and textile, I enjoyed the total contrast between New Designers Part I and Part II and I am very glad that Modeconnect gave me the opportunity to attend and report on both. Maybe we will meet again next year at New Designers 2013!