Sunday, November 30, 2008

Culminating Statements

Living in the world full of so many changes being made so quickly, we are busy moving forward with no time to look back. Overwhelmed with handling the present and preparing for the future, we tend to ignore the past and live today as if there was no yesterday.
I was actually one of them; I had no interest in learning about history of any subject just because I thought they were useless and unimportant. I was also one of those who have a strong prejudice about any history-related-classes that they are always stuck in the traditional frame of ‘how things used to be’ and ‘how things should be done accordingly’. However, this “History of ID” class has incredibly changed my negative posture into a positive one, by its unique and open-ended approach towards the subject matter.

Towards the field of Industrial Design, I have not only developed the interest and respect for what came before us (as a new generation of young designers), but moreover, was able to discover my own point of view and identity.

This honorable opportunity of recalling the historical facts in ID has also led to a personal reflection of my experiences in ID. Living and learning restlessly as a student in RISD, I was so busy to move on that I forgot about the most meaningful moments in my life: the time in high school when I used to work on my portfolio for days and nights only dreaming of getting into RISD, the days in first year foundational studies where I drew and drew until there was no more room for my finger nails to be filled with charcoal dust, the first day when I claimed Industrial Design as my major, and so on.

Just because they seemed so distant by now, I treated them as if they were not important or not even part of me anymore. But now I do realize that I would not be here at this moment without every single step that I took in the past, and that the vast field of Industrial Design would not exist without the path that it came along within the history.

Volunteering at "Worri-Dorri Camp 2008"
for Handicapped Children
As a remembrance for my most personal and foundational experience that led me to this path of industrial design, I would like to share a very humble, but most precious story.
The very first time I decided to become a designer goes back to when I was a sophomore in high school. It was also my first time to directly interact with the handicapped children, as I volunteered to perform a community service in a welfare facility.
Honestly, I was very shocked by the violent behavior of a child and the unfriendly reaction that most of them took as I entered the house they lived in. Although I tried my best to get to know each one of them by asking names with the brightest smile on my face, I could not get any closer until almost the end of the day. But the youngest little girl, who was yet so pure in soul that she did not stay away from strangers, liked me so much that she followed me everywhere.
After all the chores of dishwashing, floor wiping, and hand-laundry, finally the break-time came. All the handicapped children and the volunteers sat down in a big room where snacks were provided. The little girl sat beside me and started drawing on a cracker box with her color pencils. I started drawing as well. She was startled to see how good I drew, and asked me to draw her favorite characters. As I kept drawing, I felt a gaze behind my back. As I turned around, I saw all the handicapped children surrounding me trying to get a closer look at what I drew. Suddenly, they started shouting out their favorite characters as well. At this magical moment, my heart felt so deeply impressed by the fact that my ability to draw was able to open the hearts of handicapped children, which seemed so firmly closed before.
I would like to pay back to the ones who inspired my dream of becoming an industrial designer by providing them with the suitable environment to freely dream in. As I mentioned in the earlier post, “I [will] become a designer who can make people’s lives better” by designing products for those in need of help or change. As long as this blog exists, I will continuously remind myself of the purest intention embedded within the very first step I took as an industrial designer.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Art + Design

Once, before I even decided or thought about becoming part of an Industrial Design field, I heard about the high-cost coffee machine that is “not supposed to” make a best quality coffee. It automatically raised me a question asking, ‘If a coffee machine does not make a good coffee, what else should it function as, or even…exist for?’ I do not remember the name of a designer or a product, but I do exactly remember the designer’s audacious but reasonable answer for my question: the very sculptural and elegantly formed machine may not produce the most tasteful coffee, but will become an art piece to chatter about while a group of people enjoy their coffee break. The designer questions the different roles of a coffee beyond just being a beverage, and answers that question through his unique translation of an ideal coffee machine. Or, maybe, his answer tells us that there is no one-definite-answer for what a product should function as.

(Fine) Art and (Industrial) Design have always been two separate fields that seem to have a clear boundary between each other. First and most noticeable aspect that distinguishes Art from Design is that masterpieces in fine art gain possession value as time goes on, while the products in industrial design usually lose their practical value as time passes by. The value of fine art pieces comes from the visual enjoyment its presence brings to the space and the viewer. On the other hand, the quality of an industrial product is measured by its usefulness and durability (in terms of material choice, technological performance, etc.) Secondly, works in fine art are evaluated by the artist’s uniqueness in style and personal point of view, and the products in industrial design are valued by its popularity and general point of view that covers a wide range of user-groups. Lastly, the fine art pieces are mostly limited in number of availability, while the industrial products are usually mass produced.

If fine art becomes part of our lives through its visual appeal and psychological connection with the viewers, industrial design becomes part of our lives through its direct physical interaction with the users and its performance of functionality.

In my point of view, the inspiration for artists and designers working in between the boundaries of art and design comes from their most personal and intimate experiences. The common goal within their series of work is to combine the different aspects of art and design as much as possible. Looking at the world filling up with industrially produced junks that no longer perform their uses, the designers may have desired to design products in which the true value comes simply from their presence, rather than their functionality.
Saeco Etienne Louis Espresso Coffee Machine by Carlo Borer

I found Saeco Etienne Louis Espresso Machine by Swiss designer Carlo Borer as a great example of a very-art-inspired design piece. Although it is not the same coffee machine that I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I thought the two designers’ approach were very similar to each other. The futuristic and eccentric form reminded me of the attacking weapons such as a mace or a naval mine, both which nobody would have dared to make a connection with a coffee machine. Borer’s espresso machine consists of a steel sphere and spikes and support (three legs) made out of a polished aluminum. The upper half of the sphere which covers the water tank inside is easily removable for refill. It is capable of brewing one or two cups of espresso. This highly-wanted coffee machine has not been commented on any pricing details from its designer, as if its’ true value can be measured not by the level of ‘cost’, but only by its ‘presence’.

Many designers whose works combine aspects of art and design seek to express their individual character and statement in an artistic manner through a product. In the field of industrial design, it is impossible to say that “form follows function” all the time, because there are exceptional times in which function follows form. An example of such case would be the finding that industrial products with more thoroughly developed and esthetically pleasing forms happen to function better for a longer period of time, since the users tend to appreciate their value better and make more careful use of them.
I would like to conclude by raising this question; ‘what’s the worth of a product if it is useful, but not enjoyable?’

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Better World by Design

Among endless lists of projects featured by the RISD-Brown student-run conference “A Better World by Design”, I found Kennedy & Violich Architecture (KVA MATx)’s Portable Light Project very inspiring and hopeful. The project aims to help more than 2 billion people over the world, those in extreme poverty and absence of electricity.

As I recall my memory back in high school, I remember having the worst weekend right before my final exams when the electricity went down for the whole school including dormitories, due to a heavy rainstorm. We had to hang our flash lights on the ceiling with the tape to shine our textbooks and read them, put on every single battery-powered heaters to bring some temperature up in our rooms, and gathered as many friends as possible in a small blanket to keep each other warm. It was the worst environment to study, sleep, or eat. It was simply a disaster.

With my one weekend experience without electricity resulting in a significant decrease in ability and access to gain knowledge or physical immunity, I can’t imagine how 2 billion others without an access to electricity would have survived through their entire life.

Portable Light woven into a textile base

Portable Light by KVA MATx makes eco-friendly and efficient use of renewable resource to create renewable power. A flexible photovoltaic (solar cell) within the textile allows charging up the high brightness solid state lighting (HBLED) and rechargeable battery, once exposed to sunlight during the day. These technological features can simply be woven as a textile base into blankets, bags, and clothing. The textile medium weighs less than 8 ounces, and is easily transportable and adaptable to anywhere and for anyone. The efficiency of the Portable Light is quite amazing as well; 5 hours of charging will produce 12 Volts of DC electrical power and 160 lumens of light for about 8 hours.

South Africa is one of the countries where Portable Light Project is making an active approach to creating a healthy environment for the user groups in serious poverty. While multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB) and HIV are leading many South Africans to death, most of the rural patients are not in the right condition for home medical treatment. Portable Light implanted into a blanket keeps the patients warm, and enables them to charge medical devices used for the treatment.

According to KVA, “Portable Light is based upon the principle that global needs for technology development are inevitably interconnected. Knowledge, techniques, market solutions and data produced by the project benefit the “third” world and the “first” world where the need to imagine, design and develop energy efficient alternatives to the centralized and increasingly costly electrical grid is becoming ever more important.”

For people who have never lived their entire lives with electricity, Portable Light will not only provide them with a source of knowledge and healthy living, but also become a hope for brighter tomorrow.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Humanitarian Design & Real Needs

Dr. Bruce Becker’s lecture on November 3rd about refugee’s living circumstances and designers’ responsibility for humanitarian design solutions for such user-groups in need of help truly struck me. To be honest, I have always wanted to become a designer who can make people’s lives better; however, people like refugee or anyone who could not even afford one’s life essentials (such as water, clothes, and shelter) were out of my concern. To be even more honest, I thought such serious issues ‘were being’ and ‘should be’ dealt by some other professionals but Industrial Designers. What struck me so much was my ignorance to such greater reasons for us designers to exist, and more than anything, the fact that biggest changes in the world can be made by our smallest realizations and effort.

In the “Reactive material” course I am taking for the advanced studio, we made a visit to MOMA in New York to view their current exhibition called “Home Delivery: Prefabricating the Modern Dwelling”. The architects involved in the project claim that it is more efficient and environmentally friendly to mass produce parts of houses and fabricate them, compared to long term home constructions on a large scale site. Also the compactness of the house itself saves large amount of energy used to maintain the space. Lastly, they believe that such modern concept of deliverable house can be fun and entertaining for anyone around the world.
During the lecture, many aspects in the refugee camp reminded me of the contemporary project, prefabricated compact housing. The three main aspects both refugee camp and prefabricated compact houses have in common are that they have limited space, limited access to power/ resources, and limited permanency (so it should be mobile). In my Reactive material course, by trying to design a house as compact as possible, I became aware of the priority concerns for human being and living:
1. Water + Food
2. Toilet + Shower
3. Sleep + Rest
4. Safety + Privacy
5. Entertainment
While top three on the list are clearly essentials for life maintainence, lower two may sound like a luxury for people in serious poverty and threat like refugees. However, I think it is our responsibility as designers to keep our user-groups not only physically but also mentally alive, despite what kind of circumstances they may be in. For example, multi-functional products can be spatially and financially economical and fun to explore at the same time.

Exterior Perspective of Water Block House

by Kengo Kuma and Associates

Rendering of Water Block

The problem of having limited access to power can be solved by the use of renewable resources around us. In the study of various smart materials, I learned about remarkable natural power sources such as rain energy, luminescent materials, piezoelectric materials, and so on. On the other hand, the limited access to water can be solved by design idea such as “Water Block House” by Kengo Kuma and his associates. The picture of endless water bottles lined up on a ground to gather rain water, which was shown in Dr. Bruce Becker’s presentation, definitely reminded me of this project which challenged the idea of traditional building blocks. This revolutionary idea of building a house out of water bottles suggests potentials of the house as a place for dwelling as well as collection of life essential resource.

Living Pod by David Greene/Archigram

The unique feature about prefabricated houses is that they can be deconstructed into sections rather than demolished, once it is done with use or being moved. The interesting project I would like to point out is called “Living Pod”, which David Greene has proposed as an ideal portable home. It has inflatable flooring and interior furnishings that can be deflated and flattened out completely for easy transport. This was my personal favorite project within the MOMA exhibition, since it uses cheap, light weighted, water-proof, and easily washable material to bring instant feature to our concept of home in an enjoyable way.
I still may not have a definite answer for what top design concerns and responsibilities should be for industrial/humanitarian designers. However, I believe that my approach in searching for such answer has already begun, by finding myself writing this post not just for ID history class, but for myself. I also believe that many of the designers out there feel the same way, since I have already found many humanitarian aspects in contemporary designs that could be adopted and applied to fulfill majority’s needs. As I mentioned earlier, the smallest change in all of us can make the biggest change for the world.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

How do Products Gain Meaning?

In spring semester of 2008, ID sophomore students were assigned with an exhibition design project for Design Principles course. The project was group oriented, and my group nominated Ettore Sottsass as one of the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century.

My Group's Exhibition Design in the ID Gallery

In our group’s presentation, we randomly chose people in the room and asked what ‘i-Pod’ meant to each of them (if they owned one). Surprisingly, all the answers we got were different. Some said that it was their “best friend”, while some others claimed it to be the “source of knowledge”, and few others thought of it as their “fashion accessory”.
With all these diverse meanings each individuals imply within a single electronic product, have you ever wondered, ‘Since when did the electronic products around us gain such intimacy with its users?’
The product design during Post World War II era did not go beyond the conformist approach, and remained restricted in the idea that products had to follow conventional shapes, colours, textures and patterns. Ettore Sottsass was the first designer to bring meaning and character to the office electronics and home furnishings. He was an Italian designer and architect, born in 1917 and passed away on December 31st, 2007. He founded Memphis Design group, as a reaction against the slick, black, humorless design of the 1970's. Against the time of minimalism, they produced a lot of bright, colorful, and shocking pieces inspired by Art Deco, Pop Art, and Post-Modernism.

"Valentine" Typewriter (1970)

The most famous work of Sottsass was the red portable typewriter named, “Valentine”. He called his typewriter the “anti-machine machine”. He wanted a typewriter which was no longer just a chunky machine used in office settings, but an eye-catching piece of design that could be carried around anywhere, and offered you a personalized space for work and leisure. The design was revolutionary not only because of its outer bucket that enabled complete closure and portable feature of the typewriter, but also because of its iconic use of colors and simply elegant look.

"Enorme" Telephone (1986)
Piet Mondrian's Composition Painting (1921)
"Enorme" Telephone Packaging (1986)

Another notable piece of Ettore Sotsass’s work was the “Enorme” telephone designed for Enorme Corporation in 1986. The use of limited, yet primary colors remind me of Piet Mondrian’s composition painting. A strong visual impact and contrast within the painting comes alive through the telephone’s inspired design. The overall shape remains simple and modern, consisting of two major shapes: rectangles and circles. Another interesting factor is the sleek hard case provided for the telephone’s packaging, which looks like a shoe box. It suggests Sottsass’s point of view in which telephone meant something more than an electronic equipment and something precious enough to be handled and displayed with care.

Ettore Sottsass

"When I was young, all we ever heard about was functionalism, functionalism, functionalism," Ettore Sottsass has once said. "It’s not enough. Design should also be sensual and exciting."
Ettore Sottsass, through his unique approach to design with use of bold colors and creative forms, is widely accepted as a role model for a new generation of designers. He was able to grant meaning to the everyday objects by adding individuality and personality to them, which brings us joyous and passionate lifestyle.
Reference Links:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pop + Furniture

Pop Art was a revolutionary art movement aroused in the mid-1950s in Britain, then followed by the United States in the late 1950s. The term “Pop” originated from the quote, “popular mass culture” in the essay by Lawrence Alloway the Britich art critic and curator. As a response to the wealthy Post World War II society and the growth of materialism and consumerism, Pop art focused on materials that can be easily found in people’s everyday living environment. As Lawrence Alloway stated, instead of “an aesthetic that isolated visual art from life and from the other arts, there emerged a new willingness to treat our whole culture as if it were art” . Along with a growth of such innovative ideas, a number of designers in the 60s were increasingly influenced and inspired by the Pop movement. The major markets subject to influence included fine arts, fashion design, and last but not least, the furniture industry.
The influence of Pop art on furniture design during the 1960s was so obvious that it is surprising to find the term, “Pop Furniture” never mentioned before in history. In fact, it is quite difficult to define Pop furniture not only because nobody has ever specified it in the past, but also because even Pop art itself has so many different characteristics and purposes depending on each artists portraying them. Cara Greenberg, in his book “Op to Pop”, introduces two major ways to distinguish them: some by a “specific pop-cultural reference”, and others through “simply bright primary colors, basic geometries, or oversized scale, which are links to Pop impulse”. To narrow these two broad categories down a bit, I will focus on the three major attitudes that Pop furniture tends to take: dealing with the most contemporary issues of the time, having strong but unrestricted point of view and style, and lastly being short-lived but lifetime noteworthy.
Bocca sofa or Marilyn sofa by Studio 65 (1972)
First, Pop furniture resembles its origin with Pop art in the “popular mass culture.” Pop art, as an ironic and humorous way to comment on the contemporary society, often used market products, celebrities, comic strips, and advertisements as its raw material. A perfect example of a furniture piece inspired by a typical medium for Pop culture is a Bocca sofa or Marilyn sofa produced by Studio 65 in 1972. This iconic piece of modern sofa in an oversized shape of simple but bold red lips became famous world-wide and sells for $8,595 today. The materials used were cold expanded polyurethane and elasticized fabric cover. There were two major inspirational characters known for this Pop furniture design: Salvador Dali and Marilyn Monroe. Studio 65’s sofa reminds me of the most significant Pop artist Andy Warhol and his massive production of silk screen prints with Marilyn Monroe icon. They both took the subject from what is already out there, and reinterpreted into their own style and with their own perspective on it. What makes the Marilyn sofa so special is that it looks too cartoonish as furniture, and too realistic to be just a mock-up blob of lips; moreover, it functions perfectly as any other sofas do. Amazingly, the natural characteristic of a lip-the soft and curvy outlines and an elegant folding between the upper and lower lips make the sofa visually and physically attractive that not only offers you a seat, but also a mouthful of chatter. Another beauty of this particular form is that it dramatically differs from each angle, looking like a plain normal sofa from the side. The sofa is only produced in red-the most iconic color of Pop art, and of course, the lips. The literal identity and role of lips allow the sofa to speak for its own social standing and point of view.

Lounge furniture by Roberto Sebastian (1965)

Second, Pop furniture ‘pops up’ with its bold color usage and minimalistic design, just like Pop art never forgot to give an accented focal point to its viewers. Pop art, regardless to its simple and superficial characteristics, hardly allows the viewers to get lost or bored when examining it. At first glance, it strikes you with its own stylistic or color identity, but the rest of the interpretation remains solely yours, without any restrictions or guidelines. The example of Pop furniture that especially cares about the consumer’s personal taste or playfulness may be the Malitte lounge furniture by Roberto Sebastian, manufactured in 1965. The materials involved in production were polyurethane foam and wool. An interesting fact was that the five separate slices of the blobby looking furniture came together to a single, perfect cube. The chairs’ light weight and free forms let the user arrange them however they want, and create a personalized space. These ideas fit into the basic concept of Pop art, which highlights itself as well as its surroundings through novelty and faddishness. When I saw this “jigsaw puzzle of foam” in the Museum of Modern Arts in NY, my very first attention went to the yellow piece in the middle of the cube. Honestly, I might have not noticed such a wonderful piece of work if that smallest yellow piece did not catch my eye. It was not only the eye-catching color, but also the fact that this piece was placed in the middle. It made me speculate about the piece, making me want to look for connections between each piece more carefully. It was obvious that the insightful speculations and thorough planning have gone through the building process of this simple, yet eye-catching piece of Pop furniture.

Inflatable furnitures (1960s)

Third, the continuous discovery of new materials and the effort to define the fundamental purpose of art influenced Pop art as well as the Pop furniture to become a temporary statement without a demand for sustainability or permanency. The materials discovered and used during the 1960s as a rebellion against an accepted style included “plastics, metallic fibers, and even paper”. If the most popular design among the youth group in the disposable fashion market was the temporary mini paper dress, there was the air-inflatable furniture in the home business. “Blow-up furniture was a direct outgrow of the utopian pneumatic architecture movement”. Despite the possibility of air leak while in use and low durability of the material, this revolutionary idea with which they could travel anywhere desired was appealing enough for the youth group. By producing visually appealing designs out of cheap material, New York sculptor Philip Orenstein criticized the money-oriented American Post WWII society. Although this boom was short-lived due to the physically, economically, and environmentally unhealthy elements of the thin plastic shells, it was technologically advanced enough to fill the entire apartment with air supported furniture; including sofa, bed, pillows, etc. The question of whether art or design has to be preserved permanently in its original form is still one of the biggest issues often brought up by the artists, designers, and viewers. The inflatable furniture of the 60s was one of the most influential examples in placing such debate, and still remains a big part of our leisure necessities.

The Pop furniture, furniture designs in 1960s directly or indirectly influenced by Pop art movement, was a direct translation of Pop art’s focus on everyday living into an object. Due to a very intimate relationship between furniture and our life-style, it is not an overstatement to say that furniture from the 60s was the most practical version of living Pop-art. As a reaction to the mass culture of Post World War II era, Pop furniture constantly made a clear statement and led disoriented hearts along the path of restoration through use of bold, symbolic colors and various kinds of materials to fit the needs of industry as well as the consumers. In conclusion, Pop furniture was a retranslation of “popular mass culture” through its own minimalistic but bold style, in a faddish attitude that resembled the consumers’ materialistic minds in the 1960s.


 Works Cited:

  • Lawrence Alloway, American Pop Art (Whitney Museum of American Art, NY: Collier Macmillan Publishing, 1974)
  • Cara Greenberg, Op to Pop: furniture of the 1960s (Italy: Bulfinch Press, 1999)
  • Peter Dormer, Design Since 1945 (NY: Thames & Hudson Inc., 1993)
  • Trendir: Home Decorationg Trends Magazine (
  • Wilmette Historical Museum: Disposable Paper Dress and Design Trend of 1970s. (

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Timeline: Functionalism as a Theory of Form

What seems unique about Functionalism among all the artistic movements is that there is no one definite definition for it. The most commonly used description for Functionalism states that, “Form follows function.” However, what defines “function” of an object still remains a questions and may be responded with our own answers.
Heisinger, the author of Design Since 1945 wrote, “Functionalism is the idea that beauty in useful objects is defined by their utility and honesty to materials and structure.” Although this is my favorite quote that I found about Functionalism, I think it is more complete to say that Functionalism is the idea that beauty in useful objects is defined by their utility, honesty to materials and structure, and visual language which speaks for the users’ desire.
 Reference Links: