The weighty themes of the moment – the driving forces, the ambitions, the ideals – are in most cases the concern of those who are not yet faced with a need to sell their products for the sake of survival or continued success. Design students can focus completely on what they consider to be of essence to the discipline, and they have exquisitely sensitive antennae for detecting that essence. They are young, with an intuitive sense of what’s going on, of the technologies required to make things happen and of the roles a designer can play in today’s world.
In searching for the talents of tomorrow, we undoubtedly make mistakes, blinded by our personal opinions. We encounter many imitations, many pointless incipient ideas and many wretchedly executed designs. To discover the real talents, we have to zoom in on projects and study every detail, letting nothing escape our attention. We should also zoom out for a good view of the overall picture. What are the trends? What are the popular themes?
Having done that, we can ask immediately whether the greatest talents are those engaged in popular themes. Or should we look for excellence in the work of students who have applied themselves in a conventional manner to the design of good, well-functioning, aesthetically pleasing objects? Or in the work of lone wolves whose personal themes are uninfluenced by conventions, trends or the social pressures of school, fellow students and instructors? We did all of the above. We looked for popular themes, and we searched for projects that displayed extraordinary talent, regardless of whether that talent emanated from convention or innovation.
How can we enter the coming years saddled with an obvious scarcity of natural resources; how can we cultivate our own food in an urban environment; what do we need for a more sustainable lifestyle; what solutions can we offer people in the so-called Third World countries; how can we make optimum use of the qualities of existing manufacturing processes; how can we utilize natural processes; which local features can we exploit to good advantage, and in what areas is global cooperation imperative; how can we unite the digital and analogue worlds; how can we live as nomads, constantly on the move yet at ‘home’ within the things we carry with us?
Many designers tackled major social themes and, in so doing, held a critical mirror up to the faces of users; examples were projects by Jingyi Lin, Hilda Hellström and Ned Scott. Others – including Johanna Bengtsson, Hal Watts and Hikaru Imamura – provided practical solutions. Some gave their solutions an amusing twist, such as Cheng Guo, who showed that the human body can produce enough energy to operate simple tools, like an electric drill; and Leander Angerer, who commented on consumerism by promoting a ‘light’ way of life.
Reuse proved to be popular, as always. The topic brought forth basic tips for users, who were challenged by the designs of Jason Lloyd Fletcher, for instance, to put together furniture for personal use from discarded materials. Paulo Goldstein exhibited a bold project that instantly caught our attention. His over-the-top repairs are not really an appeal to the conscience to fix what you have rather than replacing it with something new; Goldstein celebrates repairs as an activity that stirs the imagination and leads to amazingly attractive results.
To be continued tomorrow ...