Design Museum Talks: Designers in Residence 2012
Last week I had the pleasure of attending Designer Night, one of a series of evening talks by the Design Museum, that cater for those who would otherwise miss out during the museum’s daytime opening hours. The Museum was showcasing the work of their 2012 Designers in Residence, five emerging designers, who have worked in partnership with the museum over the course of the past year, to create an exciting new exhibition.
The talk was a pleasantly informal affair, with time to wander around the museum’s exhibits beforehand. For the short introductory presentations, the five designers, four guest speakers and thirty-or-so attendees mingled comfortably together in a lecture room overlooking the Thames. After the talk, the highlight of the evening saw the museum’s ground floor café requisitioned so that guests could grab a table with individual speakers and chat freely about their work, their backgrounds and their perspectives on design. This approach was a refreshing departure from the traditional concept of an exhibition, where dialogue from the designer is often limited to a carefully prepared sound bite. Chatting with the designers, in the relaxed atmosphere of the café, enabled two-way conversation and a rare opportunity to press the designers on topics of personal value.
The theme for the 2012 residency was ‘Thrift’, making Friday’s talk of particular interest to me, as it dealt with some of my favourite topics of conversation – money saving, designer responsibility and crafty utilisation of materials. With this in mind I took the chance to put some of my own design priorities to three of the Design Night speakers. They were:
Designer of the increasingly popular ‘Hush’ chair. Freyja is utilising her residency to develop an ecologically sound alternative to fibreglass, made from wool-industry waste and potato starch. Her fully-biodegradable Starch Baked Wool products address the excessively long lifespan of temporary plastic furnishings.
Designer-in-residence at the Design Museum. Harry is utilising his residency to investigate opportunities for local product manufacture. Setting himself the aim of using resources within a 20-mile radius, Harry demonstrated the beauty of localising everyday products through his county-specific mousetraps, each with a unique functionality and an aesthetic dictated by locally available resources. Harry is currently working on an ingenious series of pottery items with fellow designer-in-residence, Oscar Medley-Whitfield, utilising clay refined from the banks of the River Thames.
Lyla Patel Reynolds:
Guest speaker and Head of Education at high street clothing recyclers TRAID. Lyla discussed the work the charity does to combat the exceptional levels of waste created by the fashion industry, and the difficulties in getting retailers to take responsibility for social welfare within their extended supply chains.
The team combined talent in the field of sustainable design, with valuable experience as young professionals in a difficult economic climate. I asked Freja, Harry and Lyla three questions on designer responsibility, impacting society through their work and their tips for gaining recognition in the design world.
1.One of the greatest obstacles to reducing waste and conserving material is changing consumer behaviour. How do you see the burden of responsibility falling on designers? Is our role to educate consumers to make better use of free choice, or should we be designing-out damaging behaviours from all the products we create?
FS – I think it’s a balance. Education is important, but there’s only so far you can ask people to change their behaviour. Wanting things is human nature. Relying solely on educating consumers is swimming against the stream.
HT - Some responsibility does lie with the designer, as they have the power to influence the consumer directly. However, with the exception of a small minority of vocal, activist designers, it is ultimately policy makers, executives and marketers who have the real ability to steer consumer behaviour. Many mainstream designers do not get to decide what they design.
LPR – I think there is a duty to prevent damaging behaviour, however I think the responsibility goes further than designers. We need stronger legislation to regulate what gets manufactured, and the environmental and social impact that products have. Designer self-regulation clearly isn’t working.
2. How do you see the work you are doing at the moment contributing towards a less impactful society?
FS – With further research, Starch Baked Wool has the potential to provide a cheaper, sustainable alternative to plastics use in disposable products. It also challenges consumer attitudes towards buying things, for parties for example, that are not truly disposable.
HT – On a practical level, the work I do with local materials probes what we can make, and what we can achieve with limited resources. More importantly though, it challenges the established way of making things and promotes a more attractive and more sustainable way of approaching design in a finite world.
LPR – TRAID’s whole business model is about creating a less impactful society. From preventing waste and reducing our demands on new resources, to global social projects funded by sales of our clothes, we use the profits of ecological sustainability to improve social sustainability. One of the most evocative projects we are funding at the moment is putting an end to bonded labour schemes, and child exploitation, in spinning mills in Tamil Nadu in India. You can find out more about our projects on our website.
3. ‘Thrift’ is an especially pertinent theme considering the current economic challenges. As emerging designers, what advice would you give to those struggling to gain a foothold in the design world?
FS – Ignore the negativity about jobs and the economy. There are opportunities out there, if you seek them out. Form a collective or join one. You’ll get more done together as a team and you’ll benefit from the different skill sets.
HT- There is tremendous value in meeting people and asking questions. Many opportunities have come from simply following up a conversation with an email. Don’t underestimate how valuable your network is. The industry is small and someone, be it an ex-tutor, or earlier graduate from your course, will know the people or companies you want to work for.
LPR– I began working foe TRAID 7 years ago by volunteering one day a week. It was totally worth it. Spend time with the organisations that inspire you in any way you can. Find free talks, exhibitions and events. Go to everything. Keep learning.
The Designers in Residence exhibition runs from 05 September 2011 – 13 January 2013 at the Design Museum. The next designers in residency talks are:
Friday 30 November, 4pm
Details and booking
Riverside Hall Takeover
Saturday 1 December, 12 – 5pm
Join the Designers in Residence for an afternoon of demos and workshops related to the work they have produced for the exhibition. Free entry, drop-in sessions.
DESIGN MUSEUM, SHAD THAMES, LONDON SE1 2YD
OPENING: 10.00 -17.45 daily. Last admission: 17.15
£10.00 Adults, £9.00 Concessions, £6.00 Students. Under 12s Free.
T: 020 7940 8790