11 December 2008

30 November 2008

My path as I see it

It started with a roll of duct tape. From that moment on my life changed, I no longer wanted to be archeologist, or a blue angel pilot. No, from that moment all of my childhood dreams blew away with the wind, only leaving the whisper of my new path, Industrial Design. Through a series of days the single roll of duct tape transformed into a vast variety of things, from a patch for my pants to a trash spear. I was only ten years old but I had found my calling. Every new form and tool I could create intrigued me even more. During this week I constantly harassed my mother with my newest contraption, asking her advice and seeking reassurance of my underage genius. As time wore on I began to wonder how I could keep inventing for the rest of my life while getting paid. At that point my mother spoke two words which would ever change my path, and desires for my future, Industrial Design. Two words which would change my life and forever tie the path of my life to that of my parents.

Through the passage of time my desire of the field had grown immensely while also tragically and optimistically being tied to the fate of those that raised me. In the time that has passed from that first roll of duct tape I have desired so many different directions of this field that I could not even recall them all. As my life inched through my high school years, I was once again changed, as I was by those two words we all now speak on a daily basis. A new word shattered all that I had thought that I had known, forever altering my personality. A word, which I thought, was so separate from my life and what I had in mind for my future. During my sophomore year of high school my mother began a long and tumultuous battle with Cancer. It was disease which altered everything from our daily routine to the way we talked. A cloak of grey had fallen over our already dreary Seattle skyline.

The introduction of disease into my life utterly changed me, and my outlook on the field. I was able to witness the large array of devices and products used in the healing process, and the immense effect they had on my mother and others in the Cancer ward. My eyes opened through the struggles I witnessed, through every interaction of treatment those suffering either lost or gained hope. Life became a crapshoot for a cancer patient, every second predicting a complete change in ones life. Through observation I began to notice the role fear played into the rate of survival, and how products played into that fear, some calming, some fanning the flames.
During the five years my mother faced an uphill, and eventual terminal battle, my desires and goals for design drastically changed. I no longer wanted, nor personally could stomach the idea of designing just a “pretty” product. I no longer held the dream to sit in the ranks of Dieter Rams, and Charles and Ray Eames. Nor could I envision myself making the culinary designs I had often dreamed of. Of all of the paths an Industrial Designer could take, I developed an intense need to help those who were thrown blindly into the seesawing battle of life and death, those who were fighting a battle many years before their time, and those who stood with them during this time and eased their pain.

At this moment in my life my desire to help those who are fighting for their lives, and those who must live in the hell of surviving those that have fought and lost, is consuming. Of all the fields within Industrial Design I can only no envision myself in one, Medical Design. While I am still intrigued by the elegant curves of a beautiful chair, and the immense amount of thought put into the design of a spoon, I am and feel I always will be drawn to the emotional and technical aspects of medical design.

Throughout this semester I have explored several paths of design, while almost subconsciously linking them mostly to my thoughts on my desired future path. While many view the medical field as a cold scientific realm, I would truly like to end that stereotype through the admitted importance of the emotional side of medicine. When the patient as a whole is considered, only then can we truly delve into proper solutions, which take into account the ergonomics of the body and mind. To reach this unity of healing we must realize that the patient is not just the individual receiving treatment, it is also the family, those who are ultimately affected by all consequences of illness, and the loss of life.

I desire the field of medical design, not for intellectual gain, nor breakthrough technology’s. I strive to be in this daunting field through a na├»ve conviction that I may one day bring hope and peace to just one person who is fighting a daily battle just to see another day.

“…If I can ease one Life the Aching
Or cool one Pain
Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again
I shall not live in Vain.”

-Emily Dickinson

20 November 2008

A Better Way to Remember

When considering Industrial Design, I personally rarely view it as art, but much more as an applicable science. Mainly due to my background, of growing up in a household of architects, I am mostly hesitant to approach a more art-based design, which is created in limited numbers and is often a section of the field, which is composed of one off pieces. Despite my personal feelings on many forms of art-based design, I do agree that are several sections of our field, which very much need to be designed and created in a one off format. The section which I have the deepest personal feelings and desires to explore at a latter date, is design for human memorial.

While it is common practice to have a granite gravestone to memorialize an individual who has passed on, people are increasingly realizing that there must be a different and better way. At this present time there are many directions which we as a field need to explore to get anywhere close to an ideal memorial process, currently one group of artists seem to be striving to reach that goal. The Death Boutique, the brainchild of Seattle based artist Greg Lundgren, is an art gallery, which specializes in art for memorial. All of the pieces featured in his gallery are created to help individuals cope and mourn the death of loved ones, while seeking to draw away from the darker side of death. Lundgren, as an artist, creates classically shaped headstones out of cast glass. By creating a headstone out of glass, it seems as if it is glowing, and adds a sense of “life” to the normally cold and grey memorial. Other artists whom create works for Lundgrens gallery make a variety of objects from ceramic urns to bone china made from the cremated remains of those that are being memorialized.

While Greg Lundgren and his ensemble of artists have begun to tap the future of memorial design, I feel there is much more that can be done, not just in a product design sense or an art sense, but in a reforming of the standard practice of mourning. We should search for different and better options to unbearable open casket funerals, in which those who have passed on do not even resemble themselves. In time, especially due to the rising rate of cancer and AIDS, I hope there may be more of what I consider to be the best memorial process ever, living funerals. As Jeff Goldblum artfully states in the 1984 film The Big Chill, “Amazing tradition. They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can't come.” While living funerals are only possible to have when individuals are knowingly near the end of their life, it is an amazing experience for those suffering to see and be with all of those that they love and care for one last time in a happy period. Instead of people who wished they could have said good bye to you congregating around a coffin, a living funeral allows for the good byes to be said in person and for those that are dying to feel comforted, by the love of those that attended, in the last weeks of their life.

It is hard to say which way is the “best” for memorializing the death of a loved one, due to the unique quality of human life, but it is very easy to say that there needs to be something done to create new ways of remembering, way to celebrate the life of the individual who has passed instead their excruciatingly difficult death. May it be through product design, art of reforming the standard process of a society, I cannot say, but I do feel something can, and will be done.

16 November 2008

Improving medicine to better the world

As designers we inherently face the issue of designing to better the world on a daily basis. No matter what section of the field were in, from kitchen utensils, to eco design. We design products to improve others products of the past and to further improve the lives of those using our goods. Much of the time in industrial design we are encouraged to add a cool factor to entice people to buy our products, despite that their functionality also having been improved. There are very few segments of our field, which design products on a purely functional platform that are created wholly to solve the problems of the users without an outwardly “pretty” form. The fields, which this most often pertains to, are humanitarian, and medical design.

While researching products from the “a better world by design” conference, I came across a company, which sits in a category of functional design, which is extremely underappreciated. Ximedica, an offshoot of ITEM group, specializes in medical design, a field which is becoming increasingly important, partly due to the baby boomer generation reaching an age of medical need. Ximedica uses engineering and design to improve the ergonomic, function and experience users have with their products. Throughout a large portion of my life I have been extremely interested in medical design, and it is one of the reasons I am currently in the design field. Companies like Ximedica are the unsung heroes of the medical field, they are the people who create the devices that doctor and patients rely on, to give and receive proper treatment. While many consider medical products to be ugly objects, and the medical design field to be unasthetically pleasing, every object used within the medical field has been meticulously designed to ease the process those suffering and those healing. I have personally seen the emotional power of products used in the medical field, through the comfort, or discomfort patients experience while receiving treatment.

Ximedica is a company heavily devoted to the field of medical design and using its affects to improve the treatment of millions through ergonomics and engineering. The field of medical design is a way to create “a better world by design” in its purest form.

09 November 2008

Design for the other 90%

Humanitarian design has always been a touchy field in the sense that it can be hard to save a life while not challenging a culture. In the past this field of design has been especially difficult for industrial designers. This difficulty has been due to the indoctrination we all experience in school and by the perception of our field by society that we must “create and design” new products. We are told throughout our careers that we are supposed to create new products that fix previous designs that improve people’s lives. I feel that while this can be done in humanitarian design, the best option we as designers can take in humanitarian design is to travel to disaster areas and provide our minds, and not our wares.

Industrial design is not just a field in which we develop and fabricate different products, for mass production, nor is it just a field in which we spend hundreds of hours making the most amazing chair. Industrial design is a field full of problem solvers. We are presented daily with different challenges, may it be what materials to use, how to create the right hinge, or analyzing and interpreting how certain types of people perform certain tasks.

The skills of the Industrial designer are extremely crucial to these types of situations; we become the product that is used to improve a situation. By depositing designers into these desperate situations, aid agencies would be able to save massive amounts by reducing the amount of supplies shipped to certain areas, which are not needed. Once on the ground design teams can work as anthropological teams gathering data from those suffering and discovering the supplies that are actually needed as opposed to those that were just an assumed need.

Designers can also be extremely useful in reducing the ecological impact of humanitarian design, by studying the common materials used by the society that was disturbed, and working with locals to use those culturally acceptable materials in new ways, which solve the problems of a disaster area. The use of local materials solves many problems faced by those living in these conditions. First, by using these materials there is less of a chance to offend or confuse a culture, due to its already familiar properties. Second, by using local materials these is not much need to ship many products into disaster areas, saving vast amounts of money in transportation costs, and reduces the possibility that certain political regimes would steal the supplies to sell on the black market. Third, by using local materials there would be a reduced amount of waste accumulated in these areas, due to the materials being used already belonging to the site that they are implemented on.

While it at times seems daunting to many to create a product which can truly help a people in need, as designers we need to step back in realize that the true solution to these problems may very well be not our products, but our minds. Our ability to understand the needs of others and our versatility in understanding how to solve these needs in a culturally appropriate way is the greatest key we hold in easing the suffering of those living in disaster areas.

03 November 2008

The Dangers of Meaning

Every time I see a Lamy Fountain pen I think of my father. The Lamy “Safari” is a simple inexpensive plastic pen, but was one of the objects I lusted for the most in my childhood. In that pen I saw and still see a sense of sophistication, of elegance, love, and most importantly the architectural script of my father. It held a hidden knowledge of the world, decades of my father’s life, all that a pen symbolized experience.

How could a designer know that a simple pen, while embodying a refined sculptural form, could symbolize all of those aspects to a young boy all the way through his journey into manhood? How could a designer ever know the personal story, which will be formed around that cheap plastic object? I don’t believe it is possible.

When we try to define our ability to bring meaning to objects and progress even further with that thought by creating meanings for products, all we end up doing is hinder the personal meanings which will be attached to an object. When we define our own meaning for an object and shove it into the consumer’s hand all we are saying is “I want you to feel the same way about this as everyone else, let this product impose emotions on you.”

By hindering the natural process of attaching a personal emotion to a product we as designers help perpetuate the twentieth century idea of mass consumerism, and throw away design. If there is no personal meaning attached to a product, and only forced meaning, we are much more willing to discard it if it gets dirty or damaged but still salvageable.

The best example I can think of to better illustrate my point is that of a teddy bear given to ones young child. Imagine the same bear given to two different children, one with a nametag that came with it telling the child the bears name is “cuddles”, the other the parent has removed the tag and tells their child to name the bear. The first child will go to school the next day and realize that several other people in their class also have “cuddles”, in a couple day the child will end up forgetting about their generic bear and leave him in their toy bin.

The second Child with the unnamed bear will spend several days trying to figure out a really good name for their new friend, taking it everywhere he goes, eventually arriving at the conclusion that his new best friend must be named “Brawer” for the sound he makes when he’s hunting. The second child takes his bear everywhere he goes until the stitching on its arm falls out, and his eye pops out, but never stopping the young boy from taking “Brawer” everywhere he goes.

While this story may sound like an extreme, I believe when we as designers try to attach unnecessary meaning and emotion to a product we hinder the individual from growing attached to the product. When the designer defines all aspects of an object, what is left for the consumer to engage with?

25 October 2008

My Hope for the Future of Human Memorial

Every time I hear the sound of taps being played, I immediately cringe and try to turn off whatever it is coming from. My head sinks as I remember the numerous times in which that simple song has thrown my mother into a fit of tears and despair. I remember my uncle, Alan, whom I never met, being shipped home to the states after being killed his first night in Vietnam. I remember the stories of my mother’s childhood and how Alan was always the favorite. I remember all of this and more from a simple song, all of this despair thrust into the open from a few notes played on a bugle.

Memory is a very complicated process which can be triggered by various objects or sensory stimulations, certain smells can remind us of our first time decorating the Christmas tree, while the feel of a newspaper can remind us of our first time making a soap box derby car with our father. Every memory is ignited by simple triggers, especially death. The death of a loved one leaves a memory usually more present and sensitive than others.
It reminds us of the individual’s life, our relationship with them, the effects they had our lives and the darkest fact, that they are no longer, and will never again be in our lives. In modern day society, the process of grieving is interwoven with a certain set of images and rituals. When someone dies they are usually put into a coffin, a funeral is held, and they are buried with a granite headstone to commemorate their life. While there are minute variations to this process, death stereotypically follows this pattern.

Many of the key triggers which invoke the memories of a loved ones death are the “products of death”. These “products” in present society stick with a pattern most people relate to. The black clothes at a funeral, the gothic darkly stained wood coffin, and the ever-lasting trigger, a granite or metal grave marker. All of these signifiers carry the emotions of grief and the emotions felt at the end of ones life: the pain of dying, death itself, and the excruciating pain and sorrow felt and expressed by a teary eyed funeral.

It is a surprise why design has not spent more effort trying to delve into this field. The current process of commemorating someone’s life is spent focusing on their death itself. As a field we strive to improve the life of individuals through a better redesign of an experience, it seems almost impossible for a designer to not recognize that this process could use a redesign. I find it appalling that when a loved one dies we spend the rest of our time on this planet mourning their death instead of celebrating their life.

In an attempt to lighten death, several artists have joined together to create a “boutique death care” gallery in Seattle, Washington. The solution presented by these artists vary widely, from an alteration of current death products to a whole new style of product of memorial.

The revision of the current product is best illustrated by Greg Ludgrens design. As an alternative to the mundane and morbid gravestone, Ludgren has devised a process of creating headstone out of thick slabs of glass. Due to his solution, instead of a graveyard being considered a dark and gloomy resting place, when implemented, his designs bring an abstract colored light to the surrounding area, transforming the gloom into a play of color and light.

Mike Levitt, another artist part of the death care gallery, takes a very different approach to reforming the memorial process. Due to his desire for individuals to be memorialized for whom they were and not what there death was like, he creates nine inch custom figurines in the likeness of a passed loved one. Adding a further spin to this new interpretation, the figurines have poseable limbs and accessories.

While this group of artists have begun the process of reforming society’s views upon death products, there is still much work needed to be done. We as designers should strive to find a transformative way in which the death of a loved one can be remembered in a way, which is more reliant on the person’s life, than their death. The kind of work which is needed from our field in not just needed in post death products, but also the pre death process.

Work is in need of being done in the medical field enhancing care for elderly and terminally ill patients, to ease the emotional pain of those suffering and enhancing the last memory’s we have with our loved ones. Once this transformation occurs, family member may not just remember the last days of ones life, and how they do not look nor act like themselves, but instead resemble comatose shells of their former self. Instead these last few days could be remembered as a time spent enjoying and remembering the life of those family members close to passing.

The post death product is certainly crucial aspect of the memorial process; while I have no prime solution, designers should take the work of Ludgren and Levitt as a jumping point in the hopeful expansion of the human memorial. I long for the day when families who have lost ones close to them, through natural and unnatural causes are able to memorialize in a honest and positive way; not becoming overcome with the despair, which is so often afflicted upon the present survivors.

Through design I believe we can improve this brutal transition into death. I hope one day, through design or some other means, a child can listen to taps being played with the intermittent sound of gunfire, and think of the great life of their uncle. They can be reminded of the great stories they heard, the joy he brought and the incredible strength he brought to their family. Through design he can be remembered as the man he was, and not the pain his passing caused.