Monday, December 1, 2008

Industrial Design and I

To speak the truth, I’m not an industrial design student. You probably have noticed it before. I only come to this department once a week, for less than three hours. I am interested in industrial design industry, but I don’t have knowledge or experience about this subject like everyone else has in this class right now. To be honest I walk in quite scared whenever I come into the room every Monday; if I had known that this course was prepared for 70 junior ID students before the semester started, I may have just dropped this course and try to get into a class with students that share similar experience as mine. However being able to feel the atmosphere of different department and listening to ambitious students in higher grade really was an inspiring and unique experience for me. It seemed to me as if junior students were far more dedicated and professional about their major than any other sophomore students – listening to you talk made me little embarrassed, but very inspired. I must admit that this class was the only one that had me inspired so much after each class.

When we started to research timeline of history of a product, however, it probably was a less exciting moment for me than for the other students. Being a full-time illustration student now, there were times when I felt so detached from the class than any other students. Despite of my interest in industrial design, I couldn’t help but to keep thinking how all these studies may be useless for me later on. But as wrote and questioned myself, I realized that this class wasn’t only for RISD ’08 junior ID students, but for anyone who is a part of this culture we live in. I was surprised how a person so detached from ID like me, had mother who runs a company that imports and sells interior goods and father who worked in the field of electronics for over a decade. This course wasn’t ‘useless’ or ‘irrelevant’ from me. I already sent my mother a research paper I wrote about furniture as a reference, and I also was able to reply my father’s e-mail asking about nature-friendly products that he could get for his house in countryside, where he will reside after he retires. These experiences lead me to think, gee, if I could already make so many connections to the works I’ve been doing and my life, how important these knowledge will be to others?

Another thing that I was able to discover from this course was the field of my own interest within the ID industry. I found the topics of designs for those who needs, ‘green design’ and nature-inspired design the most interesting to me. In fact I think I have always been interested in nature than some others may have at my age; I had inherited my father’s interest, and he would always say that I would work at National Geographics when I grow up (which I kept denying, thinking that I will forced to live in tropical jungle – an idea which scared me quite a bit when I was eight). My father had not grown in a wealthy family as a child, and he had witnessed the impact of Korean War while he was very young. He knows importance of saving energy, money and environment, and his current occupation had not changed the nature of him; and now his daughter is here drawing forest and animals. It sure was a pleasant experience to understand myself as I explored the field of knowledge where I wasn’t exposed.

Now that the course is over I may never be able to be exposed in these people and environment I had for last two months. It is quite saddening I must say… however my interest in field of ID continues and maybe I will be able to apply for another liberal art for next year... Who knows?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Art&Design: A Designer's Job

To tell the truth, I still couldn’t decide which major I wanted even when I started final half of my foundation year. I loved to draw ever since I was little, but I also loved to make objects with my hands. I’ve been talking with my teachers to make up my mind, and few days before my decision was due, I was finally able to make up my mind - I chose Illustration. The reason behind this decision was because I thought working in 3d forms in the field of illustration was easier than to work in 2d forms in the field of industrial design. I also felt that there was a small room for me to settle in as an artist in industrial design field, mostly because my idea of industrial design is an object design that must be appealing and sold to as many customers as possible – which also means that the design has to be mass-produced.

Although I don’t regret the choice I made back then, I was very shocked to see and listen to this week’s lecture about Tokujin Yoshioka’s presentation named ‘Second Nature’. His works was completely against my idea of ‘industrial design’ – his works in the show could not be mass-produced, wasn’t functionalistic or looked like familiar. I looked up for more information after the class, and found out that his exhibitions were more like sculpture gallery. In fact it maybe wrong to call him an industrial designer; his works range widely from an object for everyday use to interior design.


Venus Crystal Chair

Tokujin’s one of the most famous works seems to be Honey-Pop chair, seeing how many famous museums decided to put it in their permanent collections; however the Second Nature was the one which moved me the most. I liked the fact that Tokujin wasn’t only trying to represent nature in his pieces, but to show the growth, movement and elements of the nature itself. ‘Venus Crystal Chair’ is a good example to understand the theme of this exhibition. Tokujin didn’t carve or put together to make this chair. He dipped in the skeleton of a chair into chemically treated liquid, and chemical reaction that occurs on the surface of skeleton would cause crystallization – which will continue to grow until it is removed from the liquid.

I was fascinated by Tokujin’s works even by looking at his website, but I couldn’t help but to think that these seemed like ideas and designs you can only encounter in specific exhibitions. However I was surprised to find out that Tokujin had recently designed for Swarovski’s flagship store in Ginza, Tokyo. It is also obvious that his design was derived from the Second Nature exhibition. It seems like the ‘Clouds’ was the origin of the entrance and ‘crystal forest’, and ‘Venus Crystal Chair’ being the origin of ‘shooting star’. I’m positive that I’m not the only one who thought that Swarovski had made an amazing job selecting their designer. Also seeing Tokujin’s successful designs had made me realize that I’ve had a strange notion about industrial design that it is a field where you need to design new, futuristic cell phone or cars. In fact I think that I didn’t have to be so worried when I chose my major in early 2008; for some designers, everything was just same kind of creation – presented in different formats. I don’t understand why I was thinking so limitedly before, but Tokujin helped me to break away from that idea.

Swarovski store Entrance, Ginza, Tokyo

Crystal Forest

Shooting Star

Being a Copycat Is Bad --- Or Is It?

From nature... product.

Past 600,000 years was an unending process for human beings to develop tools to solve everyday problems. However nature, which already dedicated 3.8 billion years of research on solving problems, have been a great source of inspiration for engineers and designers of today. The very first tool made by human that was discovered so far was a stone that was chapped in order to serve purpose of a knife. Even this stone also seem to be mimicking shape of a fang of a carnivore. Nowadays there is countless number of examples of biomimetics around our daily life; Velcro is a classic example, however not many are aware that airplane wings are coated with water-repellent nano-coating that was inspired by lotus leaves in order to prevent the wings from freezing.

Lotus and Lotusan paint

Nature-inspired design and engineering is a flourishing in the current design and engineering industry. The secrets of lotus leaf, which is hydrophobic and self-cleansing effect (as mentioned in the example above) was revealed by a German biologist Wilhelm Barthlott in the year 1982. He figured out that the delicate nano-structures on the surface of a lotus leaf made the water on its surface to gather into a drop, and ‘cleans’ the surface when the water drop rolls away. He named this phenomenon ‘lotus effect’ and developed and patented Lotusan paint. This type paint, which contains extremely small bumps, is now famous for not absorbing any water or filth even after decades. Another well-known and amazing example is ‘Fast skin’ swim suit worn by ten-olympic medals-winning swimmer Gary Wayne Hall. The secret of the sharks’ fast swimming is hidden in its skin. Microscopic ‘shield scales’ shaped like rows of teeth allow the water to pass through the holes and gaps at a high speed, diminishing the friction between its surface and water. This surface design also prevents barnacle and algae from being attached, thus a synthetic coating mimicking sharkskin is being developed for US Navy Army boats. Shinkansen trains in Japan also solved its problem of being too noisy when coming out of a tunnel (caused when an object moving in high-speed ‘hits’ the wall of air – think of sonic boom) by changing its frontal shape into a shape of a kingfisher’s beak. This change in design had not only helped the noise to decrease, but also decreased the amount of energy it needed to travel in high speed (the bell-shaped tunnel entrance and exit also helped the sounds to diminish as well).

Shark skin and swimsuit

Kingfisher's beak and Shinkansen

But are these technologies really necessary? Will biomimetics only serve as a luxurious technology that will help us improve previous designs so that we can become lazier? Some discoveries urge us that it would be a hasty judgment to say so; Andrew Parker discovered that a thorny devil, an Australian lizard leaving in driest desert, can absorb water with its feet use of capillary vessels between its scales, and ultimately deliver the moisture to its mouth. Experts found this mechanism very inspiring and are now working on a system that will help residents in dry climate to collect drinkable water. There is another marvelous study that has so much potential – scientists were able to mimic and develop a new type of adhesive looking at natural adhesive that mussels produce to attach themselves on a surface of rock. This adhesive is made of protein and is four times stronger than any other known adhesives that existed in the industry. This protein which contain ten amino acids have special feature that it becomes stronger as it gets more soaked, making this biomimicry a revolutionary product which can substitute thread that was used to sew up injuries after a surgery. Experts in US are also using mussels’ collagen protein to create artificial skin that is 5 times stronger and can be stretched 16 times more than the real human skin.

Since biomimicry have proven its worth so far, some may wonder what took designers and engineers so long to copy the answers that the nature had already answered. I believe it is only because humans didn’t have technology that is developed enough to analyze how things function in nature; now we understand enough to mimic the complex solution that nature has come up with. So are we finally at the top of technology now? Many experts say no to this question. Currently, Dr. Vincent estimates that that “at present there is only a 10% overlap between biology and technology in terms of the mechanisms used” – but the potential in this area only gets bigger when considering the fact that there still are numerous number of undiscovered species of animals and plants in the world (scientists estimate that we have only discovered about 30% of marine creatures there is on this planet). Lessons that nature taught us had raised the limit of technology used in design, giving more freedom to designers of today. Even the Eiffel Tower in Paris would have been impossible to build if the designer had not taken the technology that human body use to support our lean and tall body. I believe that it is safe to say that designers of today are very lucky to have so much more knowledge – thus freedom – to unfold their ideas into reality.

For those who are interested may find this conference interesting