Monday, July 09, 2007

Back to basics

Hopefully I'll have some time to write again, now that the summer course is over. There are still some small details to install before the grand opening, but the hard part is over. Besides the time pressure (5 weeks) for the project, the most common difficulty for most students was to change from the normal academic behavior to a working behavior. What I mean, is that in academic life, the workflow is open to exploration, learning from mistakes, etc. But, trying to get a project done in 5 weeks requires to focus on goals and optimizing work-flow. You have to keep your eyes on the goal, not on your grade or how "conceptual" your proposal is. You have to use basic design tools and methods to keep on track. Those who are used to work without those tools, had a really hard time finding the correct answers. That's a typical mistake students make, and some teachers wrongly encourage.

I've been saying that I am not a great fan of Bruno Munari, but he makes some quite interesting points regarding design methodology. Basically, it is not OK to try to make (or learn) things from scratch... "those who forget their past, are condemned to repeat past mistakes" . Making design by "intuition" "ingenuity" or "common sense" are more likely to take wrong steps. I mean, to get to a working object, there are many trials and errors. Those who refuse to learn from previous experiences will certainly have to go through that same path of trials and errors before reaching the goal. Even when you are looking for innovative solutions, it's good to know about previous experiences, so that the new trial and error path, is not the same as previous ones, and the new solution could come from a different perspective.

Trying to get things done by chance or by "common sense", can take a long time and sometimes it won't have the expected result. It's like trying to get to be a millionaire by buying lottery tickets instead of focusing on developing a business for example. You may eventually get a refund ticket, but not the great prize. Design should therefore be targeted on achieving results, and the best way to do so, is using basic simple tools to do it. Start with a plan: if you don't have a detailed plan or "design specifications" you will get lost really fast.

Everyone has their own sketching techniques, but if you don't have a way of telling the progression of ideas, the best ideas might get lost in a crowd of napkins. Have a precise way of numbering and grouping ideas, that way, the idea will actually "develop" from previous sketches. It's like a platform to launch ideas further, if you don't use that platform, your ideas will hardly jump up.

Use basic composition diagrams when sketching. Some people have a natural skill for proportion, symmetry, asymmetry, balance, contrast, etc... some don't. Even the more skilled painters and artists start by locating construction lines upon which they will be working the forms and shapes. Always!!! Always use construction lines... (I'll further comment about this on a later post). And of course, when you are at the workshop, building your stuff... use those construction lines to draw axis, angles, etc... use drawing tools on your materials, do not draw or mark things by hand! remember i's INDUSTRIAL design, not artisan's design. A Pollock painting couldn't be industrial design, so why let things fall in place by chance or gravity?

Then, my typical advise on workshop manufacturing: do not compromise or change anything that affects the size, shape, function, aesthetic, form, or functionality of your design just because a technician tells you to! They are there to solve technical difficulties, not to solve design issues. If this world would have been created by a technician, gravity would have been solved with a rubber band, animals and plants would come in only 3 or 4 shapes (why bother to make each and one individually), everyting would be built with steel square profiles (PTR) and have humongous over sized screws to fix things... or be fastened with duct-tape if it's just temporary.

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