Colleges are complex organisms which respond and reflect change: in personnel, student numbers, funding, sponsorship, whatever. Over at the Royal College of Art, the new rector, Christopher Frayling, has re-jigged the two-part degree show, so that now all design for production and communication, from cars to knitwear, appears under one roof. Certain collaborations between departments are revealed, ie furniture and textiles, but the loss of the “applied arts” of ceramics and jewellery to the “fine art” show leaves a noticeable gap of creativity. If you
didn’t check it out during the first show, you missed a treat. But, as always, there are students to be found engaging with real world issues via personal preoccupations, who write their own briefs, and stand by the results. Which is exactly as it should be.
Spanish furniture designer Roberto Feo has produced a collection of objects under the banner Alone Against Danger, the Spanish title for the legendary western High Noon. Feo may have felt out on a limb because he’s taken some noticeable chances. Culling his aesthetic from the most unlikely sources, he’s produced a cork and suede chair, inspired by the Birkenstock sandal; an acrylic “flying saucer” lamp made in collaboration with textile designer Jenny Wright; and a wall-mounted storage system best described as “giant Lego block meets do-it-yourself abstraction sculpture”.
Feo’s narratives may verge on the kitsch, but his mix and match experiments with materials are truly innovative. Cork granules mixed with latex, formed in a mould and skinned with suede, make a chair which is cheap, light, comfortable and supportive. The wall-mounted grid of studs which constitutes the fixing system for his shelving unit is to be made of rubber (on show is a medium-density fibreboard prototype) so that the open-sided box shelves simply slot into place. The adjustable-height pendent lamp, entitled Don’t run we are your friends, is make from Wright’s patterned acrylic, moulded into a dual-function form, suitable for reading, and casting an other-worldly atmosphere.
While experimenting with printing on to soft plastics for use in interiors, Jenny Wright developed a technique for transferring hand-made marks – combining brush strokes, stencils, resists and dip-dying – on to sheet acrylic. Investigating the structural qualities of the material, she began to vacuum-form the sheets over sculpted plaster moulds, creating both organic and geometric shapes.
At that point Roberto Feo spotted her experiments with circular forms and suggested they work together. The resultant “flying-saucer” lamp makes full use of the semi-transparent and lightweight qualities of acrylic.
Wright is keen that her pattern-making innovation is taken up by other 3D designers, and thinks that these pieces could find their way into interior schemes such as bars and restaurants, as a contemporary alternative to stained glass. At the moment each piece is a one-off, so her next step is to perfect a method of transferring printed patterns on to batch and mass produced objects.
Keen swimmer Jane Cook spotted the need for a new sports product. Realising that some watches are too precious and delicate to be exposed to the rigours of the gym or the pool, Cook has designed a resilient and multi-functional sports timer. A colourful, rubber casing is backed with adhesive tape (just like a sticking-plaster), so it may be stuck to either skin or clothing. Interchangeable timing discs, which perform a range of functions, slot into the case. The user may choose between a traditional time-piece, a stopwatch, a heart monitor, or a timer filled with ink which changes colour after a pre-set period, indicating “your time is up”.
Cook has used the cheapest and most disposable technology, similar to stick-on thermometers and throw-away digital watches, but the beauty of her idea is that it may have other applications beyond sport.
If this body-conscious object is developed as a non-precious fashion accessory, Swatch could have met its match.
Having spent last summer working in Hong Kong, Andrea Chappell decided to make a graphic statement to commemorate the hand-over of the city state. Inspired by Chinese values of making – a low-tech, craft aesthetic – Chappell has created an installation which marries differing technologies, belief systems and objects into one symmetrical and harmonious whole. A giant “paper lantern” calendar, represents the year of the handover – beginning with the western world’s New Years Day, and running until the last day of the Chinese year. Combining the solar and lunar calendars, and printing the dates on the front and back of the paper, depending on which “power” is in control, the whole is a feat of information design which necessitated some serious mathematics.
Either side of the lantern are screens running a video of the countdown. The two screens represent London and Hong Kong time, with its eight-hour difference. Chappell has hand-crafted a “rough-around-the-edges urgency” by letterpress printing the dates on to 16mm film. Twenty-four frames per second represent a day and the dates fly across the screen, from west to east, with a soundtrack of printing noises. At the moment of the hand-over, the numbers flip to rise in the east and set in the west.
Aiming to integrate type and image, Davina Schluttenhofer has reinterpreted the tradition of the broadsheet. After inserting type-image illustrations into text-based books, which repeated whole chunks of text, Schluttenhofer decided to produce a complete book as spreads of type-based illustrations. With the deadline of the degree show looming, she opted to transform a short story by Will Self.
The end result – two silk-screen printed sheets – combines text and image in such a way that the readers remain free to paint their own mental pictures. Schluttenhofer manages this delicate interaction by making connections between the words and images which are so subtle that their revelation heightens your sense of engagement. Schluttenhofer insists these oversized pages aren’t posters, but are intended to be folded and dog-eared, and consumed at whatever size best suits the reader.
industrial design engineering
Within the male-dominated world of product design, with its emphasis on electronics, gadgetry and toys for the boys, the more prosaic problems often go unsolved. Applying her specialist knowledge of materials and engineering Polly Duplock has combined kite and sail fabric with glass-reinforced plastic rods, to produce a stunningly simple storage solution. Her drum-shaped boxes are available in three sizes and could be used anywhere – anytime you suddenly need some extra storage space.
The beauty of Duplock’s solution is that when they’re not needed, these boxes simply flatten down via a quick twist and a satisfying snap of the flexible mechanism. And, naturally, they’re machine washable.
Developing a range of kitchen gadgets which employ the tenets of “fuzzy logic”, Alessandro Confalonieri has added a much needed dollop of humour to the staid arena of appliance design, with these playful objects which are in fact a juicer, mixer and chopper. In an attempt to inject “the gesture” back into food preparation, the form echoes the act of “doing”; so that the juicer works by pulling the long handle, which squeezes the orange which is inside the cone. The marriage of flexible materials and the portability of battery-power means you can get physical with these devices, a pleasure denied by more solid, push-button appliances. As all the components inside and out are plastic and interchangeable, the idea is to mix and match, to personalise the colour schemes.
Revealing the relationship between economic power and cultural credibility, Neil McIvor has produced a series of graphic statements which invert the visual language of censorship and question the ethics of sponsorship. Using literature from the public relations department of the RCA and one of its major sponsors, RTZ-CRA (the world’s largest mining company), McIvor has paired up pages from various publications. Rather than scoring out the offending words as a censor would, McIvor has silk-screened black ink over the surrounding copy highlighting certain statements. He reveals contradictions and unholy alliances, which either ignore or conceal infringements of human rights, particularly with RTZ-CRA’s dealings with the population of Indonesian-occupied East Timor, which is attempting to stop the mining company from desecrating its land.
McIvor reveals the true effect of information overload: the fact that companies and institutions may bury unpalatable statements deep within promotional literature which no one ever reads. A sobering thought indeed for any graduating graphic designer.