Technocraft (at the Yerba Buena Center, San Francisco, until 3 October) marks your debut as an exhibition curator. How would you describe this new experience? What was your approach?
Curating a show of other designer's work felt like an altruistic project at first. In the end, I realized that curating this show is not that different of my design approach: the process was to look wide at what is happening in the world, and then edit and distill to the clearest expressions of the ideas we want to communicate.
The title "Technocraft" is a sort of oxymoron. Is it also a reflection of our times?
It is an oxymoron, and possibly a mirror of our time, but I also think that technology is in many ways opening new horizons in the world of craft by allowing new ways for designers and crafters to: a) learn and share techniques b) to find a new marketplace for their wares. ?There is a whole new economy made possible by technology, the craftsman's economy multiplied by the web. Itsy is a good example of this: millions of makers in touch with each other, bartering, selling, buying, and generating a whole new type of direct economy: direct from maker to buyer without an intermediate. The result is a much bigger reach for what used to be sold at Sunday craft fairs...
Individuality also appears to be a value. Is that true?
I believe that we are moving from the Age of Mass-Production to the Age of Mass-Individualization... And when I look at this phenomena, I get the sense that individualization of our production is a great counterpoint to globalization and global uniformity: products and experiences are modified by the users themselves, based on their functional needs, cultural differences, and personality and style.
After 18 months of research, can you tell us who you see as the new makers and craftsmen? How could the role of professional designer and professional craftman develop?
As a result of the new ways for people to participate in the process of creation and production, I am seeing an increasing dialogue between consumer, designer and business. The outcome is then a more direct relationship between designer or craftperson and consumer, without a "corporate marketing department" speaking on behalf of a consumer... I can see will likely be work and commerce that is more personal and human. For this reason, I see "Technocraft" as a positive insight that supports every designer's work.
"Technocraft" looks at the different ways consumers are personalising design. When and why does a consumer need to become a designer? Can you give us some examples?
For me, the designer is always in charge of creating great experiences around the products they design... But who are these experiences created for? A consumer or buyer. To take an example in the show, the Eames Hack by young Canadian designers. Charles Eames created objects that reflected the way people actually lived: a casual and ergonomic social home environment versus a 50's idea of stiff social interactions and antique reproductions. His concern to give adapt his products and their ergonomics for the largest number, is simply pro-longed by the Eames hack: the new hacked chair takes this modern design idea one step further by being adapted to a young's family needs for a kids high-chair. To me this Eames-hack and many of the ways in which consumers intervene on products by making them more unique to individuals simply means that the ergonomics, the function and the aesthetic is adapted to one's specific needs... This is a traditional view of design's purpose.
Although we are living in the age of individuality, the emotional connection with objects still seems highly relevant. Do you agree and why?
The emotional connection to objects has been eroded by mass-production and mass-consumerism: when one sees the same object or function in every shop and everybody's homes, there is no real emotional connection left. On the other hand, when the consumer is a participant in crafting, modifying and fitting a product into their own life, the emotional connection is experiential and direct.
As well as more commercial designs, fuseproject has developed projects for non-profit clients. Do you think design can be an agent of change, moving us on from individuality to a more responsible way of life?
I believe the role of the designer is to show by example about how the future can be positive for all. For me, these notions apply just as well for non-profits and they apply to for-profit companies: to serve customers and the public with healthy, intelligent, surprising and efficient designs. I do see the designer as the glue between opportunities such as sustainability or social good: we can play a huge role in these outcomes.
Sustainability is much discussed (and very often abused). How relevant is it in today's design world, based on your direct experience as a designer?
A better world is simply when everything we make and manufacture, turns out better for the planet and it's people than before we made it. This means the means of production IMPROVE and ADD to the planet rather than take from it. How do we convince people to do so? Need to convince someone to change the game? I would say the best way to do so is to use undeniable arguments… Which ecological and sustainable arguments do, as well as the notion of making a difference to millions of people!
From the very first, industrial design was supposed to be a democratic tool. It was supposed to produce things for many people and the mass market. Today, it is increasingly elitist and less financially affordable. Can we say it has failed in its mission? Can we say that Technocraft may be a new and alternative approach to design?
Well, I think there are different approaches in design, and while the press loves to report on expensive and often elitist design exercises, I have a sense that the actual size of the elitist design phenomena is much much smaller than it is reported to be. What we need to be very conscious of is that our work as designers is visible, and hence gets emulated by others: what is amazing is not only the fact that a project like OLPC or the glasses for kids in Mexico are is in the hands of million of kids, but that it is inspiring many non-profits to use design in a revolutionary way within their field. This is a responsibility we need to grapple in the design profession: what example are we setting? What are we inspiring others to do "Technocraft" is a sophisticated human-centric phenomena, and I believe it is here to stay... For better.