We asked Eindhoven-based design company “whose mission it is to give people the creative freedom to design their own products,” Studio Ludens to develop design tools for the project, design for download. At our presentation in Milan, we spoke with Alexander Rulkens and Wouter Walmink about the tools they created for Box-o-rama and Facades and functions by EventArchitectuur and Wanna-be wardrobe by Minale-Maeda.
Tell us about user involvement in the design of the products. What can they customize?
Each of the designs in their own way offered meaningful customization for the user. Customization is not a value in itself. It is only a means to something. Customization might offer functional or aesthetic choices, and on a meta level it gives users the possibility to be creative, which can be a very pleasant experience.
Wanna-be wardrobe offers a way for the user to determine the functionality of the product. The user knows what he wants and can make that. What’s strong about the digital tool is that it has a very low threshold; everyone can use it to make functional design decisions.
The tools we developed for EventArchitectuur ask for more creativity from the user. The user can make something that feels like it is his own design because the product is ultimately a composition. In Box-o-rama, the user can arrange boxes and this changes the whole shape. It’s not about adding things but about deciding on the whole design.
What was your role in relation to the designers in developing these tools?
The designer was the guardian of the concept, the product and had his own idea of what the changeable options could be. Our role was to be a guardian of the user. We always asked whether the tool was accessible enough and how the options were presented.
What are some of the things you have learned from the process?
Over time we’ve learned that it’s best when the interface is simple, playful and when there is an element of surprise. It’s important not to have too many features or options. That’s one of the biggest pitfalls of all website and interface designs. Sometimes two options are better than a whole range. It’s the paradox of choice; too much is overwhelming.
Do you think that the platform will be successful?
There are many open design initiatives out there. What is quite unique about this project is that we are working with products that have been designed well and that are actually producible. The production and the interface has been integrated into the design of the product. A good designer and a good platform are essential for the success of our tools. If the platform won’t work as it should then our tools won’t have a chance. All the components must come together, and here, we feel it might happen.
Try out the tools for yourself at design for download, via Alserio 22.
Come by via Alserio 22 to see the video presentation about a new platform for downloadable design, followed by a showcase of products by EventArchitectuur and Minale-Maeda. You can try out the design tools to customize the designs for yourself.
Here’s the video:
Rotterdam-based design duo, German-born Mario Minale and Japanese-born Kuniko Maeda began collaborating in 2005. As Minale-Maeda they are interested in perspectives on contemporary material culture. We spoke with Mario about their designs for download.
Can you tell us how you approached the brief?
Mario Minale: On the one hand we were interested in creating a furniture system based on downloadable design and on the other, we were interested in making a statement about the current state of culture and how that intercepts with technology. In both respects, we were curious how downloadable design makes something new possible.
Creating a downloadable furniture system was in line with our ambitions to make things that can be easily manufactured. Inside-out furniture is a very simple line of furniture in which the joinery is brought to the foreground. Seeing the structure helps with the simplicity of the piece and also helps with making it downloadable.
We also had ambitions to make a statement about people’s desire for objects today.
Vanity charms are 3D printed representations of what someone actually wants. They are symbols of the actual objects desired, playing with the question of whether or not symbols are enough. Someone can just like something, and can have it as a charm.
You also designed virtual flowers. Can you tell us about those?
MM: In the Virtual florist collection, we took defining characteristics of flowers and reversed them. Real flowers decay. With 3D printing you can freeze them. Real flowers are known for their colours. Virtual flowers are visually strong because of their absence of colour. Fresh flowers are flown all over the world. Since virtual flowers are distributed as information, they don’t have the constraint of location or season. You can have them anytime and anywhere without needing transportation. Real flowers and virtual flowers are perfect opposites of each other.
You have referenced Gerrit Rietveld designs in previous work such as Red blue Rietveld chair and Rietveld Lego Buffet. What was the influence in your downloadable furniture?
MM: We find the principles of Rietveld very relevant to the downloadable design platform. In his aim to make design accessible, he develops structures that are very sturdy and easy to make. His pieces work in many materials even with limited skills of the maker. The beauty of his work comes from the structure. The same principles drove our downloadable designs. The connections we developed for Inside-out furniture are 3D printed with custom dimensions so that they can match different sizes of wood. The only necessary intervention is to cut the wood to length and to drill the holes. No routing is necessary. Even without a CNC machine, someone can make our designs with a saw and a drill.
In our brief we asked you to imagine a business model for yourself. How do you see this?
MM: The big picture is to create an alternative to large scale productions. Downloadable design makes it possible to take production into a small—or, I would say, human—scale. Downloadable design makes many of the logistical issues—transportation, fuel, warehousing, complex machinery, materials, and so on no longer necessary. The whole industrial overhead becomes unnecessary.
In terms of own business model, one approach can be seen in the 3D connections we developed for Inside-out furniture. They can be adjusted to different dimensions of wood easily, they don’t need a mould to be produced, and they simplify the joining process. They are a proof of authenticity, a sort of signature, perhaps. The other parts can be sourced anywhere.
Are you not afraid that people will copy your blueprints?
MM: Downloadable design is like downloadable music. You buy the band t-shirt because you want to show that you like something and not because you have to. Paying for the signature shows your appreciation.
Pictured above is Inside-out furniture by Minale-Maeda.
Special thank you to 3D print lab i.materialise
At Design for download we will present furniture and accessories by Minale-Maeda. Stay tuned to see the results or come by.
Japanese born Kuniko Maeda graduated in science of design at Musashino Art University in Tokyo. Italian born, German raised Mario Minale graduated in Industrial Design at the University of Wuppertal. After receiving their IM Master degrees at the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2005, they joined to establish Minale-Maeda in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Living in a melting pot with their intercultural backgrounds gives the duo a broad perspective on material culture. Their work for Droog includes the Red blue Lego chair, Rietveld Lego buffet, Touch wood and Chroma Key and the award-winning Dusk/dawn mirror.
Dusk/dawn mirror by Minale-Maeda for Droog was named one of best domestic designs in the seventh Wallpaper* Design Awards.
According to Wallpaper: “Eleven major awards have been chosen by our panel of six international judges, but the 60 or so remaining have been nominated and fought over by Wallpaper* staffers and our international network of contributors.“
About Dusk/dawn mirror
Inpired by a reflection on a pool of water of the sky at dusk or dawn—the archetypical mirror—has become the basis for this mirror. Hung one way, it reflects dusk, and hung the other, it is dawn.
Why did Centraal Museum acquire the Red blue Lego chair?
Firstly, because it is inspired by Rietveld who is the most important artist in our collection, and secondly, because we are interested in the more conceptual branch of design. We were the first museum to buy the Droog collection, already in the 90s. The Red blue Lego chair is the perfect combination of these two aspects.
How do you see the piece in relation to the work of Rietveld?
I see more value in the artistic qualities of this chair than in its industrial aspect—in its promise of having people do-it-themselves. I believe Rietveld valued the spatial aspect of design as much as he valued the principles of mass production.
I don’t think it is realistic that people will buy their own Lego pieces to make it, but to me, that doesn’t matter. It is the intention and meaning that counts. It stimulates people to think about design and what it means to them.
Red and Blue Chair by Gerrit T. Rietveld (1918), Red blue Lego chair by Mario Minale (2004).
How do you see the chair in relation to movements in the world today?
I think it’s better to compare the Red blue Lego chair to the Smoke version by Maarten Baas (that’s also how we show it at the Rietveld’s Universe exhibition). Rietveld was a master that made and continues to make people think about design. His presence in works by contemporary designers and in design discussions shows the actual value of Rietveld today. To me, that is the most important value of this piece.
Smoke chair by Maarten Baas (2004)
Centraal Museum Utrecht acquired the artist’s proof #1 edition of Red blue Lego chair from our collection. It will be exhibited at Rietveld’s Universe as part of Rietveld Year organized by the Centraal Museum in Utrecht to celebrate the life and heritage of Gerrit Rietveld from October 20th, 2010 until January 30th, 2011. Here is our Q&A with Rotterdam-based designer, Mario Minale of Minale-Maeda (pictured with Kuniko Maeda).
What was your starting point for this chair?
There is this expression in the world of theatre, “breaking the fourth wall.” It’s about bringing in something unexpected. It’s about addressing the audience, taking them out of their lull and involving them, even passing the responsibility onto them.
What I don’t like about icons is that we just accept them, and we no longer know what they mean, and then they are copied time and time again. I was looking for something unexpected in making a copy of an icon. I wanted to break the mould and no longer see an icon as something set in stone.
What was “the fourth wall” in your design?
It was the appropriation of two icons in a way that creates something new. I started with Rietveld’s iconic Red blue chair and brought in equally iconic Lego blocks, and I think because the spirit of Rietveld and of Lego aligned, it created a breed that resonates.
Why did you work with Rietveld’s chair?
Rietveld intended his chair to be a blueprint from which anyone could make his own chair out of readily available material. For Rietveld, variations of his design were intended. That is why the construction of his chair is so simple. There are no dovetails or other complicated joinery.
Why did you bring in Lego?
Lego represents the construction material of our age—it is convenient. It makes personal expression easy. It is a material that empowers the unqualified to create by themselves.
For Rietveld, it was boards cut to size at the sawmill that made his design accessible. One no longer had to go to the woods to chop a tree thanks to industry. For us, it is no longer about cutting and sawing, but rather about blocks that snap together, shiny finish included. Rietveld broke the chair into 14 pieces to make it easy. Lego breaks it into 4445 pieces, which makes it even more easy.
Was it in fact easy to make this chair?
Not at all. Lego is a basic toy, but the process of making a chair out of it became so complicated that it questioned the simplicity that Lego promised. The process I went through makes the chair an even more authentic copy. The result of making a copy is not a copy. It’s an authentic act.
Lego has the same tension. It stands for simplicity, but the moulds to make Lego are a best kept secret, and that’s why there are no knock-offs. One cannot get rid of complexity but can only displace it. This chair is a metaphor for that.
What do you think of the copyright laws that prevented a larger production of the Lego chair?
One cannot get the Rietveld chairs anymore. Finding a way to copy it makes it accessible, and this was my intention. The fact that copyright laws prevented us from making a larger production of the Red blue Lego chair intensifies this discussion.
Centraal Museum Utrecht acquired one piece of each item from the saved by droog. collection we presented at the Furniture Fair in Milan this year. Their acquisition is currently on view at the Centraal Museum until October 31st.
As published by Centraal Museum:
The Centraal Museum is very much interested in Droog’s critical attitude with regard to social structures. Centraal Museum director Edwin Jacobs: “With saved by droog., Droog presents a beautiful prosaic image of this time of financial crisis. After all, not everything that is created has to be new, you can also add new value to something that already exists. Because of interventions by the designers, these objects have become new products. They are conceptually strong, visually direct and aesthetically adventurous and stratified.” As is always the case with Droog, the result is a product that also takes into account the great importance of the concept behind it. This way, Droog represents, since its establishment in 1993, the conceptual character of Dutch design. It is this manner of designing which brought the design group international fame. Both national and international designers have joined the label.
In their recent review of the collection, design.nl stated:
The exhibition both in Milan and now at the Centraal Museum catches the genius of Droog. It is a contemporary yet critical embrace of design in a difficult era.
“I think the whole thing takes humorously advantage of a changed cultural and financial landscape,” says Stefan Sagmeister who printed words on a wallet about money and happiness that combined into different meanings depending on whether the wallet was open or closed.
Stefan Sagmeister does not think his wallet will change design thinking just yet. “It wont change anything as far as the manufacturing world itself is concerned,” he says. “But considering Droog is a rather influential force, the strategy of reusing an existing product – rather then designing a brand new one – might trigger similar projects within the broader design community.”
“We like the whole project because it is an observation about design yet also commercially successful,” says Mario Minale. “That is a rare combination … They had to stop selling the pieces in the end because they wouldn’t have then had anything left to exhibit.”