In the studio with the Design Museum's Designers in Residence
Words by Francesca Perry
2017 is the 10th year of the Design Museum’s Annual Designers in Residence programme, which gives selected emerging designers the space, support, funds and platform to develop their work over a period of seven months. This year, the designers get the use of their own residency studio in the new Design Museum in west London, which will showcase the culmination of their work at the end of the programme. The theme for this year’s programme is 'support': we met the four designers responding to it.
Trained as an architect, Chris Hildrey is interested in the social implications of design and cross-discipline collaboration. ‘I’ve always tried to approach my work in a multidisciplinary way, drawing from my roles as both architect and designer,’ he explains. The residency, he says, has reminded him of the importance of engaging directly with people when designing: ‘The social impact of architecture can be huge — but it’s one thing to know what you should do, and another to realise that it can’t be done alone.’ For the residency, Hildrey wants look at how cuts in public spending have influenced the way we use our towns and cities. He is ultimately focussing upon the experience of homelessness, in which people are forced to exist exclusively in the public realm.
Hildrey has spoken with charities, front line workers, policy makers, and people with experiences of homelessness. ‘The safety net of society is increasingly threadbare,’ he says, ‘and the number of people falling into homelessness is skyrocketing. It’s vital to tackle this issue early and prevent people getting entrenched in the situation.’ He aims to address one catch-22 bureaucratic obstacle to this: that to access many of the services required to escape homelessness, you first need an address.
Chris Hildrey’s London Book Club project (2011)
Having been in art school for her entire higher education, the London-based speculative designer Soomi Park is now completing a PhD at a school of computer science — and wants to harness the Design Museum residency as an opportunity to combine artistic and scientific practice in a meaningful way. Her residency project, Embarrassed Robots, aims to explore the future role artificial intelligence (AI) will play in supporting our lives.
But Park is most intrigued by how robots will need to learn to reflect human emotions ‘to fit more seamlessly within our daily lives’ — including embarrassment. ‘Not many designs or technologies are aware of the importance of this emotion,’ Park explains, ‘but embarrassment has a critical role in our social life.’
But if robots can take on our jobs, and even our emotions, could they replace artists and designers too? ‘There is too much trial and error in the creative process for robots to successfully take on the work of a designer,’ she says. ‘Sometimes hard work leads to nothing; other times a mistake can become a great design. It’s not a simple matter of input and output. When is a design complete? A robot cannot make this choice, only a human can.’
Soomi Park running the Do Robots Blush? workshop at the Design Museum, June 2017
Experimental design practice Studio Ayaskan was founded as a collaboration between twin sisters Begum and Bike Ayaskan in 2015. All of their work seeks to explore the connections between technology and nature. ‘Generally we believe that designers should be engaging more with nature,’ they say. ‘Nature’s ability to evolve, change and adapt over time are all qualities that are missing from our built environment. The forms in nature use the least amount of material to achieve the maximum amount of efficiency. We think that there is a lot more we all have to learn from nature.’
In response to this year’s residency theme, Studio Ayaskan is considering the ‘invisible array of support’ in nature, to create three contemplative objects that evolve over time, exploring the idea with the lifecycle of materials. ‘Each piece we create will be looking into reccurring cycles in nature,’ Bike and Begum explain, ‘exploring the theme of connectedness of all life and matter on Earth.’
The designers see the residency as a milestone in their career, as it provides a chance to focus on learning and experimenting as well as meeting with people who are experts in their fields. ‘For us, designing is to be always curious about everything: experiences, knowledge, technology, materials,’ the sisters say.
An expanding origami pot, from the project Growth (2016), by Studio Ayaskan
Considering the theme of support, Birmingham-based multidisciplinary designer Yinka Danmole wants to explore how he might aid growth of his cultural heritage through design practice. Sounds of a People seeks to elevate the cultivation of pidgin English from West Africa, which was formed through an amalgamation of components from both native speech as well as other European languages.
‘I ask that we imagine the English language as an open source piece of coding to which many have re-interpreted, repurposed and redesigned to join in harmony with their identities,’ Danmole explains. The project will see him design a series of flags, with visual references to a piece of sound he is creating in collaboration with a contemporary composer, which celebrates cultural heritage through the tones of pidgin English.
The residency is encouraging Danmole to ask what role as a designer he wants to play in society. ‘I am beginning to question whether our role as designers should shift to making the things that make things, designing processes more than solutions,’ he says. ‘Our society is becoming incredibly more complex and I believe it’s important we think about designing tools that foster these complexities. User dialogue and participation are very much things we need to apply more of within the design process.’
Flatpack Theatre Stage (2015) by Studio Danmole