It’s not very often that I actually write about design itself on this blog – maybe because it’s the most enjoyable part of my job and often I am writing about the things that frustrate and annoy me -but also it is often a part of my job which I have less time for than I would like. The last few weeks though, have given me a number of opportunities to think about design, both in our own practice and through the work of other designers across a number of disciplines from architecture, to furniture, fabrics and paper.
Back in June, our team at DJRD were invited by Interface to collaborate in a pop up installation as part of Indesign’s “The Project”. Our brief was to transform a number of spaces in the Interface showroom into a space for the rituals of ‘refuge’, a place to get away, to calm the mind and retreat and create opportunities for mindfulness. As well as designing the space itself we were asked to think about activities that could occur within the space, initially yoga and meditation were discussed. We were also to integrate Interface’s new carpet collection and their current campaign “Beautiful Thinking”.
All of our staff were invited to join the design team, and we had a fantastic team of 7 architects and interior designers from graduates through to myself as senior associate, with support from one of our directors – so in some ways very much like a real world project team. Joining me on the team were Tasmin Dunn, Gabrielle Melville, Sally Johnson, Darren Livings, Kate Harding and Hannah Hoeschle (who all worked much harder than I did!). From Interface we had a brief, deadlines and a budget. The real difference for our design process was the fact that we would be building the installation ourselves – at which point we also pulled in our IT manager and known home handyman, Peter Lean, to assist us.
Initially, as often in the real world, our brief seemed quite complex, with potentially many ideas and elements to explore. As a team, we felt it was important that our space of retreat integrated the Interface product and the process of making, both the making of the product and making as designer. We approached the brief as we would a project design brief, which is to look to take all the parts and find a single simple and overriding concept that can unify, enhance and speak to all the parts of the brief. Our concept was to create a series of spaces based upon nature, places you might go to meditate – cave, forest, tree house and meadow – and for the majority of our materials to be sourced from Interface’s manufacturing process (integrating their products and process, but also helping us with our budget). Rather than yoga or meditation, we felt that a more active and designer orientated activity would be suit Indesign, and we decided mindfulness colouring in books would perfectly suit our intended audience. This however wasn’t our main activity. The main activity, tied (literally) back to the space, using Interface yarn to weave between the cardboard trees in the space. We titled the space “Unwind”, referring both to the act of relaxing and the weaving and yarn throughout the space.
As well as our (limited) budget from Interface, we arranged sponsorship from Inlite (lighting), Dulux (paint) and Skale Greenwall. They were all so generous with their products – Jarrod Huxtable from Inlite gave us heaps of assistance building our lighting installation as well, and Skale joined our team only 36 hours before we were due to complete! So much thanks to all of them, and also to our generous friends who loaned us some great furniture pieces to suit the ‘meadow’.
To work together with a collaborative team not just designing but building our space gave us a fantastic chance to use our everyday skills – from planning, designing and organising a team (thanks to our team leader Darren we were on time, on budget and completed the install within the number of work hours allocated) but to work together in a different way where everyone has an equal say and it was up to all of us and the design team to agree on the solutions without significant client input (although unlike a University project we did have a client, as we had worked with Interface throughout). To create a space that only exists for 2 days also allowed us to explore different materials and take risks that might not be permissible for a longer term space. The actual act of building ourselves also allowed us to design in a more fluid way (on site changes no problems!) and discuss solutions on the spot. So much of our work now is competitively tendered it means that you can’t work with a builder in this way.
We were also not the only team creating an installation at Interface – at the same time, 4 other design teams were creating spaces based upon either the same brief as ours (refuge) or a brief titled “Prospect” to create an energetic lively space for play and collaboration. Not only did we get to explore the spaces created by the other designers, but as part of the activities over the 2 days, Interface hosted a panel moderated by Indesign’s editor, Alice Blackwood on Beautiful Thinking in which each of the design teams spoke about their design, the response to the brief and what they believe Beautiful Thinking means to design. Talking with the other designers whose fields were as diverse as paper art, textile design, graphics and furniture design, was a fantastic opportunity to see behind their installations as well as understanding how their different backgrounds had influenced their work. For everyone of the panel, simplicity was mentioned as an important element in how beautiful thinking creates places and things to calm and inspire – and to allow those inhabiting the space the opportunity for beautiful thinking in turn.
After we leave university it often becomes quite rare that we see other designers present and speak about their work outside of our own practices – especially in this context, where we are not trying to compete to win an award, impress a client or sell our design. However that’s not to say that seeing designers talk about their work to win awards is not just as interesting! Last week I had the opportunity to see the presentations for the shortlist for the IDEA (Interior incredibly inspiring. To see seven of Australia’s top designers present and discuss their work for the year in 5 minutes each is a peek at truly amazing work going on in Australia right now(view the shortlist here). The quality of the work was all outstanding but for me, one particular presentation stood out from the rest as a great presentation – and it gets back to the idea of simplicity and the single idea. Hannah Tribe of Tribe Studio presented her work not just as a series of architectural projects but explained the studio’s approach to design as a portrait of the client. A single idea behind a whole practice of work, but not at all a single look or style, an approach that is not just about beauty and awards but creates a place for people. To me, this really represents the idea of beautiful thinking. What inspires you to beautiful thinking?
PS. I am also now on Instagram, where you can see more of my Indesign photos. Follow me as themidnightlunch.