Sustainability, tradition, and technology: 3 pillars of design today
The contemporary design draws on the past to address some of the fundamental challenges of the 21st century. Has digital design meant a total break with the past? Are young people still learning from the great masters of design? Where do designers today get inspiration for the challenges posed by climate change?
Inspiration seeks sustainable objects and materials.
For Spanish architect and designer Omayra Maymó, who lives halfway between Denmark and Spain, the inspiration for the furniture, accessories, and lamps she has designed for the Danish firm ferm LIVING comes from nature, the materials she uses, and, above all, from designers and objects from the past that she admires and where beauty and utility go hand in hand: From Charlotte Perriand's chaiselongue to the traditional work of the esparto workers in the Madrid neighborhood of La Latina, or Gerrit Rietveld's Red and Blue chair, belonging to the De Stĳl movement.
"A good design goes beyond aesthetics and the use of the object itself: it has to move and arouse emotions and be sustainable," she said during the conference Creative processes: from experimentation to industrial production within the Madrid Design Pro program, where she talked about how to introduce uniqueness in objects created through industrial production, thanks to molds that allow mass production, but with notches that make each serialized object unique. The designer also shared that during the pandemic, she discovered the work of an esparto grass maker who had been running for 20 years the esparto grass shop opened by her grandfather in La Latina. "Together, using a natural material and wood found in a board and molding store, I created the 1927 stool (pictured), using resources available just 100 meters from my house," she said. In this context, also during the Madrid Design Festival, we attended the conference Design for a Super Vernacular -Super Vernaculars, by the consultant and design expert Jane Withers, for whom the challenge is not so much to create natural materials but to get the qualifications and regulations that allow the use of these materials.
Withers presented in 2021 a platform on contemporary design focused on addressing the environmental challenges of the 21st century but looking to the vernacular, that is, to traditions of the past, such as the architecture and wisdom of indigenous peoples ignored in industrialized economies. Pictured here are women from Elcho Island, Australia, adapting their traditional weaving techniques for the Koskela brand, making lampshades for contemporary designer lamps.
"What concerns me most is what we can do with the waste we generate to achieve circular systems like those of traditional cultures," said Withers, noting that more and more designers understand that the wisdom of the past is also useful today when it comes to producing pieces with original aesthetics that reflect the local culture of each region of the world. In the image above, the PET Lamp: a project with which Spanish designer Álvaro Catalán de Ocón achieved a more significant impact for his proposal for the alliance of design with craftsmanship, which response to those values that Withers emphasized during his lecture at Madrid Design Festival 2022. "We work with artisans from Cauca, in the Colombian Amazon, displaced by the guerrillas. The design process involves weaving plastic strips from bottles with natural fibers around the cap and cable, and the local artisans contribute their decorative schemes. In this report, we get a hybrid of industrial object and handicraft," he said. 3D printing technology was invented by American engineer Chuck Hull and patented in 1986. It is a technique that allows molecules to be joined together using ultraviolet laser light to create solid shapes as prototypes. Its main advantage is that it does not require molds and, therefore, does not produce waste from the excess material left over from the mold. Thanks to this technology, a new generation of creatives and companies have emerged, such as Rudi Boiten and Mireille Burger of Studio Plott, designer Joris Laarman and the Spanish firm Nagami, which uses digital media fabrication to control every part of the production process.
Another example is Swiss designer Christophe Guberan. During his lecture at the Madrid Design Festival, he explained how in his career, with projects for firms such as Alessi, he has focused on recovering crafts from the past for contemporary designs, creating his production technologies. He has used the Eames as a model, who developed their production process to get the exact design they wanted. "I propose a transition from the craftsman of always to industrial production, but always thinking about a sustainable use of materials thanks to new technologies," he said during the talk From experimentation to product design, explaining that his great achievement is a new method for 3D printing with gel, faster and applicable for products of any size in rubber, foam or plastic, which allows him to obtain the design he is looking for slippers or bags.
And while Guberan works with tangible products, Danny Saltaren, recent National Design Award 2021, proposes a valuable and close vision of digital from the digital product design studio Mendesaltaren.
"We believe in good work, and things are done well. We believe that timeless beauty comes from function. We believe in theories and meaningful objects. We believe in the value of concepts and art," reads the studio's product design manual, a practical guide to how they work as a team. Digital products are the pieces that furnish our screens, to put it another way, which have become more critical because of the coronavirus pandemic as our dependence on the digital grows during the lock-in. Saltaren and his collaborators, for example, are behind the CoronaMadrid application: a system for handling and filtering calls to the healthcare system based on written forms.