For the second year, the idyllic setting of the Domaine de Boisbuchet in France hosted the 2012 Products of Design Summer Program. Ten days of action-packed brainstorming, designing and making resulted in explorations that touched on everything from food design to full-body drawing tools and the rogue energy-monitor/children's-toy. This multi-disciplinary group of participants sketched, hammered, sawed and cooked their way through the design process, each day addressing a new facet of the practice of design.
Through a series of exercises crafted to address the varied outputs of this changing industry, participants engaged in designing not merely 3-dimensional products, but also the discourse, services and experiences that surround them. The group began the week by creating discursive models of everyday objects: Kendra's laptop became a worn doll, symbolizing its role in facilitating relationships and comfort; Seth chose to represent his pair of Sondheiser headphones as a portable sound tunnel, representing privacy and experience; Scott's pen became a series of gravel installations, communicating both beauty and ubiquity, while Jack's backpack was expressed as a series of stick formations that stood for the modularity of his product. Jennifer offered a series of tactile surfaces that expressed the sensory delight of her lip balm, while Paolo made a literal deconstruction of his favorite german condensed milk packaging, revealing its inherent components of usability, function and form.
The abstract underpinnings of these discursive models served as springboard for the "rebuilding" of actual products. Complete with ad campaigns and 3-dimensional prototypes, this subsequent collection revealed new forms of expression inspired by the various themes revealed on Day 1. "Identity" was conceived of by Esra as a credit-card storytelling device in which currency and self become one. The theme of "discovery" was expressed by Marente as a foraging toolbox, while "motivation" became an encyclopedic DIY makers kit by Jan and Joseph for learning new skills.
Participants were then asked to "servicize" their product and design the context, not merely the content, of the product. By creating a sightseeing tour to accompany his virtual reality glasses, Jason's 3-dimensional expression of "discovery" was now engaged in a fourth dimension of experience, allowing his object to go beyond the shelf and become a product of engagement and travel.
From discourse to product to service, the changing modalities of design expression also demand new lenses unto the processes of creation. By sketching, bodystorming, prototyping and interviewing, participants were also challenged throughout the week to consider the ways in which they gathered, visualized and communicated their work. The conclusion of this exploration resulted in a series of "True Products", final designs that revisited each participant's initial, discursive model and represented a refined expression of the original object. What was once a mouth nightguard, symbolizing tension and protection for Lauren, triggered her tension-based circuit training exercise video that offered ways build self-protection through physical tasks in the surrounding environment. Miguel's travel book, exemplifying intimate points of entry into foreign environments, inspired a new form of dessert service in which diners eat directly off each others hands, while Dayvi's glasses, lenses that affect his perspective onto the world, incited the a series of furniture pieces that create visual blur in environments.
Complimenting the design practice were daily swim breaks, long meals, costume parties, visits to local estates and an unexpected food design exercise called "Ceci nest pas use mise en place", in which each participant created a self-portrait-as-cookie-topping. The resulting "cookie-bar" was presented to visiting guests as an invitation to taste the personalities of the group, tempting them with cookies that were then dipped into the array of flavors, textures and colors that represented this diverse workshop.
The goal of such a plural exploration reveals the multi-faceted shape of both the contemporary design industry, as well as the designer's creative process. In the ethos of the Products of Design program, it offers a non-prescriptive, making-based exploration of design that provokes new conversations, vocabularies and modalities of what product design means today.
And life-long friends.