Mass Individual

Furniture Design – Art / Sculpture and Modernist Theory

In 2004 I was tasked to consider the notions of seating and to produce a small chair. Typically in the industrial design discipline the chair can be used as medium to explore and express new ideas of contemporary design thinking. I used the opportunity to delve into the concept of mass manufacture in relation to individualism. The design of the seat was a sculpture meant to test my own understandings of the modernist theories of the past and warp them into a form that challenged the notions of perfection i.e. the square and the cube.

Initial Thoughts

No person in the world is identical. We all have different ideas, different tastes in design and enjoy life in different ways. There is approximately 6 billion of us individual people, and we all need material objects to complete our daily lives. The companies that sell us our ‘stuff’ are under constant pressure to produce quickly and cheaply for our rapidly expanding population. The brilliant invention of the machine that can churn out stuff quickly, flawlessly and more importantly- cheaply revolutionized industry. Despite this, one fundamental problem remains, factories produce out millions of the same identical product. Each exactly the same as the previous, and exactly the same as the next. The ideas of the individual are lost, we are no longer designing for the needs of one but rather for the masses.

More recently many designers have done some experimental works to shake up the mass manufacturing process, such as purposely making ‘mistakes’ on factory lines which produce slight variations in each individual product. Many designers have also sought to introduce user interactivity within the design process, which gives the individual the option of arranging and deciding the composition of a product based towards their own ideas of beauty. Ideas where the mass-produced parts are individually configured but randomly made is compelling but difficult. Meaning each part would be different from every other in the world, it would be valued on the individual level as well as on the whole.

We can’t live without mass manufacture, we need it as part of our lives. We could never individually design for the masses, nor can a product ever be widely accepted as beautiful by every individual. There can be no quick fix solution, it is a globally accepted ideological method of making that requires some further thought….

Design Development

Design Essay

Design suggests beauty through function. Creating objects, interiors, landscapes and architecture that perform and perform well, not just on the functional level but so the are also beautiful. Through this the designer creates works which should evoke emotion- preferable emotions of comfort, intrigue, acceptance and understanding. Design tends to be the inter-medium between engineering and art, and good design is something which incorporates both. To some extent it can be easy to create above average designs that respond to both aspects. If a large amount of time is put into the resolution of all the aspects of composition than a good design will result. Exceptional design draws on the contemporary ideal of functional art. Designs which challenge existing thinking, to further the artists own thinking, and to evoke reactions from outside world. To a large extent this is what art is. Its purpose is not only to appear beautiful, but to also express the artist’s ideas and theories behind contemporary thinking. More often than not the outcome is not beautiful; it could be disgusting, gross, weird, interesting, and confusing. The emotional response to art is different from design where its purpose is not to help sell a product. Art is the expression of an artist.

The notion of seating is a very challenging thought, because potentially the only functional aspect behind it is that it has to hold a humans weight. The engineering component thus holds a very low weighting in the overall finished piece. So given the amount of time to work on this project therefore suggests a deeper response to the more artistic element in design. If there are no restrictions in what is possible to create, what is the starting point? It’s about selling an idea, making a statement, exploring the artists own ideas of beauty, and commenting on societies ideas of beauty. This is what this project is about; the rejection of an acknowledged successful aesthetic, which is widely accepted amongst a society: Modernism. Understanding the compositional components behind this aesthetic and challenging the notions behind the formal qualities of the design.

In the beginning of the 20th century the idea of a connection between machines and art was a compelling thought. Referring to links of how design of the past relied on primary forms, and machines of the future represent a concept of advanced human perfection. The idea was about the celebration of technology, and moving forward into the future towards an industrial and technological age. The simplicity in form was very suggestive of machine qualities and was an artistic expression of precise, clean, beautifully made designs. Modernists of the age had a firm view against the decorative arts, believing they disguised the faults of poor materiality. It had been overused in the past and became common place as it became cheaper and cheaper to reproduce. Many modernists believed the ideas of curves and decoration had burnt itself out and was hardly representative of an industrial age. Pure design with a strong sense of materiality, would champion a traditional classicism with a formal focus on clean geometries. The aesthetic which was created embraced the ideals of mass production, and many of the beautiful classic designs which were produced from the era are widely accepted as masterpieces.

Modernism acquired its own recognizable style which is emphasized most with its combination of black planar forms and polished metal. It was important to keep this an evident aspect in the stool. That way the design retains a recognizable link to the aesthetic, and suggests deeper thinking of the stylist choices made in the design. The forms of modernist design speak about the limitations of machining, and the qualities of those limitations. Creating square planes rather than fluid forms, simply because they are more ecconomical to produce. The ideas of the human element are lost in this machine aesthetic, especially in the production of the designs. Mistakes are not embraced as happy accidents because the form represents something which should be perfect. That is not to say mistakes are a good thing, however if nobody but the artist realizes it, is it a mistake? A miss-angled plane in a cube is clearly recognizable as a mistake, but not if every plane on the cube is skewed in the same way. The question becomes how you react to this cube which is suggestive of perfection through its finishing and machined qualities.

The challenging of this aesthetic is essentially a way of challenging the ideas of mass production through form and composition. It’s about realizing my comforts in a particular style and going against those compositional instincts. Working towards the larger picture which is the rejection of mass stadardization, and the embrace of the mass individual.

The decorative element in design is something which has been largely frowned upon. It’s something which has lost relevance through the idea of form following function. However to an extent the idea of using decoration to create differences and variations in design is interesting. The concept of using it in a way which is form driven and not simply additive is essential. However it was still important to suggest the traditional application of decoration to forms. In this case the decorative became an exploration into the 2D. It was a way of visualizing a series of components which were all uniquely different. What happens when the elements of decoration are used with only the notion of form? An invisible structure to cling to, where the suggestion of the distortion in form and decoration are evident.

The ideas behind the stool have been thought through, and are expressive of a complex concept. It really wasn’t about creating a beautiful stool, because the idea of challenging a beautiful aesthetic could be potentially unsuccessful. My hesitance to push the stool further was restricted because of the desire not to take away from the idea. Thus conflicting with my urge to change the design and make it more beautiful. I believe it could have been a more successful piece had I rejected the requirement of function and focused in more on the qualities of the expressive form and by developing this potential aesthetical advancement in art rather than design.


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