Metropolis Panel: Constructive Criticism

On May 17, Metropolis held the one-day seminar Design Entrepreneurs: the Next Generation II at the 2004 International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. As part of the event, Susan Szenasy, editor in chief of Metropolis, conducted a session called “Constructive Criticism,” whereby some leading design authorities evaluated a sampling of exhibitor works, suggesting ways to improve and market the designs. Those offering commentary included Marco Pasanella, founder of the multidisciplinary design firm the Polenta Group; Guy Geier, CEO of Vitra. Inc.; Thomas Newhouse, an industrial designer; Jacquelyn Ottman, author and president of J. Ottman Consulting; and Kristi Cameron, an associate editor at Metropolis.

Following are four of the objects evaluated at the session.

Object 1: Hot Seat
Pratt Institute student Melissa Jones showed her intriguing Hot Seat that consisted of a wooden frame and a fabric cushion, the latter coated in paraffin. The cushion could be detached from the frame and placed on a radiator; once it had absorbed heat from the radiator, the cushion could be re-attached to the frame and leaned upon, warming the body, or left undetached and placed, say, between cold bed-sheets, where it could warm the bed like a large water-bottle.

Jackie commented that the Hot Seat was a good concept for older people who had arthritis. Tom felt the fabric and said it seemed hard and rigid, and then suggested another type of covering. Marco felt that there were really two concepts going on with Melissa’s design: 1) the chair frame itself and 2) the heat-retaining material. Jackie drilled further and asked Melissa whether the frame was really necessary. Thinking about it, Melissa said, “No.”

Object 2: “It’s Your Fault” Vase
Korean-born designer Gyungju Chyon, a principal in the Philadelphia-based design studio Little Wonder, presented a vase design that she said was an accident. Never having worked with ceramics before, she accidentally poked a hole in the clay while it was drying, which resulted in a crack that resembled a broken egg shell. Gyungju realized that the accidental crack was the perfect hole for a flower bud. Calling her design “It’s Your Fault,” she felt that the vases could be mass-produced but individually styled by a simple finger “poke” in the clay.

Tom was enthusiastic about mass-producing the vases, yet giving each its own artistic mark. Jackie said that the vase reminded her of the cracks along a sidewalk, with grass and flowers peaking through. She suggested that Gyungju capitalize on this in a marketing strategy. Marco felt that the most interesting part of the vase was the crack, and advised, “See where the tear leads you.” Kristi added that the vase “doesn’t need improving. It is a simple form with a scar in it.”

Object 3: Heartware
Virginia Russell, a Parsons School of Design student, displayed her three-part Heartware dining system. Working with the American Heart Association, she had designed the system to help educate children about nutrition. Heartware’s first part was a set of porcelain dishes shaped and measured for perfect portion control and color-coded according to the principal food groups of meat, fruit and vegetables, and grains; the dishes also came with a place mat that featured rotating activity cards and lessons about nutrition and the anatomy of the heart. The system’s second element was a rolodex file with American Heart Association recipes on cards and weekly meal plans. The third part was a labeling system for food containers, complete with polyurethane bands that wouldn’t disintegrate in the freezer.

Marco questioned whether Virginia had tested the products with children, and what age ranges she considered. Virginia said she hadn’t, but was planning to bring the system to the American Heart Association to test with volunteers. She said she designed the system for two groups: children aged 6-8 and 8-10. Guy suggested that porcelain might not be the best and most durable material for children’s dishes, noting that the porcelain pieces stood apart from the rest of the design scheme, which should, perhaps, be more integrated. Jackie applauded Virginia on her concept and suggested that she market it to the whole family: Heartware could offer ideal portion control for family members of any age. Kristi felt that that the system was “a nice idea, bringing the whole family together for mealtimes,” and suggested that Virginia might also translate Heartware into a lunchbox.

Object 4: Museum Bench
Cranbrook Academy of Art student Eric Meier designed a bench for museums that had a platform of brilliant orange, urethane foam pads set on white plastic legs. The pads came in a variety of squares and rectangles, with varying degrees of thickness. Eric admitted that he had difficulty finding a soft, environmentally friendly material for the pads.

Jackie suggested “pneumatics,” like the blow-up sofa sold by furniture retailer Ikea. Given the unevenness of the bench surface, Tom questioned the “topography and one’s bum.” He likened it to finding the right, comfortable spot in nature to sit down on. “Ergonomically, it could be refined,” answered Eric. Guy offered that “it almost looks like something you could buy as a kit with foam pads. Could you make a frame for it?” Susan asked whether it might be an edible bench some time in the future. Jackie described the foam pads as individual “lozenges,” some of which could pop up as a back rest.

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