Drawing hybrids and inbreds
We are around half way through the development of Olinda, the digital radio prototype we’re building for the BBC. Most of my efforts over the weeks since Matt’s post have been focused on how the object should behave and physically manifest.
This post discusses some early drawing processes. We use drawing to surface and test many ideas easily and early. These drawing processes are also used to reach unexpected forms, and to examine why an object should look like it does.
About three weeks ago I met with Matt Ward from Goldsmiths. Ward has developed a drawing process which he works through to explore and interrogate ideas. Here we used it to develop ideas around products. His position for understanding how a product can manifest begins with a framework that includes how objects respond to anticipated contexts and tasks, in situations within a culture of consumption. He sketched this for me, and I’ve included it below. I like that it includes the designer, in a ‘context of production’.
Ward’s approach is this. Begin by taking an existing radio, and draw it at the centre of a page. From here, choose four contexts or situations for development, like ‘in the kitchen’ or ‘listening to the football’. Write these labels in the four corners of the page surrounding the original sketch of the radio. Then evolve the form in the centre towards imagined new forms in response to the four situations.
The point here is to get away from the original form as far as possible, and to make many drawings. Below there are radios that are – more and less literally – in the contexts of decorating, the bathroom, kitchens and shop shelves.
Sometimes this leads to very strange things.
Critically, the purpose for such an exercise is not to draw good products but to begin evolving forms outside of an expected mold. As soon as a form emerges which catches, it is redrawn on a separate page, and bred between other sketches to develop new hybrids.
One is being selective in this process, but it is surprising how little control there is over what you expect to emerge, forcing issues with the sketches rarely yields anything satisfying. But this is not a storming, random process. It is very methodical, as a process of deconstruction. It is using drawing as thinking, which is its power.
What emerges is the discovery of what it is about that original radio that persists, in spite of the violent evolution. The drawings are really about ways of housing these commonalities, so you start thinking in terms of materials very quickly. The other thing that happens is you see particular twists. For example a kitchen radio should have legs, in order to sweep crumbs out from underneath it.
Making and drawing
In parallel to these processes, we have been in the workshop making objects from which to derive further drawings. This process started by thinking out a critical aspect of the form, in this case the connection between the two separate Olinda modules.
Once things start to get made, materials start to influence drawings and further made experiments. As the pieces of wood were cut, the shapes started to yield new directions and the wooden blocks emerged as a combinatorial way of interrogating traditional and less likely forms.
These are then fed back into the drawing and imagined interfaces are penned onto surfaces.
Some of the drawings begin to imply unlikely material qualities. The social module here looks like it’s been knitted from wool. The drawing is from a little over a week ago, and is based on a model used to investigate certain materials and assembly.
When Olinda is an object, it will be a product of unusual influences. It is unlikely that in this project such radical deviations from expected form will be appropriate. But these processes have made it possible to interrogate the assumptions embedded in the form of products. Objects like Olinda respond to forces from many territories, but the reasoning around that is a separate discussion.