Monday, September 24, 2007

10th Design Showroom, Universidad Nacional de Colombia

Last week I visited the Design Showroom at my university (Universidad Nacional de Colombia) and I was surprised by the examples of student work which weren’t what I expected after ten years of cellebrating this event.

Before reading on, I should say that I don't consider myself an authority in design or design trends, but as a mere user, I am entitled to my own opinion.

The Design Showroom is a compilation of the best student work of the year and it’s been organized by my school during the last ten years. I was actually honored to be a winner in the “Graduation Projects” category back in 1998. It’s presented as an exhibition in the Architecture Museum located within the campus.

The Showroom is supposed to present the visitor with the top projects which are selected based on some predetermined criteria.

I was there for the very first Design Showroom 10 years ago, back when access to the Internet was limited still and I thought the world was small, and I remember thinking that the projects were really good and in tune with the times. I went to see the exhibition to find that after ten years it seems that Colombian design hasn’t grown much (At least in my university).

I saw the same kinds of projects, the same device for picking fruit, the same transportation vehicle for the handicapped, the same furniture… And what’s even sadder, our aesthetic sense is going downhill… I barely saw anything that I would tag as “beautiful”, let alone, “saleable”.

Now, my concerns are hardly about beauty —though design definitely has to do with it— but more related to our vision as designers. It would seem that Colombian designers have a limited vision of the world today and the world of the future.

I worry that our new designers are still plagued by the “third world” thinking, that they still think we’re small and that we have no impact as a country. Is that it? Is that why they keep designing as we did ten years ago? Globalization is with us today, so this kind of thinking really doesn’t serve us.

How can Colombian designers be top notch when years (even decades) ago movies like Total Recall, The Fifth Element and Minority Report (just to name a few) have presented such futuristic societies, their devices and their weird and innovative usability proposals? How can we compare?

And let’s not talk fiction, let’s talk reality. Watch this video of Jeff Han’s Jeff Han’s 8 foot Multi-touch display wall; this is already shipping! It is commercially available! So where is Colombian design compared to technology like this? To usability trends like the ones we are already seeing commercially? Have any of our young designers even seen an iPhone or iPod Touch presentation video? How can we measure up?

And yes, in a country like ours design has a big social function, but let’s not kid ourselves here: Design is primarily a business tool, a way of making successful products that ultimately, enhance the human experience. So are our designers in touch with the current design and market trends? How about usability trends? And what about the way design is affecting other cultures and societies? Are they not watching TV or going online sometimes?

Can any of that be applied here? Of course! So what’s the gap then? Where are the dreams of the designers and the wild ideas? And let’s face it, if these guys aren’t having wild ideas while at school, the opportunity to implement them is much smaller once they graduate.

I reviewed the teacher’s list at the Showroom and yes, many of my old teachers are still there. Are they encouraging futuristic and trend-conscious thinking in their students? And what about the new teachers? Is anybody in contact with what’s going on in the world in regards to design? In my opinion, our designers are designing the same stuff we did ten years ago, when we didn’t have as many resources as they do today.

And this also brings me to my next point: It is imperative that designers speak English today. In my experience speaking English has opened so many doors for me and has given me access to huge amounts of information from the web. I think it should be mandatory in university curriculums and it should be as important a subject as the creative ones.

What I did see, much to my relief, was the use of 3D software to present the projects. Back in my day we didn’t have access to such technology, but it is good to know that at least our designers are using that resource.

One of the really good proposals is IO, a lighting sculpture.

Another one is wawawasi, an aid for parents with children who are learning to walk. This one I actually think has great commercial potential.

Aside from that, I regret to say that I wasn’t moved. And the graphic design projects don’t offer anything new either.

My friend César Galán, has allowed me to use his photos of the Showroom and share them with you. Click here, to see them.

I would love to receive some comments from people from other universities, telling me how they view design in their respective schools, if they feel I’m off my rocker here… I sure could use some hope!

Anyway, if you’re a young designer, I recommend you check some of my old posts:
Design Resources: Design Management Institute, DMI.
Design magazines
Designers beware: Podcasts

… and come back to my blog because I intend to reveal more resources to check.

If you’d like to see a couple more videos of Jeff Han’s amazing touch screen wall, click here and here.
Also, I recommend you check How Magazine’s August 2007 issue entitled “The Future”.

All the best!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Design Resources: Design Management Institute, DMI.

Hello, there, Everybody! It’s been a long while! Do forgive me, life has been hectic. Anyway…

Here’s another wonderful resource I think designers from all over the world should know about, the Design Management Institute in Boston, US.

I learned about DMI several years ago when I was on a quest to find more information about design management. As they put it:

“The Design Management Institute (DMI) is an international nonprofit organization that seeks to heighten awareness of design as an essential part of business strategy. Founded in 1975, DMI has become the leading resource and international authority on design management. DMI has earned a reputation
worldwide as a multifaceted resource, providing invaluable know-how, tools and raining through its
conferences, seminars, membership program, and publications."

The thing I like the most about DMI is that they are an unlimited source of information and education for any designer, even for us, who don’t live in the US, with the online tools (like Webinars) they’ve got.

There are also many conferences and seminars people in the US can attend. The agenda for October includes:

Design Research for Product and Service Innovation in Chicago.
Law Meets Design in New York.
From What’s Possible to What’s Right online.

Check out DMI’s calendar.

Most of the conferences and seminars are not free, but fairly priced and the topics are really interesting, because they cover design management issues that they don’t teach you at school (Or at least not my school).

Do click around their website to see all the different resources (They even have a job bank) and/or subscribe to their newsletter to get the latest news!

All the best!