Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Blogger Challenge and the Hideously Ugly Object Invasion

This week's blogger challenge, which I am late in responding to (dagnabbit, EOI testing!), is to write positively and about curriculum. Here goes...

Raymond Loewy is known as the father of modern industrial design--and for good reason. He, like the Bauhaus, de Stijl, and Craftsman artists, architects, and designers, promoted the idea that form follows function: an object must both fulfill its purpose and be aesthetically pleasing. In that order. 

I love good design. It makes me giddy. My favorite designers pay attention to the details that make an everyday object a thing of beauty. I hope that my students will appreciate good design as much as I do by the end of our project. It goes something like this...

"I challenge you to find the ugliest useful object you can acquire. It can be footwear, a kitchen gadget, a pen, desk supplies like paper clips or staplers, furniture, lamps, electronic devices, any object you come into daily contact with and wish you didn't have to look at. For me, it's the ultra-utilitarian plain crank-style can opener. (Produces said can opener.) It's flat. It's uncomfortable in the hand. It's not much to look at, and it begs for improvement. The more hideous the object, the better. Please bring in objects that started life as ugly things, not objects that have been made unsightly through misuse, neglect, or purposeful and malicious defacement." 

I ask them to bring their objects in a few days from the announcement, and then we discuss great designers, what drives them, and how their work impacts society. We look at beautiful things like ideas from industrial design shows, the work of the Bauhaus and de Stijl movements, and the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. I ask students why the objects need to look good. Why is it not enough for an object to simply function? We look at functional ceramic objects that are relatively simple and unadorned. Is there an inherent beauty in the simplicity of line and surface? Is there a difference between good art and good design? We talk about design as a career path. Then I throw down the gauntlet. 

"Students, your task is to redesign the object you brought in with you. You know, that ugly one? What can you do to reimagine the design? How can you elevate it? How will the user interact with it differently?"

So far this semester, my students have redesigned the high school track uniforms,  screw drivers and other tools, and shoes; created sets of inexpensive yet attractive dishes and flatware; designed homes and commercial spaces; and engaged in a wide range of other design problems of their choosing. 

I look forward each year to seeing how my students respond to the challenge. What they choose to redesign and how they approach the design process varies. Sometimes their redesign is literal; they remake the object in question. Sometimes it's conceptual; they produce renderings of their improved concept. Regardless of the varied approaches, invariably, my students rise.

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