In ten days time, our friend Tenzin Shenyen will embark on a 3-year Tibetan Buddhist retreat in Germany that “begins a cycle of practices to stabilise, concentrate and open the mind through more meditative practices that… include practices aimed at transcending one’s deeply ingrained delusional tendency to see oneself and the world as ordinary.”
Q: It’s been 3 years since you gave a talk at Service Design Conference in Stockholm. It was wonderful to see the whole conference meditating with you. It palpably changed the energy in the room. I especially appreciated your advice for design professionals to ‘Just Say No!’ more often. I think that advice is more important than ever. Can you expand on that a bit?
A: As I said in one of my posts about the approaching retreat, I think human beings are machines for producing works of art, and that the best works of art are nameless and invisible. Saying “no” to what is visible and which already has a name is one way into that space. I also re-read Castaneda’s Journey To Ixtlan recently and was touched by how deeply I still resonated with it. There’s a lot of ‘no’ saying in it, from ‘erasing personal history’ to ‘losing self-importance’, to ‘becoming inaccessible’ and ‘disrupting the routines of life’. The genuinely ‘new’ comes out of nowhere – and I mean absolutely nowhere, a brutally total nowhere- but we are too eager to be ‘somewhere’, no matter how shabby and derivative that ‘somewhere’ might be.
I hope at least one designer out there reads this and decides to say ‘no’ to the whole works — until reappearing twelve years later with something with no name and no identity that the whole world needs.
“Saying goodbye to house sits and temporary rooms, to the forest and one-litre bottle-showers at twilight, to the over-exposure of homelessness. Saying hello to deep seclusion and practice. The worlds we inhabit are neither visible nor invisible, but secretive, coded, nuanced and blessed. Saying goodbye also to Facebook, and hoping something more nuanced, respectful and soulful has taken its place by the time I come out again. I’ll meet you there, I’m sure.”
Q: What impact does your Buddhist practice have on your daily life today? How does Buddhism work as a practical guideline for daily decision making? How can this shape a layman’s decision-making to live an ethical life as an ‘ordinary’ person?
A: My daily life is perfumed by Buddhism. It allows me to see everything I do as a kind of prayer. For example, right now I’m watching the world cup. It’s football and I love it, it needs no justification. My unconscious is working tremendously hard preparing for the retreat, so Shenyen is balancing that by just relaxing. I don’t need to justify it. Justifications are for people who are organising pogroms, or asset-stripping entire national infrastructures, etc. not for people who are … content just being nobody, nowhere, just talking with The Invisibles, just owning one pair of shoes … or just watching Argentina’s slalom into the knockout stage while reading Jorge Valdano reflecting on the military dictatorship of the 1970’s, along with his plea to stop treating football as a science; it all turns it all into a kind of dream yoga. And dream yoga is part of the path to Buddhahood. You cannot live an ethical life without nurturing your imagination.
Elaine Scarry’s talk, Beauty as a call to justice, will explain that in detail. I re-posted it on my youtube channel. Ultimately no-one can tell you how to live, they can only seduce you into living in a specific way. Ethics thus emerges from Eros, from loving relationships — with yourself, people around you, your own karmic history, and the culture around you and the times you have been born into.
Q: You spoke once about the importance of combining Buddhist practice with your own ‘culture’ or your natural place in contemporary society as a western monk. Will you still have space for that kind of ‘personal cultural research/ observation’ on your 3-year retreat? Can you watch football when you are there?! Can you read Artforum? Can you write your blog, radioshenyen?
A: Football? Probably not! But in between the meditation blocks, that will usually last about 6-8 weeks per topic, we are encouraged to relax, maybe even listen to a little music. And I will have my Artforum scrapbooks with me. Enough for one exhibition a week I think! But I don’t see too much separation between the centuries-old tantric stuff and my personal interests. Doing the retreat in all its traditional structure is also a part of my ‘personal cultural research’.
“Study, a mixture of chaos and silence, concentration and fragment.”
Q: How much meditation do you recommend to a layperson or beginner? Is frequency important for practice? Are there other types of activities such as physical work (making things, cleaning, gardening, etc.) that are also seen as part of Buddhist practice? In Asia, meditation isn’t seen as something that ‘ordinary people’ do. Lay people often ask the monks to meditate and pray on their behalf.
A: Meditation is extremely over-emphasised in contemporary Western presentations of Buddhism. Ethics, study, art, service, offering, confession, purification, prayer, chanting, and vows, among other things, are all sidelined, or dismissed as ‘obvious’, ‘old-fashioned’, ‘embarrassing’ or ‘peripheral’. But Buddhism only really comes alive when you take on board it’s entire culture, it’s ‘world’ while being willing to do the work of engaging that world with your own. Thus, my love of contemporary art is inseparable from my study of Madhyamaka and tantric meditations. My best moments of mindfulness occur when on alms round. You can’t just meditate in a vacuum, in a fog of mundane activity and thinking.
But nevertheless, it is part of the path.
I would recommend a very short commitment — 10 minutes a day is fine — to being quiet, still, disciplined and visionary on one’s cushion. But instead of wanting to meditate I would suggest that people simply pray to be able to meditate, and then relax. Thinking about what other people need — the immediate needs of the people around you right now, at home or on the train platform — is so much more powerful than some half-hearted meditation practice.
Genuine meditation comes out of uncontrived faith. Faith arises out of joy and ethics. Ethics from art and empathetic disciplined imagination.
Q: We need to manage negative attachments to the idea of future, such as fear or sadness or anxiety, as these feelings arise, to avoid shutting down altogether. Is hope also an attachment?
A: Attachment is one of those words that are easy to misconstrue. In Buddhism, liking something isn’t an expression of attachment; wanting something good to continue, or to happen if it hasn’t yet happened, isn’t attachment. Attachment is defined as a state where ‘you are willing to do something bad in order for something to continue (or begin)’. So ‘hope’ in itself isn’t attachment. Love isn’t attachment, not even fierce love. Whereas cowardice would be.
Q: What is your favourite festival or holiday? What practices in your life have changed significantly since becoming ordained?
A: I like New Year’s celebrations. Awareness of time cycles is a lovely thing and transcends specific religions and worldviews. And the atom bomb memorial day in Hiroshima is also high on my list of ‘things which make the heart beat faster’ – if that’s what you mean by ‘festival’.
Ordination, by providing an absolutely fundamental challenge to my sense of identity, in both challenging (demanding, humbling) and transformative (blessed) ways, has helped me to explore more deeply the teachings on non-self as a meditative state.
Q: How important is it to be altruistic?
A: It is impossible to become a Buddha without practising altruism. And never mind Buddhahood, it is impossible to keep enjoying positive samsaric rebirths without practising altruism. All art comes from altruism.
We are very excited and proud to announce that The Institute of Advanced Design Studies (IADS), a new educational platform set to launch this October in Budapest, Hungary, co-founded by Karina Vissonova, PhD and Róbert Héjja, PhD.
Some of you may remember the article on Karina we published a while back. Well, she has been busy again! Her partner in this new venture, Róbert Héjja, is a well-known financial investor with a strong interest in green investments.
The Institute’s vision is to create a new wave of multidisciplinary design thinkers who will bring new sets of skills to their respective fields for radically increased sustainability. Ethics is at the heart of the venture; an idea that it is time for design to solve global challenges and that technology should be harnessed for the benefit of humanity and the environment.
The Institute’s manifesto is a summary of their values and learning objectives: Radically Sustainable, Deeply Ethical, Practically Resourceful, Respectfully Challenging and Openly Interconnected.
The highly integrated and interdisciplinary nature of the programmes is designed to complement well-established academic courses. The programmes are modular and combine the latest co-creative tools and processes used at leading organisations and consultancies with the Philosophy of Design and Ethics. As an independent, not-for-profit educational platform, all profits will be redirected to creating new educational and research opportunities and scholarships aligned with their values.
A One-Year Postgraduate Course for a select group of peers Every year, the Institute will select a complementary group of 25 postgraduate students to work intensively together with some of the world’s leading names in sustainability, design, product and service development and technology. These visiting lecturers replace a traditional faculty, allowing students gain access to an immersive learning experience with experts active in their field. Both the tutors and the students explore subjects in depth, with the shared ambition of shaping more comprehensive solutions that consider the potential impact of design manifestations, whether those outcomes are intentional or not.
Students leave the course armed with the latest knowledge on current developments in design, such as Design Thinking, new approaches such as Circular Economy, and how to organise around the continuous change. At the end of the one year course, the students publish their process and findings and are issued a diploma in Advanced Design Studies for Sustainability acknowledging their attendance and accomplishments.
In parallel to the postgraduate programme, the Institute will host extra-curriculum short courses and lectures in collaboration with the Arts Quarter Budapest. These courses also are open to external students.
Venue and Collaborative Partner: Art Quarter Budapest The Institute’s activities will be based at Art Quarter Budapest, an international contemporary art centre dedicated to the development of art and new media. Located in the vibrant city of Budapest, it consists of several buildings with indoor and outdoor exhibition space, workshop studios, residencies and common rooms.
The Institute began its collaboration with Art Quarter Budapest in 2018 with a common goal of advancing knowledge in the fields of Art and Design. Our extra-curriculum workshops and short interdisciplinary courses are run in collaboration with Art Quarter.
Launching during Design Week Budapest 2018
The two founders, Karina and Róbert will present their vision at a launch party and 3-day seminar and workshop during Design Week Budapest this October. Between the 10th and 12th October, there will be a series of seminars and workshop activities on biomimicry, where artists, designers and participants from other backgrounds such as ecology, technology, or engineering will work with each other to generate ideas applicable in arts and design inspired by nature.
Many of us dream of quitting our jobs and leaving the city, but how many of us manage to do it? I asked Innovation Strategist, Karina Vissonova, how she and her partner Aron designed ‘the good life.’
Karina and Gazsi, at home in their cottage. Gazsi is a local Pumi dog. Photo by Alexandra Heim.
Q: What was your childhood like?
A: I grew up in Latvia. I played in our family vegetable garden since I could walk, and was outdoors all year round. As a teenager in Riga, I spent every free minute with my friends making fires on the beach or partying in the forest.
Q: Why did you move away?
A: I studied in Copenhagen and was recruited right away into a job in innovation, that was still a relatively new field at the time. I got to work with some amazing professionals – architects, designers, and thought leaders. It was like working with rock stars! But Copenhagen was never really ‘my town,’ despite all the ‘goodies’ that came with life in the city. It felt like my lifestyle was bought, somehow.
Q: How did your job evolve your thinking?
A: I found it challenging to accept that so many great ideas, which would truly help people to live a better and more sustainable everyday life, would get chiselled down to fit into existing production systems. It’s as if we design for machines rather than people. We have all the technologies we need, but we have heavy, outdated systems that are resistant to change. I started wondering what else I could do.
Q: So you decided to leave your job?
A: Not immediately, but I knew I needed to change my own path. I wanted to be able to seek answers to the ‘big’ questions. Eventually Aron and I decided to make the leap and move to the countryside in Hungary. Aron is half Hungarian, but it wasn’t particularly about living in Hungary, it was about pursuing a quality of life with less, and rediscovering ourselves without a professional identity tag. We moved in the middle of winter, without TV or internet. It was the most silent 3 months of my life!
PAP Wines Garden Restaurant- Under the Volcano.
Q: How did you cope with that silence?
A: Just by giving it a chance. We missed our friends, but we were also in love with our new home on the hill. In the Spring, I started gardening. Portuguese friends had told me about permaculture, and so I spent hours on YouTube learning everything I could. My first garden was a mandala garden; a beautiful, unruly patch. I was the laughing stock of the neighbourhood at first, but when my neighbours saw how my garden was flourishing, even during periods of drought, they switched to permaculture methods. I also practice companion planting, where you pair plants that can support each other with nutrition and healthy insect populations; my strawberries grew together with spinach, for example. It’s pretty in its own wild way.
Aron selling at the Farmer’s Market – from chai and chutney to wine, 2017.
Q: So your food brand evolved almost by accident?
A: Yes! Suddenly we had all this surplus produce so we started making condiments to sell at the farmer’s market. We made our own labels and suddenly we had a brand!
Q: What came next?
A: One day, Aron announced, “Do you realise we are living in one of the world’s very famous wine growing volcanic regions? We should make wine!” My response was a hesitant ‘OK…’ Aron went to work for a local wine maker, to learn the ropes. A year later, Aron made his first wine, a ruby coloured Pinot Noir. We made 300 bottles. It was excellent. We couldn’t believe it. It was like we had the volcano gods on our side!
A selection of PAP Wines.
Q: And it’s organic?
A: The wine is organic, yes, and with a low sulphite content, but for us it’s not about labelling our product as ‘organic’ or getting expensive certifications, it’s just about being true to the traditional, artisanal wine-making methods. We want to make the most honest and highest quality wine we can, while caring for the land. Many of the new wine makers here follow regenerative farming methods – it’s far less costly and far more effective.
Aron in the kitchen, January 2017. Photo by Alexandra Heim.
Q: When did you decide to open the restaurant?
A: Our wines became commercially successful within 2 years, and our garden was abundant. It was a natural progression to pursue Aron’s dream of having a small restaurant. He is an exceptional chef, albeit with no formal training. Aron had learnt to cook regional dishes, in Tamil Nadu, in the south of India, and in Himachal Pradesh, up in the North, in the foothills of the Himalayas. This influenced our concept – Indian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean vegetarian tapas-sized dishes served with local wines . We just offered our own home cooking. We opened for guests last summer and it turned to be the busiest summer of our lives!
Q: How does your life today compare with life in the city?
A: Countryside offers an unveiled life, a connection to oneself and the systems that let you survive. Leo Tolstoy wrote about the division of intellectual and physical labour, and the need to experience both to acquire true wisdom. I couldn’t agree more. I scribble away about sustainability, but I feel that it is the experience of working the land and being part of a community that entitles me to write about sustainability.
PAP’s ceramic plates and Aron’s samosas. Photo by Alexandra Heim.
Q: What are your plans now?
A: I want to continue writing and consulting. I still have more questions than I have answers, and I get the feeling others do too. But we need to ask the right questions. If I can attend to the vineyards and the garden during the season, run our little home restaurant, and write for the rest of the time, I will be a very happy and lucky person.
Karina and Aron, Pinot Noir harvest 2017.
Q: Any advice to someone wanting to make a total change in their lives?
A: Dream! Plan big and trust your intuition. Life is unpredictable but it’s also full of opportunities. You just need to have the courage to believe in yourself.
These days, we have a false sense of security because of social transparency, where events and emotions that used to be very private are always on a display on social media. We have an impression that we are emotionally connected to other people, which also gives the false impression of a safety net. I find that such a net, if it indeed exists, is very thin.
Despite social media, we are more dependent on relationships in our physical communities than we realise – and the support that they can provide. Nurture real connections. Value where the things in your life come from and go to. When taking a life changing step, make sure your ties are offline as much as online.
Images: Alexandra Heim and otherwise, Karina’s own.
Food for Change a new platform in Stockholm. Food for Change is a CSR platform for businesses connecting waste food with people in need. Local supermarkets explore how to reuse all the waste food they throw away every day, by creating a membership scheme for low-income people. Membership or gift cards for people in need costs roughly 50 euro to gain access to regular food deliveries. The programme invites volunteers to deliver the food to local communities. Many large companies invite their employees to take part in the scheme as a CSR effort.
A few other examples of green initiatives turning wasted into wanted:
Networks: The carpet manufacturer Interface has created a sustainable line of products called Net-Works. Net-Works is the first step in creating a truly restorative loop in carpet tile production, whilst cleaning up oceans and beaches of plastic and creating financial opportunities for informal economies; some of the poorest people in the world.
A firm in Brazil, Arteplas, is taking plastic bottles out of landfills and repurposing them as high quality rope. Treehugger reports that their product is both higher quality and cheaper than traditional rope constructed from fibres. Arteplas have independent analysis from a third party assessor showing that their recycling processes for rope use 70% less energy than ropes from virgin materials. Their plant employing up to 400 local people. The quality of the product, is proven in the success of the company and its applied use across different industries.
Blest.Making oil from waste plastics: Typically made from petroleum, it is estimated that 7% of the world’s annual oil production is used to produce and manufacture plastic. That is more than the oil consumed by the entire African continent. A Japanese company called Blest created a small, very safe and easy-to-use machine that can convert several types of plastic back into oil. Amazing. A machine like this would be invaluable to informal waste pickers the world over, allowing them to add value to collected plastics.
The Green HangerMade in Australia from 100% recycled cardboard, the Green Hanger will be used as an event invitation during Tokyo Designers Week, then as a coat hanger. The Green Hanger eco coat hanger is a fully recyclable and biodegradable cardboard coat hanger made from 100% recycled materials.
Parapu Durapulp pressed chairby Södra in Sweden is a winner of the Red Dot Design award; the product concept is a collaboration between an ad agency, the pulp manufacturer, KTH and famous PR-driving designers Claesson Koivisto Rune. DuraPulp is a new material that combines paper pulp and PLA (a biodegradable plastic) to create an incredibly resistant paper. Created from one pressed cut out sheet the new product demonstrates how a simple manufacturing process can add value to raw waste materials and create perceived value for the hotels and companies who use it.
Eco-Drywall: While recent interest in sustainable building has spurred the creation of eco-minded materials like Greensulate and Cow Dung Bricks, drywall is one building component that has remained essentially the same over the past 100 or so years. That’s about to change, however, thanks to EcoRock, a new drywall material that’s made of 80 percent recycled materials.
Poly-Al is made from recycled Tetra Pak. Tetra Pak Europe pays a local producer to take care of old Tetra Pak. He removes the paper part and recycles and then uses the plastic/metal foil part to make a board, 15 mm thick, flat or corrugated that is used as a building material in walls or roofs. It is water proof, fire resistance and uses no additives in the compression process. They have started to use it for making cow-sheds in India and it has increased the milk productivity with 2-3 l per cow per day! It keeps the cows cool and comfortable, and is a beautiful material as well!
Ilkka Suppanen won the prestigious Torsten and Wanja Söderberg’s prize. Here is an introduction from Ilkka himself that was not published in the catalogue.
Ilkka in Milan, 2015
Looking back, dreaming about the future. I am very honoured to receive this prize. It’s given me a chance to look back at my life and feel gratitude for all the opportunities I have had since I was a young designer. Every bit of positive feedback gives a designer confidence to continue developing their thought process, no matter where they are in their career.
For me, drawing is a very important part of my thought process. Drawing allowed me to become a designer. And I think the drawings in this catalogue describe my journey as a designer more than words ever could. Drawing has helped me navigate a complex world ruled by words. It helped me to continuously ask questions about the role of design, from designing products and environments to thinking about the larger, more complex systems that govern our world, and what is possible in the future, with all the human creativity and technology available to us.
As soon as I could hold a pencil I started scribbling, but it was at school that drawing started to have a particular significance to me. Although I was verbally articulate, I soon realised that my imaginary world was made up of images, not words or text. I could not understand why I was not allowed to draw my way through every class! It turned out that I am heavily dyslexic. In those days there was no diagnosis, so school was very difficult for me. Drawing became my refuge. It was the only way I could get praise from teachers or make my schoolmates laugh. Through drawing, I had a chance to develop my interests and get a higher education studying architecture and design.
Drawings is a reiterative process, an act of exploration, questioning and discovery, where the drawing takes on a life of its own and reveals more questions that need to be answered. Anyone who draws understands this. Technical drawings are the last defining work done in the design process, but drawing throughout the whole design process helps me to continuously ask questions, testing a concept again and again until the solution is ‘justified and correct.’
I look back at the drawings of my heroes, Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen. I look at their drawings and I am in conversation with them. In Alvar Aalto’s drawings you can see several scales sketched in a one single piece of paper simultaneously: this represents his holistic view on design. Just one drawing holds all that knowledge. Eero Saarinen could try and solve multiple problems in a one single drawing. I saw a plan of a skyscraper and an evaluation matrix of possible future wives in one drawing! These heroes showed me how drawing is a way of dreaming the future. And for me that sums it up. That’s a designer’s job. It’s what we are trained to do. I believe the most important work for a designer today is to share their process with the world, so that we can collaborate in dreaming a better future and designing the world we all want to live in.
Imaginary Life recently was invited up to the Artic circle by artist Laila Kolostyak to help organise a seminar and workshop for over 20 selected snow and ice professionals from Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway. The seminar was funded by Kulturkontakt Nord and the Norwegian Barents Secretariat and aimed to explore how Snow and Ice professionals can raise the profile of their work, as well as collaborate and share knowledge across borders on how to drive successful projects of all scales; from installations in nature parks, to interior and architectural design, to urban planning and urban reclamation and festival planning.
Keynote speakers included leading professionals such as Timo Jokela from the University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, known decades of spectacular land art, Jens Toms Ivarsson, Design Director at the world-famous ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden and Ole Morten Rokvam, an artist and craftsman who has curated leading events with snow and ice in Norway for over a decade. In addition, the artists from Kirovsk and Murmansk were exceptionally inspiring, sharing their festival and community work and bringing a lot of love and live music.
We spoke with Jens Thoms Ivarsson:
We were discussing the ‘eternal ephemerality’ or ice. Is that something Design can learn from?
Absolutely. Imagine: the earth was created at some point, some billions of years ago. The water we are working with could have come from a comet- its ancient and essential stuff. Two different materials met and collided, basically stone and water. They became a frozen moment. Hot lava froze into stone, and water turned into ice. It’s this moment of change that artists and designers often explore in the materials and contexts they work with. Moments of change. Tipping points. How materials age next together. How they behave. It’s fundamental stuff, but ice also teaches us about the nature of continuous change. The seasons, nature’s needs, human needs in winter climates, and of course, climate change. These are new frontiers for design in general. We always think about the negative aspects of snow and ice, how to get rid of it, how to avoid it. We’ve hardly scratched the surface of how to use it as a material.
How long is something ephemeral?
It’s a good question. It all depends on the point of view, the objectives of a project. We follow the melting process of the ICEHOTEL too- it is so beautiful. We spend so long making details, crafting interiors and design elements –always knowing it will melt and return to the river again. And during the process, the sound changes in the building, the atmosphere is fantastic. It’s not sad- its liberating. The ice hotel doesn’t collapse, it opens up in the centre to reveal the sky and the surroundings of the place where it started. There is so much new knowledge to be gained about snow and ice.
But there is a high risk of making mistakes working with such a volatile material?
Yes – but the volatility also opens possibilities. Designers always ask “How do I avoid mistakes?” Ernst Billgren’s book ‘Vad är Konst 2′ (What is art 2) says that the short answer is to sit very still! As soon as humans do something there are mistakes, but mistakes also lead to discoveries. All our genetic development and success is built on learning from mistakes. When I work in stone or concrete and it is placed in city, there is a lot of pressure as the object will lasts for a lifetime. Working in snow and ice is very freeing in a way. You can be more brave and experimental. Less self conscious and more playful.
How do you work with seasons of water and light at the ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi?
You’d think it all happens in the winter as the focus is on ice art but we are moving to all year round. In the summer there is rafting, fishing and other nature activities and the phenomenon of the sun never setting at night- that is a very special experience to have. Also we are preparing for the water to freeze long before it does. It’s the pivotal moment for us, as we invite artists from all over the world. And those artists are not all traditional ice sculptors. We work with people from all background to explore what they can create with ice as a material.
We can also funnel water from the river, and blow it through snow canons to create a material we call “snice” –manufactured snow. We can throw snow onto moulds. Sometimes we use reinforcement to create very large structures. We are also learning more ever year about how to use ice reinforcement. The old way is to create giant moulds for architectural structures where the walls are built with plywood moulds and filled with snice, much like the process for creating concrete buildings. By exploring ice reinforcement we open new doors to resourceful innovation in architecture.
How many people are involved in constructing the ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi every year?
At the ICEHOTEL we have a team of over 50 people who work on the structure alone. Then there is all the finishing work on interior design, lighting and so on. Tools and methods are developing all the time and its important to share this knowledge.
Focus on working together is important – the joy comes when it is finished! One of the hardest jobs is being on roof in minus 35 connecting wires without gloves. It’s the engineers, technicians and ice workers we really have to thank! They make these ideas possible.
What other type of work do you do there?
One example is that we send ice and snice all over world- and send our engineers to make large events possible. For examples we created a catwalk for Chanel at the Grand Palais in Paris. We needed to install a cooling system for the 40 m long 8 m high catwalk. Karl Lagerfeld ordered it. We had to tell him not to wear boots not to get wet. He was great fun to work for. We asked him to lick the ice and he obliged!
One of my favourite projects that you showed at the seminar was the roundabout you made in a lake.
Yes, we cut out a huge disc in the river and added a boat engine. It was a simple intervention to see if the disc would rotate – and it did! It rotated at a perfectly even speed. It worked out better than we anticipated it would. Nature is like that.
Every design process is multi-disciplinary, with a process that aims to take into account multiple perspectives. But how much do our design decisions create negative impacts and outcomes that we would, normally, horrify us – if we consciously designed them?
This is the challenge Design Thinking faces. To go deeper to create zero negative impact on the world around us. Visualizing complexity is a design approach that has always been used to handle multi-layered facts and perspectives. But how can we challenge the assumptions and preconcieved ideas we don’t even know we have?
By using creative methods to visualize dry data, diverse people in an organization can be engaged in critical decision-making, from the outset of a project, but most importantly, when our design is out there in the world. We need to design continuous improvement out on the marketplace into our products, services and systems.
Turning dry facts into deep insights enables rapid and relevant decision-making. And it is only the people within a company who can know what relevant steps are needed for innovation. Doing the right things based on the wrong assumptions is not innovation.
An easy to understand example we can all understand are maps. Maps have to be ‘designed’ correctly for the specific task at hand. Take the world map as we know it today. The Gerardus Mercator’s projection was first published in 1569, and became widespread because it depicts a line of constant bearing as a straight line, which was relevant at the time for marine navigation. But the drawback of using that map today, to visualize new and existing business markets, is that it distorts the shapes and relative sizes of all the countries. The map distorts our perception of the world and how we view people from various parts of the world.
The map of True Africa created by Kai Krause, shows that Africa is far larger than we think. Then see the maps on land area to population, or amount of money per head spent on healthcare, and we instantly gain a more informed picture on which to base our innovation strategies.
The True Africa map by Kai Krause shows the size of the continent in relation to European counties.
The Gerardus Mercator’s projection was made for marine navigation.
Map from worldmapper.org shows public health spending to population
Innovation is not so much of an outcome, as a process of asking the right questions at the right time, and asking them again and again, reiteratively. Since a company’s offering exists in real-time, across connected or digitally enabled networks, so too do the insights and information that continuous questioning and decision making are based on need to be in real-time. Innovation means never being satisfied with the obvious assumptions. And to break preconceived ideas we now have big data and data visualization.
Although a company cannot map all the potential outcomes of its activities, visual mapping can play a large part in nurturing breakthrough thinking so that a company can focus on what it does best – and partner for the rest to bring in more critical thinking. Critical thinking is what is lacking in Design Thinking.
Data visualization has yet to find its role in delivering real-time information for communications within a company, for critical decision making, or for real time communications between a company and its network, who, in a connected world, should be more deeply engaged in the ongoing strategies, activities and outcomes that bring to life a brand’s vision of innovation without negative impact on environment, communities, nature…existing economies and cultures, and of course, health.
Maps don’t always make good online interfaces, but they do help us understand data in an intuitive way. Moving into a service-driven world, a company’s offering is continuously evolving and data visualization can be used to engage different types of stakeholders in the ongoing process of value generation.
Imagine, for example, a call to action to developers to test and hack a beta digital service “pre-launch”. Or real time, localized invitations for users to swarm around an open innovation event, on and offline. Or adding services by using data collected from the public realm, such as traffic or weather reports, or national averages on life expectancy in relation to lifestyle choices. Innovation as continuous improvement should be continuous rather than be an occasional manned mission to Mars.
Visual maps in themselves do not tell us what to do, but they can help us harness knowledge and creativity to solve critical issues and problems. No market research report or marketing message can compete with factual, real time information. We need to use technology and its designs to help us question all the assumptions that we take for granted- and make sure our good intentions result in meaningful and even destructive activities.
Back from London and the Photon Symposium, and seeing the prototype of an all glass living pod that will be one of 9 pods in a proposed Photon Village at Oxford University. The concept was conceived by Brent Richards of Transpolis Europe and executed by Cantifix, an advanced glass engineering company based in the UK.
Brent Richards describes the project: The Photon Pod has been designed to maximise daylight for the inhabitants in order to carry out scientific research into “the effects of daylight on human biology”. The 4 year research period will involve 8 Photon Pods and allow 300 participants to be tested in a Photon Village. As a control two of the pods will be “dark” with only 12% of the surface transparent, which equates to the average amount of glazing in a typical home.
The shape of the Photon Pod has been designed to minimise the reflection of light waves by keeping the surface of the glass perpendicular to the sun when the building is orientated north/south. The make-up of the double glazed units uses the latest technology to increase the insulation properties, whilst reducing solar gain to maintain a comfortable living environment in most climates.
The interior facilities were considered in relation to the length of stay for each participant and the fact we didn’t want the research data to be influenced. In the majority of cases a participant will only have to stay for 3 weeks and therefore basic facilities of a kitchen; shower and WC; bed; desk; and seating area were considered sufficient.
Philips were invited by Imaginary Life to design the lighting in the Pod to show how a combination of natural and design light should be combined to enhance the wellbeing and to harmonise the practical need for artificial light with the biological need for natural light. For the purposes of this launch, Hue, Philips connected lighting was programmed to create a compelling and dynamic experience, as well as enhancing the architecture of the innovative structure.
Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at the University of Oxford University states: “The recent advances in our understanding of the brain mechanisms that generate and regulate sleep and circadian rhythms, and a growing appreciation of the broad health problems associated with their disruption, represents a truly remarkable opportunity to develop novel evidence-based treatments and interventions that will transform the health and quality of life of millions of individuals across a broad spectrum of illnesses.”
The Photon Pod is a means for collecting data on how light effects the mind, body & soul. Photos by George Sharman.
The Photon Pod Installation at The Building Cente, London.
Light is a resource for health & wellbeing – in all built environments
As long as I can remember, I have been drawing. As soon as I could hold a pencil I started scribbling. Those scribbles turned into drawings of my friends, my family, their houses, their cars and other people I saw on the street. It was a way of navigating the world that existed around me. It was my way of labeling things. Drawing was part of my language process, like any child. It helped me categorize the world- and therefore understand it.
I drew a lot of family portraits. People gave me confirmation through those. I got more confidence because they loved my drawings and slowly I started to draw things that I wished to see. A world of my own imagining. A boat with wheels or a man with 8 legs. They were kind of dreams, an imaginary life.
Drawing was also a way to express my moods and feelings and like most kids I used crayons and “wax pastels”. There drawings that were a kind of abstract expressionism. So far it is the story any child might have with drawing. But it was at school that drawing started to have a particular significance to me. Although I was verbally articulate, I soon realised that I wasn’t like the other kids. My imaginary world was visual- not verbal.
I started to have a very hard time in school. I couldn’t keep up with the class work and worse than that, didn’t understand the point of the exercises. Why couldn’t I carry on imagining the world? Why wasn’t I allowed to draw all the time?
It turned out that I am heavily dyslexic. But in those days, the schools and teachers didn’t have the tools or knowledge to diagnose kids like myself. And because my problems were not recognized or diagnosed at school, my situation just became worse. Drawing was my only refuge- my only way of communicating with the outside world and getting some positive feedback from my teachers and peers.
Drawing became my very own language.
The other kids loved it and I was more popular because of it. It helped me compensate for my verbal and written expression – or lack of it. But one day, when I illustrated my thoughts with drawings in a Finnish language test my teacher yelled at me again and everyone laughed at me. On Monday my drawings were great, on Tuesday they got me into trouble. It was a very confusing time.
Somehow I managed to finish school. My drawings meant that I could go to higher education – it got me into university and it was probably the greatest way for me to learn during my university time. I used drawing to make mental notes. It was the most important single media to learn, document, plan and illustrate all the design and architecture I was learning about. Once again I was allowed to dream.
As a student I traveled to important locations, sites and buildings in Rome, Siena, and Venice to make drawings. Once I sat all day in Siena’s main square until late in the evening. Drawing allowed movement, but it also enabled stillness. It let me observe life I wouldn’t normally have seen. I drew all the buildings around the square. I realized that drawing a building or site is one of the best ways to learn architecture.
During the drawing process you learn every detail, you learn about proportions and shadows, and even the daily changes of the architecture in a profound way. It was through drawing that I realized that architecture is not static, but inherently connected to the time and space of its surroundings.
Only later I understood the importance of life drawing. Even if it was difficult and painful to draw the human body, it was a way for me to learn about layers of structure, from what is seen to what is unseen. From the skin right through to the bones. The breathing living movement that is part of every stillness. Light and shadow. What I learned from life drawing I have also taken with me into my furniture design- it has been translated quite clearly into an understanding of the body’s relationship to furniture- and architecture. Ergonomics, use and pose. The emotion of space.
I have always been fascinated by technical drawings. To me they are like abstract modern art. Technical drawing tells me more about something than a photo or realistic sketch. Technical drawings reveal secrets and mysteries: How things are made, how things work. In the end, technical drawings are the final documents we do in my office. They are my work, and my tools to talk with other people about design. They describe my projects more than words ever could.
And my drawings go on teaching me, more than I could imagine. It’s not as if I have an idea and then I draw it. Drawing is a reiterative process, where the drawing itself takes on a life of its own and tells me the questions that need to be answered. Anyone who draws understands this. You can’t ‘choose’ what you draw unless it is already justified. Already correct. The designs in my studio are always based on technical drawings- they are the last defining work done in the whole design process. Drawing from an early age enabled me to develop a process naturally that enables me to ask all the right questions at the right time, again and again until the solution is just right.
When I am drawing today, there are many reasons depending on the time: maybe I am studying a technical detail, maybe I am trying to understand “what if” – or maybe I am trying to find out why something is good. Maybe I am just thinking aloud. I always make several sketches to communicate and discuss ideas with my people in my studio.
When I am bored: I draw, it’s a friend who can be with me no matter where I am. I entertain myself by dreaming about possible products and spaces for a future that is better than one we know today.
I look back at the old masters: my heroes before me- Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen. I look at their drawings and am in conversation with them. In Alvar Aalto’s drawings you can see several scales sketched in a one single piece of paper simultaneously: From a detail of a door handle to the site-plan to the perspective of a house. In a way this represents his holistic view on design. Just one drawing holds all that knowledge.
I meet my heroes in books and discuss design and architecture with them through every line and gesture.
I am still fascinated about the vast variety of problems that Eero Saarinen could try and solve in a one single drawing: I saw a plan of a skyscraper and a evaluation matrix of candidates for his possible future wife in one drawing. For me this represents his opportunistic view on architecture- and how he also used drawing as a thinking process- to think about the future. To dream the future. The drawings are serious, poetic, light and artistic. They are about something that could be or something might not be for centuries.
So when you ask me to explain the importance of drawing, I should in fact, draw for you. Because drawing is not only a strong part of my work and who I am. It is more than that – it has enabled me to be myself, in a complex world ruled by words.