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Pioneering Industrial Designer Charles Harrison Passes Away

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When I was in design school, one of the professors was telling the class about different production methods, and how imagination could be used to adapt those methods to create new, useful things. The example he gave us was with blow molding, which was used to create plastic bottles. He told us that in the 1960s, some industrial designer wondered if blow molding could be used to create much larger things than bottles. At the time, all garbage cans were made of metal and looked like this:

These metal trash cans could take a beating, but they created a terrific din on garbage day, with much clanging and banging. The industrial designer in question wanted to see if he could make a tough garbage can that was far quieter--so tried blow molding one out of plastic. He succeeded, and to this day most of us have plastic garbage cans in front of our homes.

I later learned that that industrial designer was Charles Harrison, and that the garbage can was designed for his employer, Sears. 

We wrote Mr. Harrison up in 2013 when his memoir, "A Life's Design: The Life And Work of Industrial Designer Charles Harrison" was still in print. Sadly, Mr. Harrison recently passed away at age 87, and we're going to reprint our write-up on him here.

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In 1950s America, few people at all were pursuing careers in industrial design. Charles "Chuck" Harrison was one of them. He had talent and degrees from both the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology, but after applying to Sears for an ID gig, he was rejected for a single reason: Because he was black.

Sears' hiring manager, however, recognized Harrison's talent and was able to secure freelance work for him. Not having any African-Americans on staff was the unwritten rule of the time, but the freelance workaround enabled Harrison to start gaining real-world experience.

One of Harrison's former professors at Chicago was Henry P. Glass, the Viennese architect and designer. As a Holocaust survivor, Glass knew the ugly face of discrimination well, and having observed Harrison's skills first-hand, helped him secure work at a design firm. In 1958, while working at Robert Podall Associates, Harrison updated the design of the popular View-Master toy, creating the iconic form many of us recognize today (even though Harrison's Bakelite had given way to plastic by the time of our childhoods.)

By 1961 American society had begun poking small holes in the racial barrier, and Harrison got a phone call from Sears: They wanted him on staff. Harrison accepted, and embarked on a prolific career in design.

The breadth of Harrison's work is like an industrial designer's dream: Over the next thirty years he designed Craftsman power tools, radios, hairdryers, sewing machines, kitchen appliances, steam irons, televisions and more, spanning objects that you'd find in every room of the American house, including the garage and the toolshed.

Harrison's favorite project was a humble one with a profound effect: The first plastic garbage can. At the time of its release all other garbage cans were metal, which made a terrific racket when the trucks came to pick up the trash each morning. Harrison's plastic can was decidedly quieter. And he doesn't mind that his contribution is largely unsung: "As an industrial designer especially, your audience is neither history nor fame," he writes, "but a couple who worked hard to buy their first home on a quiet street and would love just one more hour of sleep in the morning, even on trash day." On the practical side, he designed the can to nest, meaning they took up far less space for shipping and warehousing.

Harrison, who became Sears' first African-American executive, retired in 1993. Throughout the 2000s he taught product design in Chicago. His full story is captured in his memoir, A Life's Design: The Life And Work of Industrial Designer Charles Harrison.

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Harrison was one of the designers interviewed for Aileen Kwun and Bryn Smith's "Twenty Over Eighty: Conversations on a Lifetime in Architecture and Design," and you can read an excerpt of his interview here.

R.I.P. Mr. Harrison.


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infini
20 hours ago
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Leslie Montes' AttractiveKumiki Furniture Collection

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Two furniture trends we've been seeing:

1) Mid-century modern knockoffs,

2) Upstart designers attempting to make things that are different, just for the sake of being different.

So it's a breath of fresh air to see industrial designer Leslie Montes' back-to-basics Kumiki furniture collection.

Here's why we like it:

It uses real wood. The wood is not pretending to be something else. The wood is not dressed up to prettify it in an artificial way. The material is allowed to be beautiful in its own right.

It's flatpack and knockdown, i.e. practical for a younger buyer who will eventually move house. But there are no metal or plastic fasteners and their attendant hex keys, wrenches or ugly exposed fasteners. Instead it relies on simple joinery, in this case Japanese-inspired, that allows it to be put together with your bare mitts. Though maybe you could take an unused, rolled-up CB2 catalog and use it to whack in the wedges.

It's minimalist. These pieces are not trying to scream at you from across a crowded expo hall. Where a lot of modern furniture is insecure and loud, these pieces are confident and silent. Less is more here; the simple design equals longevity to us, as there are no telltale flourishes that will make the pieces look dated in ten years or twenty.

If people are a product of their experiences, so too is the furniture they design. Reading up on Montes' bio, it's clear that these pieces didn't just come to her in a flash. Rather, they are the culmination of a long-term and multinational focus on industrial design that has spanned three continents:

Montes began her education by acquiring a BFA in Industrial Design from the University of Kansas. She broke the four-year program up with a study-abroad year at the Istituto Europeo di Design in Madrid, Spain--and also spent a summer at Japan's Doshisha University in an intensive Japanese language program. With her Bachelors in hand and a good grasp of Nihongo, Montes applied for, and scored, a Japanese-government-sponsored MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) research scholarship, which allowed her to pursue a Masters Degree in Design Strategy at Kyushu University.

Montes capitalized on her time there. "During my three years at Kyushu University's Graduate School of Design," Montes writes, "I conducted on-site research with several artisanal furniture companies in the southern island of Kyushu to uncover the mindsets, approaches, and techniques that they used to incorporate sustainability into their products.

"By speaking in Japanese to furniture company owners, woodworkers, material providers, and other people involved in the creation of artisanal furniture, I got an inside look at their mindset and how they approach their role as creators of quality wooden furniture.

"After concluding my research and identifying sustainable techniques common to many artisanal Japanese furniture manufacturers, I incorporated some of these techniques and approaches into my own furniture collection."

"My experience living in Japan made me realize how environmental differences can impact a culture's views on design."

Congratulations to Ms. Montes for executing a long plan that has culminated in a simple, sturdy and attractive line of furniture. We look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

Want to read about another designer with a long and effective game plan? Check out "How Michael DiTullo Designed His Way to Success."

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infini
3 days ago
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Dutch Design Week 2018 Highlights: Robot Love

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Large-scale robots by Jelle de Graaf

The Robot Love exhibition was one of this year's visitor magnets at Dutch Design Week, located at a historical factory for dairy production (Campina). The factory was closed down three years ago and is now establishing itself as Eindhoven's newest cultural hotspot. The industrial architecture and raw aesthetics made it a perfect location for bringing a large audience of humans in close(r) touch with robots.

"Can we teach robots how to love, and what can humans learn from them?"

Contributions from over 50 artists are exploring the emotional bond between humans and robots. Robots and artificial intelligence (AI) are seen as newcomers that need to learn and be educated. Unlike a robotics tech-show, this exhibition is clear call for mutual attention, care and love.

At the factory's entrance, we walked by a large-scale robotic mother and child who seemed to share our curiosity for the exhibition. Read on for a few more of our favorite discoveries at Robot Love.

Hello Grotto

The Grotto by Bart Hess
The Grotto by Bart Hess

This is not what you would typically expect when entering a robot exhibition. In the center of the big factory hall, Grotto, formed by enormous latex pillars, demonstrates an extreme robot physicality.

Dutch designer Bart Hess created this piece back in 2015, and it is probably one of the largest pieces in his explorations on materials in relation to the human body. The Grotto installation raises questions about the materialization of robots. Why is the prevailing image of robots still that of smooth and cold machines resembling people?

We spent some time waiting for any motion within the installation but soon realized that these anonymous columns of wrinkled skin were here to stay.

The Waiting and The Tourist

The Waiting by Margriet van Breevoort

When we walked by this humanoid walrus waiting on a bench, we were not sure whether it wound start moving. The hybrid sculptures by Dutch artists Margriet van Breevoort are so hyper-realistic that they alienated completely situations like waiting on a bench. We took this photo carefully to avoid interrupting the walrus that starred into the distance waiting for something, someone. Perhaps for another creature joining the bench?

The Tourist by Margriet van Breevoort

With her sculptures, Margriet seduces us to believe in something impossible. Later on we looked into the eyes of The Tourist, which seems to be a traveler from a distant world, lost in the here and now. Where does this tourist come from, and to what world does he or she belong?

Kitty AI

Extract from The Kitty AI : Artificial Intelligence for Governance

Pinar Yoldas is known for her futuristic projects at the intersection of art and science. In her latest video work titled "Artificial Intelligence for Governance" we arrived in 2039 where a 3D-animated cat had taken over the world. The Kitty AI spoke about the past crises that could not be solved by our politicians, such as refugee policies and climate change issues.

The adorable cat seemed harmless, but once it explains the inability of humankind to manage the complex issues of our planet—and why she had to become the first non-human governor—this kitten is more serious than ever.

Annelies, Looking for Completion

Annelies. The android robotic sister of Angelique and Liesbeth.
Annelies. The android robotic sister of Angelique and Liesbeth

Who is this crying woman in the corner? At first we were surprised to see people taking pictures instead of helping her, but we soon realized that this was an android. Annelies is a robotic clone that looks exactly like Angelique and Liesbeth Raeven, better known as the artist duo L.A. Raeven. The identical twins are known for celebrating their symbiotic relationship through artistic performances.

Their android robotic sister cried in the corner and demonstrated the lonely feeling of being incomplete without the other(s). She responded when people got close to her and looked up when being touched—but her silent crying never stopped. She was an impressive example of how pure electronics and a silicone skin is able to make people feel emotions and transmit the feeling of loneliness. View a video here.

Visit Robot Love

During the Dutch Design Week, the daily queues demonstrate the curiosity and endurance (and love?) of the visitors

The Robot Love exhibition is realized by Ine Gevers and the Niet Normaal Foundation. The goal of the exhibition is to create awareness and get people out of their comfort zones in a positive way. The diversity of the exhibits and surprising approach to robotics and artificial intelligence made us see things differently and question today's status quo.

Robot Love is still on show until 2 December 2018 at the (ex) Campina factory site. There is also a book publication of the exhibition. For more information and bookings please visit www.robotlove.nl

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infini
9 days ago
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Jinta Hirayama’s Illustrated Fireworks Catalogs from the 1800s

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Jinta Hirayama was an enterprising pyrotechnist who, in 1877, founded The Hirayama Fireworks company in Yokohama. Hirayama had come from Mikawa Province (modern-day Aichi Prefecture) which was famous for their fireworks and he recruited several firework artisans to come work for him. Japanese fireworks at the time primarily emitted only subdued orange hues but Hirayama […]
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infini
11 days ago
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Gloves designed for medical emergencies

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Gloves designed for medical emergencies

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infini
90 days ago
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A History of Furniture, Condensed Into Easy-to-Digest GIFs

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As Christopher Schwarz wisely pointed out in our interview with him, it is generally rich people who determine our furniture design cues. In other words, if you go to a museum and see a chair from ancient Egypt, or the Renaissance, or the Art Deco period, it's a piece of furniture that belonged to a rich person. That's why it survived long enough to make it into the museum. The stuff that poor people sat on generally makes it into the MoMA.

Which means that any "History of Furniture" class or exhibition is really a "History of Rich People's Furniture," at least until you reach the Mid-Century Modern period, and since there have always been more poor people than rich people, is not really representative of furniture that most humans experienced.

So it would be silly, would it not, to assemble facile GIFs that condense the History of Furniture down into 15 frames.

Silly, but still fun to watch. So here it is (put together, bizarrely enough, by Angie's List). Happy Friday, folks.

Chairs

Dining Sets

Sofas

Desks

Beds


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infini
94 days ago
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