Hello and welcome to my presentation on my final major piece: Baabara.
To summarise my Masters, I started by reflecting on what I wanted to achieve this time last year. In August 2016, I outlined my ambitions for the course in a blog post that bullet-pointed criteria I wanted to accomplish
[*read powerpoint* click each]
When reflecting on my initial intensions for the course, my over-use of the word brand is almost amusing. Ironically, I feel further away from the initial brand I placed myself under than ever before and instead discovered what I truly meant when I said brand: my realised design methodology. A brand normally refers to a group or organisation that involves many different individuals, whereas my aim was to find my own individually. My Masters helped rediscover my design identity.
This final project was the closing chapter where I achieved what I had set out to, in addition to overcoming new obstacles, tackling new risks and bringing everything I am as an individual onto paper, screen and embodied in a realised and resolved finished product. ‘More than Material’ was my own form of activism to articulate beliefs and morals close to my own heart for an audience to experience and challenge their preconceptions of what they had initially thought to be conscious. [click]
The Final Major Project should summarise everything I have discovered about my design and myself throughout my Masters. To simplify this, I comprised a mind-map that pinpointed each theme that lent itself to the conclusion of each unit.
Along with other reoccurring themes, authentic and honest was something I wanted to portray in the Final Major to show I had identified my own personal design methodology of [click] environmental, empathetic and ethical design. One of the most successful projects so far in the MA that I felt encompassed each of the three E’s, was my Reconnect Project [click]
My nest of stools narrative stimulated intrigue that encouraged a challenging of preconceptions and rethinking whether everyday choices were conscious. I have experienced what it was like to make the transition to veganism, along the way both succeeding, and failing, in different forms of activism to spread my message, concluding that the most successful way I had gained other’s interest into the vegan lifestyle, was with a non-threatening, non-militant, educational and empathic approach believing that one key aspect to activism is sensitivity
This theme of veganism was one I wanting to continue from Reconnect into my FMP through the medium of conceptual furniture design.
Furniture symbolises function. The message I try to convey through vegan furniture design centres on the belief that it is unethical to see animals as functional materials over sentient beings. We see domestic farmed animals as purely functional, while domesticated pets are considered family. Domesticat [click] a conceptual piece I saw in DDW that included fictional production line making cat fur jumpers created by VEEL-LEH CLOWF-HOWT, deals with similar themes noting that [click] ‘human beings have raised and adapted animals to serve to their favour (domestication); animals are being used as companions, as food, as raw material for the production of leather bags, for winning prices, et cetera. In our current Western society we are used distinguishing between so-called production animals and pets. I decided to name my final project More Than Material.
I found my authentic design is rooted within empathy, the environment and my ethics in relation to my veganism but found it difficult to transition to both a vegan and environmentally conscious lifestyle. Many choose to live a vegan lifestyle to benefit the planet, so the hypocrisy of labelling sofas and jackets made petroleum and chemical alternatives as vegan has always been difficult for me. In my research, I found most vegan-friendly upholstery and furnishing is not environmentally considered focusing on pleather, nylon and acrylic. My initial proposal was to provide both ecological and ethical furniture, as this was something seriously lacking in the niche market [click] as can be seen by this graphic. Often, animal welfare was a more important factor than environmental, yet I believe it is just as important to focus on the environment if we care for its inhabitants.
My interest in Cradle-to-Cradle design differed from the dystopian viewpoint of MC-DUN-URH & BROWN-GART and rather aimed towards a product lifecycle mimicking closed-loop ecosystems in nature. This biomimicry interpretation is something I believe will change our perception by seeing there is no true waste within nature: [click] ‘Nature does not have the design problem. People do’ (McDonough. W and Braungart. M, 2002) therefore, I wanted to use natural and subsequently, fully biodegradable materials in my furniture. I wanted to continue both an ecological and ethical focus much as I had in Reconnect offering plant-based alternatives to animal-based products in furniture. One decision I was committed to at the beginning of my project was the use [click] of cork. I had been inspired by incredible exhibitions at both Dutch and Milan Design Week, in addition to collections by IL-SAH Crawford and Lucie Koldova . Alongside my ethical message, I wanted to continue my ecological one by making the majority of my piece with cork, with a few other plant-based materials for smaller elements of my furniture.
This meant that one of my external collaborators would need to be cork supplier to provide me with the mass of material I would require for this project. I decided to work with Charles Cantrill who offered the biggest blocks of cork and provided me with samples I could test on our university's 5-Axis CNC router Testing the cork first on the router was the best protocol to see the capabilities of a new material. The outcome [show sample cork] was very impressive achieving intricate details and 2mm radius. The material worked perfectly on the router and I was optimistic for a larger furniture piece.
After speaking to our technician, in my final piece I would need incorporate the machines capabilities and limitations including the height restriction of around 300mm. This meant the full-scale model would be manufactured in several parts. This project would involve a lot of risk-taking and adaptability as I was not only using a new material but a new machining method however, I wanted my final piece to be a challenge rather than using methods I was already comfortable with. Undergoing another year of further education was a risk within itself and I did not want my outcome to reflect what I had achieved before but rather push all my capabilities to the limit to produce a unique and adventurous outcome.
The drawback of obtaining cork over the summer was the Portuguese holidays. After emailing my supplier about the possibility of a larger order in August, they informed me of a summer shutdown, meaning their last order would needed to be finalised in the next 48 hours. I did not have a final concept and therefore no final dimensions to refer to when ordering the cork. I did not want to under or over order however, I made some compromises and ordered a 14lb material, rather than the 17lb material I used in my sample, as it would be more cost-efficient and would not compromise the outcome. My order meant I had some constraint to size but it helped me, in the long run, narrow down the dimensions for the final piece. My order consisted of four blocks [click] (940x640x250mm) [click] remembering the height restriction of 300mm, which would achievable at 250mm
Initially, I was deciding between two contract market opportunities: commercial or domestic, considering vegetarian and vegan businesses, including restaurants and cafes after contacting local establishments. However, I was still uncertain whether I wanted to achieve an MA or MSc yet, the philosophy surrounding More Than Material meant I was unintentionally meeting the objectives more suited to the MA award. In hindsight, this was a fantastic opportunity to convert from a BSc to an MA by undergoing the Masters.
I arranged to meet designer Li Yeung from Deadgood [click], a UK-based furniture company that focus on the contract market. I wanted to get some insight on the contract market and ask whether he thought my concepts fit within it. He explained there are a lot more bodies involved than just client and designer including architects, interior designers and specialists, adding that [click] 'design is a business' (Yeung, L. 2017) and the contract market is very price-sensitive. Yeung said that environmental concerns were big in the contract industry, but ethical, not so much and that time was still to come. He said there definitely is a market for what I was trying to achieve, even if it was niche, but probably not the contract market.
[Click as you speak] I showed Yeung some initial ideas focused around animals farmed for their material such as cows, sheep and geese. He thoroughly encouraged to create the best representation of myself and that I have the most freedom to do what I want with almost no compromises, unlike a contracted business..
With Yeung’s advice, I explored a completely different market to the contract one and looked at retailers like Ferrious [click] in Manchester and galleries like Fumi [click] in London. Gallery Fumi [click] stood out to me especially as a potential market place as they welcome conceptual pieces selling either one off or limited edition in small units
As my market had completely changed from the mass-produced to the limited edition, I had discovered my designs could be more exploratory than I had once imagined. I started researching designers and gallery curations that displayed furniture pieces to demonstrate their own personal narrative. The Campana Brothers [click] are known for their wild and wacky designs that have hidden thoughtful narratives. They use unconventional materials in their pieces that support their narrative, including their famous stuffed animal chair to start conversations on important issues including child labour with a fun-looking piece.
Similarly, in 2009 the V&A curated an exhibition called Telling Tales [click] which featured well know designers try their hand at fine art. The curator, Gareth Williams, was asked why he thought designers go back to this kind of content, to which he answered ‘I think that they realise that design works are able to carry an awful lot of meaning and that they can communicate very well as design objects because we read them as the functionality of it, we understand it in some kind of fundamental way, and people can be touched by the content of these universal truths I suppose.’ (Willams. G, 2009). This exhibition was more symbolic than functional; a personal statement and the personal manifesto of the designer in a series of conceptual pieces centred on narrative and storytelling. It was about communicating their message well with meaning behind the pieces, free of commercial or industrial boundaries. Job Sneets from Studio Job added it was about being ‘your own curator’ (Sneets. J, 2009) and having ‘an open mind’ (Sneets. J, 2009). This curation resonated with me as it reflected how I intend to resolve my Masters, having come from an industrial BSc background, and moving onto more conceptual, MA-led pieces that will translate into my own design manifesto of environmental, ethical and empathic design through the narrative of my final piece.
My ideas and concepts up this point has centred on farmed animals whose material were considered worthier than their welfare. To secure my narrative, I knew I had to justify why I wanted to demonstrate this with the cork material. In my research, I discovered cork originated from the cork tree but instead of the traditional method of cutting down the tree to obtain the material, farmers strip the bark for harvesting.
Cork harvesting was like the plant-alternative to shearing sheep. This correlation worked beautifully with my narrative, giving my material choice a completely new ethical dimension that supported my vegan message in addition to my ecological one.
‘Domestic means an animal of a species of vertebrates that has been domesticated by humans so as to live and breed in a tame condition and depend on humankind for survival.’ (Duhaime.org, 2017). Domesticated sheep cannot shed their wool like wild sheep and rely on humans to shear them. The wool industry is successful, with success comes demand, and with demand comes the need for mass production. Shearers are often paid by commission: meaning the more shearing they do, the more money they will make. Sheep are sheared [click] from the age of one and can be shorn once or twice a year, with sheds shearing up to 3,000 sheep a day. Although cork trees are not sentient like sheep, they are harvested with the intension to keep the tree alive and healthy. Cork trees [click] take 25 years to mature and can be harvested once every 9 to 13 year. Humans treat trees better than the animals they domesticated for their own benefit.
My material choice shows the paradox in the two narratives of harvesting, challenging the audience to reflect on where materials are sourced and encourage them to source more ecologically and ethically. The harvesting process of cork is a reminder of the care and welfare that our animals should be receiving, while encouraging alternative materials that are also environmentally friendly.
I decided to centre this project around the welfare of farmed domesticated animals with a focus on sheep showing that they are more than material. After acknowledging the restrictions in size, I decided to demonstrate this narrative through a designer’s chair. Many well-established designers are famous for highlighting their design agenda in an iconic chair design. I wanted to do the same in my Final Major Project to project my unique design methodology.
I began development of my ideation [gradual four clicks] with my new cork and wool narrative in mind, focusing on the similarities in harvesting and creating different concepts that told the shearing story with the chair. Some concepts included physically removing elements of the chair to create other parts like footstools. I took inspiration from Reconnect including anthropomorphic features, focusing on hand-lathed wooden legs to capture the curves and recognisable shape of the sheep hooves. Other concepts incorporated stereotypical sheep names spray-painted on to the design to continue the theme of names over soulless numbers. This would remind the audience of the original sheep personalities who live, breathe, feel and suffer as we do.
My final design inspiration came from a comical shearing position. The sheep is upright and sitting with the shearer holding them in place [click] This inspiration point not only represents the vulnerability of the animal but also is less threatening and amusing way to entice my audience to the message of my piece. I wanted my advocacy to be non-threatening and this direction would achieve the intrigue without the using gore or scare-tactics. Themes of humour and satire are common within critical design, especially in the context of contemporary, political or societal pieces, such as mine. Dunne and Raby explain themselves that ‘the viewer should experience a dilemma, is it serious or not? Real or not? For Critical design to be successful they need to make up their own mind.’ (Dunneandraby.co.uk, 2017). My approach to activism with veganism is very much reliant on the user making up their own mind and by using a comical image, they can decide whether the piece is serious or not, opening the opportunity to understand its context, start conversations and come to their own conclusion on my piece.
To help translate my ideas into a 1:1 scale outcome, I worked with existing furniture to help me gain an idea of the final dimensions. The difficult element was finding a chair that shared the same round and low shape, as most chairs have a very rigid and straight structure. In the end, I looked at 1990’s inflatable chairs and beanbags as my main source of inspiration.
I used a beanbag that could be easy moulded into my intended shape as it allowed me to determine scale and understand where to place the legs so they weren’t obtrusive to the sitter. From there, it was easy to take rough dimensions and use both them, and my original cork material limitations and chair inspiration to calculate the scale.
I developed the final design using a combination of Solidworks and sketch-work. Using CAD helped stay within the dimensions of the cork, in addition to creating a model that could be translated into CAM with the router. Using a series of lofts, sweeps and fillets to create an organic shape I focused around a round, low and fat body with four chunky legs and hooves on the end. I positioned the seat in the middle to characterize the wool shearing on the sheep’s stomach, while providing a practical place for the user to sit where the legs would be unobtrusive. The main body, seat and chunky legs would be made out of cork but I wanted the sheep hooves to be made out of wood to give a distinctive difference between wool and hoof.
[Gradual clicks throughout] The final concept utilized the front legs of the sheep to create armrests, while the bottom two spread wide and out of the way. The seat was low down and wide with a sunken, angled seat back putting the sitter into a similar position as the sheared sheep with wooden hooves turned at a telescopic angle to portray the stereotypical characteristics.
I wanted name my piece with a stereotypical sheep name and decided on Barbara playing on the spelling ‘Baa-bara’ changing the original ‘BAR’ sound to the ‘BAA’ to imitate the sheep. This gave my piece a more light-hearted and funny initial appearance with a hidden challenging message. The branding further translates this message as I chose a spray graffiti-style typeface in a bright colour to emulate the branding of livestock sheep with numbers on their wool
One final element I wanted to incorporate to tell the story, was including wool, something I was initially sceptical of as it could have contradicted my message, but believed it would add to the narrative. Wool is something I have always associated with jumpers and hats, which are normally knitted or crocheted. I considered furniture additions that also used these methods.
An antimacassar is a small cloth placed over the backs or arms of chairs, or the head or cushions of a sofa, to prevent soiling of the permanent fabric. The name also refers to the cloth flap 'collar' on a sailor's shirt or top, used to keep macassar oil off the uniform.’ (Hugh, 1977). I wanted to knit an antimacassar that would look like the last elements of a sheep’s coat that had yet to be sheared, providing a decorative addition to my chair and improve my wool narrative.
Continuing with the use of plant-based materials, I wanted to find a high-quality white yarn to knit with that would display the quality of natural alternatives. My final material was a 100% cotton yarn [click] woven to create chunky knitting material. After exploring a variety of options, I felt a traditional placement of one large piece on the back and two on the armrests [click] would work well for my chair and would not overcomplicate the aesthetic. Including the knitted antimacassar was the final element that concluded my design story
My cork material was not only expensive but in specific supply. It was for this reason; I decided to do another test, this time of my final model but in blue foam and at half-scale. The blue foam had a similar surface to the cork so it would give a great indication of the outcome of my piece and whether my splitting method would be successful. By cutting at half-scale, it took less time to produce and only required one piece of blue foam (1000mm x 600mm x 125mm) providing a faster result that demonstrated the feasibility of my design
[Click and show model] Once again, the CNC router produced an amazing finish and brought my concept into a realised 3D form, making me more determined than ever to produce it in full-scale out of my chosen material. However, much like a lot of this ambitious final project, another obstacle arose that meant I had to take more risk and adapt my current manufacturing method. I had ordered my cork prior to knowing my final dimensions and so my final piece was constraint to the material I had. I had acknowledged the CNC routers height limitations, but had failed to consider the tooling, that could only stretch to 100mm at most, meaning the 250mm blocks were too large. My resolution to this problem was to split the 250mm pieces in half, meaning that I would have two 125mm pieces per block.
Once my material fit the height requirements for the CNC router, I could manufacture on the final piece. Four of the 125mm pieces could be cut at once on the CNC router ensuring a more time efficient process [click] meaning that the all eight pieces took only two weeks to cut. It required four days assembling the fractions together, gluing and clamping one side at a time to ensure the overall structure was secure. Owing to the nature of the assembly, there were visible construction lines on the chair, including gaps and over-hang where certain pieces did not line up perfectly, caused by potential bowing in the cork or placement of the dowels, but ultimately this was an unavoidable outcome. To improve the finish, I used a light wood filler to lighten the construction lines and fill the gaps, drawing less attention to human error, then completing a final overall sand to even out the surface of my chair. Despite the challenges, the final chair was incredibly impressive and showcased the effectiveness of using cork for my structural piece. The hooves [click] were hand-turned out of pine, the top filed with a thin rasp to create the interdigital area of the hoof, an overall stain with an Indian Rosewood tint, bringing out the intricate layers of the wood, and finished with a water-based varnish to give a subtle shine to emulate the nail-like element of sheep hooves. The hooves were attached to the arms by drilling a recess into the cork using a forster on a handheld drill [click] creating a 45mm hole for the end of each leg. The male part of the hoof slotted into into the female recess in the cork arm, with a 5mm lip to hide any unevenness the forster had created and secured into place using a vegan polyurethane glue. My cotton antimacassars [click] was knitted with chunky 15mm needles and finished with a fray on both ends. Initially, I wanted to use all three of my antimacassar to decorate the chair however, after seeing the remarkable finish, I felt that using all three would hide the intricate features the CNC had created. In the end I decided to only use one piece on the back to create my desired effect.
When my cork arrived from Portugal, I altered my CAD chair for CAM by splitting it into four pieces. But because of the tooling sizing restriction, I had to make more adjustments. As the pieces are flipped to achieve the undercuts on the router, my thinner blocks would only require 62.5mm of tooling that was fully achievable with the 100mm maximum. Subsequently, this meant instead of splitting the cork into four, [click] I would need to split the CAD into eight
Splitting the cork in half was one of the most challenging aspects of this project, as I required a saw that was over 640mm in height. After visiting many timber yards with larger machinery and either being rejected on the basis that the material did not come from that establishment or they still did not have large enough machinery to do the job, I concluded that the only viable option for splitting the cork in half was by hand with a large saw. As my pieces were each around 116mm in width when split into eight, each block had around 9mm of room for error, so providing that I carefully measured out the split line and took my time with the sawing, this method was perfectly feasible.
I was overwhelmed over how well my initial vision had translated into a realised and resolved piece. [Three clicks to start] The CNC had captured my CAD model of Baabara so perfectly, while my careful manufacture and handmade elements added the final touches to create this preliminary image. Baabara was one of the most challenging pieces I had ever attempted in my design academia, owing to all the unexpected obstacles, re-evaluation and adaptation. Rather than settling for a smaller and less ambitious final piece, which would have been considerably easier to create, I am glad that I decided to push all my capabilities to the limit, rather than accepting my limitations as defeat. There was no single simple element in this project, so it was important for me to keep a positive and motivated mindset whilst creating this ambitious piece to continue persevering in periods where I, and many others, thought this project was overly-ambitious and unachievable. [click] My determination has proven the success of a project where my design agenda and underlying message is authentic and honest and I knew Baabara would need to be an impressive final piece to gain the intrigue she required to articulate her hidden narrative. Even when creating her the workshop, the scale, incredible finish and unconventional material choice spurred this wanted intrigue I had envisioned. Passer-by’s and fellow students could not help but look, discuss and question her context. [Click ]As I added hooves, one of the final elements, her sheep form was recognised, encouraging the need to know her story. It was at this stage I knew I had exceeded my expectations, created a successful final piece and had ‘[done] well’
Critical reflection is an important stage at the end of every project and although I was incredibly proud of the outcome, there were aspects I wish I could have change. I wanted to make the piece 100% plant-based and environmentally-friendly when, in actuality, my outcome was closer to 99% owing to the glues, stains and varnishes. The reason I did not achieve this goal was because my personal economic budget; the cork was an expensive material and natural glues and finishes would have added considerably to this expense. In addition to this, using new and natural materials to replace trialled and tested products I had used before, could have potentially affected the structure and aesthetic of my overall piece, causing unnecessary additional risk. I also wanted to use natural cork but learned only in my research that these sizes vary owing to the way in which they grow on the tree, providing only around an inch in thickness, meaning I would need to use an adhesive to block up the pieces anyway.
Both More Than Material, and the Masters, have provided further clarity on my future ambitions after completion of the course. I want to work a lot closer at the manufacture stage of design, having learnt the importance of the designer’s role in the feasibility, and discovering without this knowledge it will be practically impossible convince a manufacturer that the job is achievable. In my previous course, a lot of the pieces were theoretical and never put into practice, just articulated through CAD or purely aesthetic models, however working with CAD alongside CAM I have seen how successful the image on the screen can be translated into a finalised, full-scale piece. In addition to this, I want to continue improving my making skills with the aim to one-day work for myself providing environmental, empathetic and ethical products including more contextual pieces, like Baabara, as a form of non-threatening activism.
I am happy to conclude that as I refer to those initial intensions prior to the course, I can see where I met each one of my goals by being authentic to myself through my design methodology. [Click] Rather than a brand, I created the foundation for my design agenda, that will be instilled in whichever path I choose to go down in my design career, whether this be a mass-production route where I am the voice for the environment and the animals, or whether I choose to continue more bespoke creations of my own and explore more contextual avenues connected to my methodology. I discovered the importance of concluding a project with a realised and resolved final piece, where the user can feel, interact and understand through interaction with the piece, a note I took from the various design shows I visited over the last year. [Click] Whether it has been a business, engineering, materiality or contextual unit, I have centred all outcomes of the units around the critical themes of the environment, empathy and ethics. This resolved methodology has been synthesised through Baabara, my most challenging and high-risk project, which forced me well out of my comfort zone in respect to my previous design. By shifting from a BSc to an MA, I have explored a whole new world of design, where the focus is not just the function, but instead the deeper context and narrative that encourages the user to think and challenge their preconceptions. [Click] I have discovered new areas of interest including critical design, biomimicry and Cradle to Cradle and become more open-minded to not just take project design at face value. Finally, I have continued my on-going pursuit from my degree to becoming a more responsible designer, taking a new and innovative approach to vegan activism, creating a piece that is subtle, intriguing and thought-provoking rather than the using aggressive tactics and graphic imagery to make my point, finding this method to be more educational and encourage sustainable change.
[Click] Overall, working full time on the Masters was harder than I could have ever imagined but I was successful owing to my time management, motivation, belief in my design philosophy, adaptability, willingness to take risks and step out of my comfort zone. By keeping the end goal in mind, and working with the obstacles and challenges I was faced with rather than finding an easier option, I ‘did well’ , as I had intended. I proved that I can push my boundaries and face whatever challenge that comes my way using problem-solving skills. In the end, Baabara is a beautiful piece that I am proud to put my name on.
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