“It’s not like it’s a science,” says Brooklyn designer Chen Chen as he’s mixing up a batch of cement in the Brooklyn studio he shares with collaborator Kai Tsien Williams, attempting to explain why he can’t offer an exact set of measurements for replicating his concrete bookends. They’re fitting words to have chosen, though, coming from him: The Shanghai-born, Wyoming-raised designer had two chemists for parents, and yet it seems like his entire practice has revolved around losing control during the design process rather than maintaining it. Since he joined forces earlier this year with Williams — a fellow Pratt grad who also runs the design fabrication business Three Phase Studio — the pair have spent most of their time together choosing offbeat materials like expanding foam and studio scraps and experimenting for weeks to see what kinds of unexpected effects they can elicit from them. Their breakout project this past May, designed for Sight Unseen’s Noho Design District pop-up shop, was a set of drink coasters made by wrapping bits of neon resin–soaked rope, animal bones, and offcuts around a wooden core, then slicing the whole mess open to see what might lay inside, with the results being different every single time. Granted the pair now profess to be working on an extremely functional storage system that, while modular and customizable, otherwise has the exact opposite ethos, but so far, it’s their work’s freewheeling and slightly bizarre quality that has so captivated the New York design scene. While the Metamorphic Rock Bookends you see here are technically a design of Chen’s, from just before he teamed up with Williams, we still thought they were a great example of the typical Chen-Williams methodology, so we asked for a lesson in how to make them, and Chen kindly obliged.
Clemence Seilles was only four months into a job at Jerszy Seymour's Berlin studio when she started to feel it: that restlessness creatives invariably get when they're unable to fully express themselves. It's not that the job wasn't fulfilling — it was, and more — but working fulltime meant Seilles hadn't yet found a way to devote attention to her own projects. "I had this idea to make a piece that would do the work for me, something that would happen when I wasn't there," she recalls. One morning she hung a few felt-tip pens from the ceiling of her apartment, their tips pressed down against a sheet of Chinese rice paper, and left for Seymour's studio. "When I came back that evening, the work was made."
If London designer Dominic Wilcox's illustrated blog Variations on Normal is like a comic diary of conceptual one-liners, it's also filled with ideas that often seem too good to be true — what if we really could buy a device to remind us of people's names in awkward social situations? And who doesn't need a little "hill-walking easyfication" sometimes, even if wedge-shaped strap-on shoe platforms aren't exactly a commercially viable product? So when Wilcox was invited to participate in this year's Anti-Design Festival at London Design Week, as part of an exhibition called "Mistakes and Manifestos," he set himself a challenge: to execute one creative project per day for 30 days, with a budget of 10 pounds per day, in effect testing his ability to bring his idea-generation skills off of a sketchpad and into real life. "Speed Creating," as the project is called, documents his attempts to fabricate his cleverest, most fleeting whims — for better or for worse.
The brief itself was simple: Design and build something to sit on. It was the execution part that was hard. From April 16–21, four sets of young American furniture designers each took a turn in the open studios at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design, each with a single purpose: to build and assemble a chair from start to finish, between the time the museum opened at 9AM to the minute the last straggler was ushered out the door at 6. The designers could use any materials they chose, and they were allowed to make preliminary design studies or prototypes before arriving at the museum, but the bulk of the construction work had to be executed on the museum’s 6th floor — in full view of school tours, visiting tourists, families, and itinerant design geeks who wanted a peek at the action. But the exercise wasn’t some reality show–like competition to pit designers against each other or to see whose design would reign supreme. The event was part of The Home Front, a museum project curated by Surface editor Dan Rubinstein, who spearheaded the whole thing in order explore in-depth the business of being a designer in America today.