It seems ironic that the design school at Northumbria University‘s two most famous graduates would be Max Lamb and Jonathan Ive. At one end of the spectrum is Lamb, a designer so consumed with the act of making and the transparency of process that he films himself fabricating each piece from start to finish and posts the results on his website. On the other is Ive, who’s responsible for an object that’s more of a cipher, one that conceals its mechanics within and successfully erases any questions about the way it works or the context in which it was made. But perhaps the difference between the two designers is as simple as the difference between their concentrations at university: Ive graduated from a Northumbria program known as Design for Industry, which focuses on consumer experience, while Lamb finished a course called Three-Dimensional Design, where the act of making is as paramount as the artifact itself.
It’s the latter program that’s yielded the Designers in Residence who have exhibited at ICFF, for two years running, a collection of products known as Tools for Everyday Life, and it’s in Lamb’s footsteps that those designers follow. The residency program offers resources and workshop space to design school graduates who stay in the Newcastle-upon-Tyne region, and the pieces in the collection use the utilitarian language of those workshop tools as a jumping-off point. This year, the collection — which ranges from spun-copper lamps to cabinet pulls reminiscent of things like wing nuts — picked up an ICFF Editor’s Award for best products and accessories, and the booth’s elegant offerings set the blogosphere salivating. But few fairgoers seemed to have noticed a small newsprint takeaway at the booth called The Northern Tool, which documented the process behind each of the objects in question. Luckily your eagle-eyed editors spotted it, and we’ve reprinted for you its highlights along with images of the objects for anyone who didn’t make it to New York.
Juliette Warmenhoven grew up in Holland’s so-called bulb district, near Haarlem, in a small village called Hillegom. Her father is a flower farmer. If it all sounds very quaint, it might have been 20 years ago — but then tulip production went the way of the meat industry thanks to globalization, and farming became a race to create the maximum amount of homogenous bulbs in the shortest amount of time. “My father feels farming is like working in a factory now,” says the Arnhem-based designer. Just as shrink-wrapped steak has been divorced from the killing of the cow, plants are more about the perfection of the end product than the actual growing process. “I believe that when you explain that process to people, they get more feeling out of it,” she says. For Everyday Growing, her graduation project at Arnhem’s ArtEZ school, she built a series of small monuments to plants’ humble — and often imperfect — origins.
As a high school student in Vienna, Thomas Traxler followed a course of study fairly typical for Austrian teens. Having had the choice to either study liberal arts — as his future partner Katharina Mischer was doing — or to specialize, he chose to immerse himself in the world of automation techniques. Typical school projects included constructing a kind of assembly-line handling system to transfer goods from one conveyor belt to the other. “It prepares you to work in an engineering office constructing machines that eliminate the need for people,” Traxler, now 29, explains. “It wasn’t creative at all; you had to make things the cheapest, fastest, most durable, and easiest way. After the third year, I knew I didn’t want to continue.” When he ended up at design school as an undergrad, where he met Mischer, the pair were pretty much coming from opposite worlds: She was interested in art, nature, and the unexpected, and he was still learning how to reconcile those things with his inclination for the mechanical. So in a way, their collaboration was both perfect and inevitable. “In technical school you’re trained as a technical idiot — you’re not meant to think out of the box,” he says. “So it’s important to have the perspective of someone who’s not in the box.”
Australian wine capital Adelaide has a population of 1.3 million, putting it on par with Dallas or San Diego. But as native Daniel To sees it, it’s a big city with a small-town mentality — one that nearly consigned him and his wife Emma Aiston to a life designing laundry lines. “We met at the University of South Australia, where our design program was heavily engineering based and suited to what’s required for the city's industry,” explains To. “Adelaide has three main manufacturing companies: one making garden sheds, one light switches, and a third clothes-drying lines.” Rather than learning about mid-century modern, Memphis, or the Bauhaus — all of which would later inform their work as the independent studio Daniel Emma — the pair were taught to perfect their technical-drawing skills and gear up to become cogs in the local wheel. Just as they were starting their final projects in 2006, though, they had a kind of mutual awakening.