Traditionally design is defined by problem solution. You create a product as an answer to
a specific problem or demand. But there are some designers which use design in another way: not to give answers, but to define new questions with their products. Questions about the use of the objects which surrounded us every day, questions about the function of design itself and questions about our use of artifacts. These designers perform a term which is called critical design: A special way of thinking and making. One of these designers is Alicia Ongay-Perez, a british maker and thinker, focussed on objects of
our everyday life.
Trained at the Camberwell, University of the Arts London and the Design Academy in Eindhoven create Alicia objects which cross the border between contemporary art and design. Her objects are beautiful, but every time a little bit strange and offer questions about their existence itself. For her graduation project at the Design Academy in Eindhoven she investigates in the nature of conceptual design, and create a series of objects which remind to domestic archetypes, but no longer present an obvious function.
In an interview Alicia gave answers about her education, her way of thinking and making and her opinion about value of design.
Hi Alicia, please introduce yourself a little bit
Originally from London, I trained as a designer/maker at Camberwell, University of the Arts London, and then at the Design Academy in Eindhoven, where I graduated my masters last year. Since then I have been doing a fellowship at the newly reopened Jan Van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, the Netherlands. I am a maker, but my practice is also about trying to explore the nature of the Design discipline itself. I would say that my practice is defined by thinking through making.
Why do you decide to work as a product designer?I don't really identify as a product designer, in the traditional sense of the word. By which I mean, if you think about somebody like Victor Papanek's definition of a product designer, my goal isn't really only to create serviceable objects or solutions, although sometimes I do. I have been lucky in creating opportunities sometimes to work outside the forces of the market alone.
What is your relationship to products in general?
If by products you mean objects, then I would say that I am an avid collector of objects, particularly domestic objects. But most of the objects that appeal to me are not new products on the market. The second hand objects that I collect and often work with are not of any real monetary value. Evidently we can extrapolate information about any culture by looking at its products, and I'm interest in this kind of approach.
You earned a bachelor degree from the Camberwell College of Art and Design in London and a master degree in contextual design from the Design Academy Eindhoven, a master which is focussed on the cultural and social meanings attached to products and contexts that have developed over time. How does this special context influence you and your work? Moving to Eindhoven from London - where I had lived all my life - was very definitive for me. In London I was very saturated with cultural stimulus. Eindhoven is much smaller and quieter. In this way it is a good place to reflect, but also, as a foreigner, you can offer a different perspective than a local. That is one of the reasons why I think the masters department in Eindhoven is so successful. The majority international intake, offers a very diverse range of responses. I chose the department because of its reputation for a conceptual approach, after having read 'House of Concepts' by Louise Schouwenberg, who runs the 'Conceptual Design in Context' masters programme. The philosophy of the department has shaped my practice. I was encouraged to ask questions, and it made me think more critically about what we are actually doing as designers- but particularly, what my motivations for making objects is.
a little bit?
I think it is a difficult question. I suppose I work in quite an autonomous way. Some more industrial product designers might say it was similar to the approach of a visual artist but I think my approach is very much a result of my training as a designer. I do not necessarily set out to solve a problem. I hope through observations and experimentation, to ask critical questions, but sometimes it's not always the most linear approach in design terms. For example, I am currently working on a carpet, but in the early stages of this project I was interviewing homeless people in Maastricht.
on your work?
I think we all are influenced by our context but some people more than others. I think my work comes from what is around me. I cannot and don't want to make work in a vacuum.
In the video you ask your mum if it would be good to work for the society, do you think that design, rather than objects or graphics, can have a real impact on a single person or the society in general? I think design can make a difference to your day as an individual. For example, every software update on my computer changes my behaviour without me really realising. But I think for design to have a greater impact on social change, designers should be working with policy makers from the outset of initiatives.
Do you think ordinary objects and everyday practices should be more in the focus of designers today, less than the production of art objects and beautiful surfaces?
I am hesitant to moralise about what designers should or shouldn't be focusing on. Sometimes making a useless object asks a useful question. It is perhaps a paradox within my work, but I love to marvel at beautiful hand-crafted objects as much as I love to make them. Perhaps it is facile but I have no problem with beauty or the appreciation of it.
Swallow looks at the use of archetypes in Dutch Design. Over the last 20 years Dutch Design has been littered with the quips and references to archetypal domestic objects. If you look at the Droog manifesto of the early 90's, its is about using what is already there to a certain extent; remake, remodel, reference. Swallow attempts to squeeze as many archetypes into one object as possible. So I suppose it is also a question about the usefulness of re-using what was already there.
Your work is very conceptually driven, content and concept seems more important than the form. What is your opinion to formal design aspects like color, form and composition? The conceptual content of my 3 dimensional work can often seem a little obtuse to some viewers. I think because of this I try not to aestheticise it too much, or complicate it. I like to think about what is essential; only what needs to be there. But if you talk about form in terms of shape and volume in space, I think that is very important to me. A lot of the time I will follow a process, like with Inside Out, I used flexible moulding techniques. There are some forms that come out of these processes that I discard, so there are some formal design decisions at play.
Not really in my more autonomous work, although, I would hope work I produce is not only for industry insiders. I like to think anyone can take something from Inside Out and the film, but I didn't make it to sell to a famous collector. So in this way, I suppose the customer isn't really my focus. Obviously for design contracts or commissions I have to think about a client. I recently did a project that will be mass produced. I think it is always interesting to see how much of yourself you can maintain when working for a client, whilst still appealing to them. Its a fascinating process.
See the full video and conversations about Alicia's work here.
© Alicia Ongay-Perez