This semester at University of Michigan School of Art & Design I am teaching an elective studio course: (ArtDes 300.015) Post-Optimal Objects (POO). This course focuses on designed objects and their cultural contexts. The class participants are exploring the territory between fine art and design and addressing approaches for developing the aesthetic and critical possibilities of objects outside a commercial context. Participants are also investigating various ways of creatively communicating ideas about objects, such as making appearance models, mock-ups and storyboards. The creative works made in Post-Optimal Objects will be shown as prototypes or communicated via publication (online or print). Participants are thinking conceptually about what they want to achieve, translating these ideas into visualizations, and developing some of these into fully executed and documented works. Digital 3D modeling, scanning, laser cutting, and rapid prototyping can be used together with traditional media such as wood, metal, and plastics.
We started the course with Product 2.0: Design Yoga - a couple of quick projects to introduce the themes of the studio and to establish a number of generative brainstorming techniques. The first exercise involved the Critical Browsing of a list of practitioners’ websites that could be considered to be producers of Post-Optimal Objects. The purpose of this was to identify some characteristics of what might constitute a Post-Optimal Object. The goal was to come up with a working definition of what a Post-Optimal Object could be. This resulted in a Post-Optimal Mindmap.
Next, we generated some Random Products using manual and online generators for wacky product ideas. We spent some time playing with these tools to come up with some interesting textual descriptions/titles of Post-Optimal Objects and developed short statements that contained an outline of a situation, context, problem, need or opportunity that each of these objects addresses. From online image-hosting sites we found images for each of these 'objects'. These images were not necessarily representative of what the objects were but characterized the values or intentions that might support the objects that participants had come up with. The combinations of the description/title of the object, short statements and images were then shown as presentations.
Examples:Soni-Pill® - these easy to swallow little pills actually prove that your internal body movements have a music of their own! Just take one of these tiny, FDA approved pills, turn on your Bluetooth-compatible computer and be amazed as they convert your digestive habits into melodious music to your ears! The music changes with your diet and their position in your digestive tract! Pills stay in your system for approx. 1 day, then come out the other end for easy disposal in your toilet. Safe for flushing! (By Robert Lester).
Random words: bubbles, robots, iron lungs.
An iron lung meant for kids that provides entertainment as well. Every time with then child takes a so-called 'breath', the machine emits bubbles of varying colors, shapes and sizes. Keeps the child alive, keeps you happy and gives you a reason to stay by their bedside to visit until they are better. A critique on the willingness of people to visit their hospitalized loved ones over time. (By Lilienne Chan).
The first full project was a Product Autopsy. The aim of this project was to gain an understanding of and to re-conceive a product through its dissection and reconstruction. The goal was to uncover the Post-Optimal potential of an existing object by conducting a Post-Mortem on a disposed-of designed object. Participants explored how materials, manufacturing techniques, systems and values are brought together in their chosen objects by taking this product apart systematically and documenting this process. Once the object had been dissected and its function and design had been analyzed the task was to re-make the object in a manner that is ‘emotionally-durable’.
“In their current guise, consumer products lack the sophistication and layered complexity for this degree of long-term empathy to incubate. Most consumer products relinquish their tenuous meaning to a single fleeting glance, while rarely delivering any of the life-altering rewards they so confidently promise. In this respect, waste is nothing more than symptomatic of a failed user/object relationship, where insufficient empathy led to the perfunctory dumping of one by the other.”
“… designers must first increase the intensity and perceptibility of subject-object dependency, enabling products to achieve deeper and more immersive modes of prolonged user engagement. This can be achieved in numerous ways: but if the simulation is not genuine, it will be cast off by the user as gadgetry or a deceiving quirk. The illusion of dependency is therefore insufficient; we must conceive products that actually depend upon users and genuinely need our emotional and physical support in order to survive - facilitating the creation of authentic and meaningful interactive experiences that go beyond the virtual, toward the actual.”
“It is therefore essential to avoid the notion of industrial design objects as static in meaning and appreciate that, like paintings and literary works, the meanings evolve over time.”
From: CHAPMAN, J., 2005. Emotionally durable design: objects, experiences and empathy. London: Earthscan Publications Ltd.
(By Devon Russell).