Sometimes, indulging in too much of a good thing can be wonderful. On rare occasions it might even be good for you. For anyone with an insatiable curiosity, a graduate show – with its abundance of eye-catching creations and thought provoking concepts – is an example of one such satisfactorily opulent occasion.
The second half of the Central Saint Martins’ annual graduate show, dedicated to showcasing design, graphics, and material exploration, took place this June and, as Studio INTO’s Joanna Brassett has this year had the enviable task of tutoring some of the final year product design students, I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the opening night.
Joanna had supervised a selection of the students personal and client projects., among them a group project done in collaboration with McCain, entitled ‘The future of the potato (it’s not a chip!)’. This humorous brief produced some ingenious products, including a wearable snack targeting ‘scooter-set’ school children and a new take on edible energy boosting gels, also made primarily from potatoes. Reassuringly however, I don’t think the chip element of Friday fish dinners will be jeopardised any time soon.
Graduation exhibitions, as environments of excessive creativity, are not only a place for inspirational indulgence, but also present a great opportunity to spot emergent socio-cultural themes. Although we find ourselves in a time where once easily identifiable trends have been replaced by a steady bombardment of short lived micro movements – whose main objective increasingly seems to be to demonstrate of their novelty rather than their relevance – there were a few poignant trends that transpired the show that I’m sure we will be seeing more of in the future.
Although we have yet to see any truly ‘Jetson-esque’ gadgets being mass produced, I am sure no one will have managed to avoid the ubiquitous hype of how smart wearable technology is soon supposed to be transforming everyday life. It was perhaps rather expected then that one of the most notable themes addressed at the show was intelligent objects and Big Data. Most evident at the product and graphic part of the show, many student explored the potential benefits from harnessing big data, and the new moral philosophy that could develop as products get smarter. Ideas ranged from concepts that I would be thrilled to see on next year’s Christmas list, to speculative products I hope remain dystopian predictions. One of the more optimistic student was Kehan Yu: “Connected products can be seen not only as tools but also as devices which can give active responses. An intelligent sensing computer would understand its users’ behaviours and serve them similarly to a servant aiming to reduce its master’s burden. A personal Internet of Things could create an efficient and sustainable future.”
Another prominent, less anticipated theme, saw projects focus on alternate health care and the process of death. These students had highlighted varied issues such as the ageing global population, our obsession with cleanliness and a changing religious landscape as factors affecting our current mental and physical health. There were apps for self-medication, a dispenser that would expose you to bacteria as you slept, paraphernalia for modern burial rites and digital services for remembering the lives of deceased family and friends. One exhibiting student, Simon Drake said “Memories of people, places and events in our lives are inescapable. So it follows that the many objects we come in contact with represent an attachment formed with people, places and/or events. Over a lifetime this can become a rich collection of ephemera that reflects our individual and/ or collective journeys.”
Since my own graduation I have noticed a growing general sentiment that despite today being a time of stuffification, design continues to blindly add to the ‘object overload’, increasingly disconnecting itself from both the industry and changing social values. As editor in chief, Robert Thiemann, said in the June/July Issue of ‘Frame’: “What bothers me is that an industry so deeply engaged in innovation – literally from day one – pays so little attention to broad social shifts and technological advances.” But, having seen what this years’ students have produced I can, with renewed confidence, beg to differ.
Whilst it might be true that most of the projects on display will not in their present form make it into our everyday lives, the overwhelming evidence of student’s awareness of real social issues and exploration of new materials would lead me to believe that at least some of them will not go on to just make ‘new stuff’ for the sake of it.
Let’s hope that the inspiring optimism and enthusiasm present during the opening night of their show remains with the graduates once they leave the university-incubator, and that they remember that as designers –thinkers, makers, doers – they should dare to apply themselves to bigger things. By tackling social and technological change with an inquisitive, provocative and entertaining mind set, I would like to believe we will see the new graduates go on to make big waves in the services and systems of the real world.
Then again, being a Central Saint Martins alumni, I was perhaps always going to be biased.
Nathalie Jerming – Havill
5th August 2015