Dialogue: Product Placement - Design Bureau

Product Placement

Corvo Chair by Bernhardt Design from Sight Unseen on Vimeo.

Tractor Stools by Bassam Fellows
Tractor Stools by BassamFellows

Bluff City Light by Jonah Takagi
Bluff City Light by Jonah Takagi

Nixie Wall Clock by BDDW
Nixie Wall Clock by BDDW

Circus Shelving by Matter Made
Circus Shelving by Matter Made

Dialogue: Product Placement

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Name: Julie Taraska and Kimberly Oliver
Location: New York
Occupation: Julie Taraska is a freelance writer, editor, and curator. Kimberly Oliver is a publicist who works with designers and design retailers.
Company: Product Placement

Julie Taraska and Kimberly Oliver are the co-founders of Product Placement, a blog and ongoing series of design events that concentrate on process within design. With a background in PR and journalism, the pair exposes the rarely known back stories of designed objects.

As writers and curators, how does talking about the design process — inspiration, intent, materials — inform your practice?

Julie Taraska: I’m a huge believer in understanding context, as it can completely change meaning and intent. Nothing exists in a vacuum. I can’t fully and fairly assess an object without knowing its process. Plus my job as a writer and curator is to connect with people about design. To engage, educate, evangelize, and even entertain. Being able to speak about the design process, rather than just the finished product, gives me more angles from which to do that. More entry points. It’s like having eight extra letters in the alphabet.

Kimberly Oliver: I am a complete nerd when it comes to learning about how things are made. I want to share that fascination with others. In terms of my audience, as a publicist in the US, I’ve seen a growing interest in heritage, craftsmanship, and the hand of the maker. The process of creation is part of the story that more people want to hear — it’s not enough for a designer or manufacturer to say that something has quality, now it’s about showing the quality by revealing how the object is made. For instance, one of my clients last year introduced a wood chair that, though simple, had curves that were too complex to be cut by a CNC machine. It literally had to be shaped by hand. Simply saying that the chair was handmade would get lost in marketing materials, so the company shot a video showing the chair being crafted from start to finish. Revealing the process demonstrates the “worth” of the piece.

It’s not enough for a designer or manufacturer to say that something has quality, now it’s about showing the quality by revealing how the object is made.

How can going “behind-the-scenes” deepen critical design discourse?

KO: Initially, it levels the playing field by giving people the tools to talk about design. After all, how can you discuss design when you don’t even know the vocabulary? This is particularly true for our Product Placement events, as we make a huge effort to reach beyond the choir — i.e. to make the event approachable for people interested in design but not necessarily trained in the field.

JT: Second, I feel discussions are more productive when there is a clear framework. So if I plopped down a blue box in front of you and said, “What do you think of it?” you might not know where to start. But if I spoke to you about my choice of materials, the method I used to make the box, et al., then we could hone in on those aspects and have a useful conversation about them.

By talking about what happens before the object happens, how can we address wicked problems in design?

JT: It allows us to break into steps a large chain of decisions. That in turn makes it easier to reflect upon each step and, if necessary, tweak it. For example, there was this one company that was trying to manufacture an eco-friendly office chair. It used green materials, but then assembled them in a way that consumers and recyclers could not easily separate the pieces—and thus couldn’t be bothered to recycle them. By realizing that and changing a small piece of the process—using a different way to affix the pieces, so disassembly was a snap—the company solved the problem and kept thousands of chairs out of the landfill.

Did the first version of the product look different than the second version? No. But the process made them two vastly different things.

Why aren’t there more conversations about process?

JT: Kimberly and I started Product Placement because in the States, design coverage has gone the way of the blurb; there is scant space to discuss more than dimensions, materials, and colors available. We get it: we live in a time of sound bites. But we wanted to offer an option.

What have you been up to this week?

JT: Part of the week I spent in Milan, reporting on the Furniture Fair and ancillary events, and the other in New York, writing it up and recovering.

KO: I was also in Milan, supporting Kartell with their whirlwind of Salone [Internazionale del Mobile] activities, and then retreated to Provence for a few days of rest and relaxation.

Anything lately that has made you look twice?

JT: I’m on a vintage kick, so I’ve been watching ’70s films and listening to post-punk albums like the Feelies’ Crazy Rhythms and Gang of Four’s Entertainment!

KO: I’m slowly making my way through Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next by John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay.

What designer or studio should we have started watching yesterday?

JT: Studio Formafantasma (Two product designers based in Eindhoven)

KO: Jonah Takagi of Atelier Takagi. His work is quiet but will last.

Best exhibition you’ve been to lately:

JT: Italian Dream Factories at the Triennale Design Museum in Milan. (It’s on until February 2012, so go see it!)

KO: The Venini 90th Anniversary presentation at Museo Bagatti Valsecchi during Salone. Glass is one of my favorite materials, and Venini’s craftsmanship is amazing. I was struck by the Campana brothers’ “Rivivo” sculpture, which is this eight-foot-tall column of broken glass (it reminded me of Ingo Maurer’s “Porca Miseria,” which is an all-time favorite).

Favorite person to follow on Twitter:

JT: @NeilHamburger. Some of his stuff is ehh, but his tweets answering inane corporate questions are side-splitting.

KO: @gary_hustwit. Director of HelveticaObjectified, andUrbanized.

By Sarah Handelman

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