I don’t think I’m back yet, but..

Honestly, I don’t think I’m back yet.  Things remain in a state where I’m not feeling too good about posting much of anything anywhere, and I have no idea when things will begin to straighten out.

I am really only popping up to mention that I actually, miraculously, made the Designboom Crystal Vision contest deadline (which is tomorrow), by submitting my entry at some obscene hour of the morning this morning.  Apparently, they have over 4,000 entries at this time, so my chances of winning aren’t great- I am sure there’s lots of great designs and products out there.  Still, I’m glad to have made the deadline (I am now, rather with trepidation, reviewing the submission to check for typos. )

Project in Miami continues.  Clients still lovely.  Doing endless small revisions which matter in the long run, but are fussy and time consuming.  Looking forward to handing over all the plans/elevations/sections/details, and The Big Book to the clients for review.

I’ve seen some great stuff posted elsewhere recently (since clearly I have nothing good to say), but in particular, today, this showed up at Design Hole, and Dezeen has the goods on the new “fabric concept car” from BMW.

No, seriously guys- checkkit:

I’m going to go bury myself in AutoCAD again now- I just know I’m going to need to make shop drawings…

*ding*. Model’s done.

I’ve been working furiously for the past couple of days finishing up a 3d model for the project in Miami. It’s a basic model, looking to define space and function and making sure all programmatic needs are met. There’s a couple of small changes that I still need to make (discovered after the fact, of course) but they are minor, and I should be able to get them done tonight with little problem.

One would think it gets easier from here, but actually it only gets harder. The next thing I’m going to do is make a small PowerPoint presentation to go over all of those programmatic needs and where they’ve been met by design, and how the design concept fits into all of them. Actually, that part is also easy (just takes a little time.) Where it gets harder is once that’s done- which is making the project fit the budget. THAT’s hard. This part is easy.

But now that I’m done with the furious Miami model making at the moment (DGD is brought to you by the letter M today, apparently), I realize my house is a mess (well, I knew that the last time I tripped over something.), I need to do some work on budgetary planning for a project in Los Angeles (don’t get excited, LA people- I’m not coming out there.), do some knitting, do some software tutorials for some of the various programs I’m working on, and work on my submissions for the DesignBoom Swarovski Crystal contest.

Speaking of contests, the Designer of the Future 2008 awards were announced yesterday at Dezeen.

Though I didn’t win, I’d like to thank everyone who nominated me- that was very kind of you.

The comments over there (and there aren’t many) would indicate that most people aren’t thrilled with the results. It’s all so subjective, I can’t even begin to get myself involved in that. However, with no offense intended *in any way* towards Max Lamb(whom I don’t know, so this isn’t about him personally- Max, if you’re reading this, congratulations on your win), I have problems with that bronze chair in terms of the method of its creation (again, this isn’t an issue of aesthetics. ) I can absolutely guarantee that I have (significantly) more bronze casting experience than either the designer or the judges here (really, unless someone else has worked for a foundry for several years, they can just take a step back now.) I don’t care what it looks like- I care that the process used to make it was absolutely toxic(more so than regular casting), and there are ways to get that same effect that would have been less so.

(for the link phobic- this is the chair in question)

Bronze Poly chair, by Max Lamb

At a time when the industry is working so hard on issues of environmental concern and sustainability, it bothers me that this particular example is being shown as something that is given awards.

And now, I’m off with my camera. The Bus Stop Magnolia is blooming.

Back from Brooklyn.

Things I realized yesterday:

-Without the other supporting materials (.pdf book, in particular, the boards are mostly irrelevant) I should probably rework the .ppt of my thesis or write myself some damned notes.  Option 2 is more likely.

-Folks either get it or they don’t. (Which I knew before, actually.)

– I speak much less out loud on an average day than I thought.  By the time I got home last night, my voice was hoarse.

– Though public speaking doesn’t bother me mentally, it beats the hell out of my body.  All the tension is held there and not in my head. (not that I’m complaining) But by the time I got home I was in a lot of pain once the adrenaline died down.

– I will probably be asked to do this same presentation again at CUNY.

Anyway, yesterday went well.  The other project which was presented was excellent. I hadn’t seen it before, and was very impressed with the level of conceptual thinking that went into it.  I actually enjoyed it more the second time I saw it, because I  knew what was coming and was able to concentrate more on some of the deeper elements of what was going on.  Very innovative stuff, and the designer and I got along very well from the get-go.  Though our projects were on the opposite end of the spectrum from one another, our approaches and personalities are similar.   I might talk more about it when I get home today, as it really is worth a better explanation than that.
Poor Jack. He’s probably still recovering from having both of us around at lunch, talking about cyanide in apple seeds. 🙂

I have another busy day ahead, and really only barely have time to type this up quickly.  But I wanted to mention a concept that speaks to designing any kind of “community” gathering place-

If you don’t create a way for people outside the community to also come and learn things and feel welcome, then ultimately you have failed the community you were trying to reach in the first place.  I don’t mean in the sense of “trying to get other people to join”.  I mean in the sense of educating others and ultimately reducing the level of fear-based discrimination and anger in the world.  If all you’re doing is rigidly caring about those that are your primary users, you’re failing in your mission, because that lack will come back and bite you in the ass later.

It’s a sound concept. Keep it in mind.

That sound you’re not hearing is the sound of “busy”.

We are entering into the stage of the project in Miami where the real challenges are making themselves known. I am used to this. To me, this is not stressful. No one’s money is being wasted, nothing has been ordered. No irrevocable changes have been made. Right now, it’s just pictures on paper (both actual and virtual) But again, I’m used to this.

This stage, which is really the stage two of the design process for me(in my own personal numbering system), is when you start designing the space and seeing potential issues. Most of them, I catch before the clients know they exist. Sometimes they catch them. That’s why we are a team, and if you don’t look at it like that, you run the risk of a continually bruised ego when your client asks a good question, highlighting something you haven’t yet considered. But if you’re a team, then it’s great- everyone is helping everyone else. It’s all in how you look at it. It’s better for your gastrointestinal system to look at it in the most stress-free way. When no one is losing any money, there’s no reason to freak out. I am the very picture of zen on this at the moment.

Every project is a learning experience. You always come away with more information than you had going in. For me, the first bit of learning experience has to do with how buildings in south Florida are constructed, vs. those in other places, since I’ve never worked in FL before. For those of you who think there can’t possibly be that much of a difference, I will mention that there are no basements in New Orleans, because the water table is so high. You have to consider seismic activity when you’re working in California. NYC has more regulations than most countries.

And in Florida? They’re allowed to build on grade. We’ll see how much of a nightmare this turns out to be. Jury is still out. I need to see the original plans for the house. Either way, the challenges are not impossible. It’s just a matter of how much money it takes to fix them, and whether or not that’s realistic.

ETA: I’ve been told by Jay Maynard (yes, *that* one) that I need to define my terms. He’s probably right, and this is an example of how buildings vary from place to place.  In this case we’re talking about houses, just so we’re clear.

In places where you have real winters, it is important that the foundation of the house go below the frost line. That is to say the depth at which the ground freezes.   How far below varies from place to place, but the point is that where you have frost, you have a frost line, and your foundation needs to go below that so it doesn’t crack like a cracking thing with the freeze/thaw cycle in the earth surrounding your house.

In some places, there are other problems. They don’t have frost, but they have other issues. In California, those issues are usually either related to earthquakes or mudslides.   In places like New Orleans, the water table is so high (since so much of the city is below sea level) that there is no such thing as “underground”.  Even in cemeteries, people are interred in mausoleums rather than being buried below ground because they just won’t stay buried. They’ll come floating by, and no one wants that.

In many locations, none of these issues is really a problem and builders are permitted to build “on grade”, that is to say, right on the ground.  No basement, no crawl space, no frost line, no nothing.  The ground is compacted and then a concrete slab is poured right on top of that in order to form the foundation of the house.   In recent years, with increased hurricane activity in the Gulf of Mexico, some locations have taken to going down 12 inches in order to anchor the house to the Earth just a bit more, but that’s not necessarily mandated by law.

The reason why a house on grade is kind of a pain in the ass, is if you have to reroute the plumbing, because there’s no way to access it without digging it out of the concrete slab, digging yet another trench where you want it to go, and burying the whole thing again after you’re done.  When you have a basement, you don’t have to care about this stuff- your plumbing is accessible.

In other news, I am presenting my thesis (yet again) **TWICE** tomorrow at Pratt in Brooklyn. There’s two sessions- one at 11am and one at 2pm. According to Jack, it’s open to the public, and I’ll put the information on a “When” page as soon as I’m done with this post. There is also another designer presenting her thesis project as well. My understanding is it’s some kind of anti-war museum. That’s all I know, honestly. I’ve never met the girl and am not familiar with her work.

I still need to get things straightened out with the ICFF, and I still need to work on some scale models of the Boingy chair.

Back to work.

ETA: Since the news has broken and I am sure I’ll see the news 100 times today, Jean Nouvel has just been awarded the 2008 Pritzker Prize.

This one:


Not this one(especially since he’s dead anyway.):

Pritzker Prize

There’s always a food analogy to be made.

I took the weekend off from writing, largely figuring with the holidays and all, no one was really online anyway except me. But I didn’t take the weekend off from working. In fact I got a lot done on the Miami house project, which is starting to congeal.

Yes, I said congeal. I find that design is a lot like making either chocolate pudding or hollandaise sauce. Take your pick. The point is that there’s a while at the beginning where you’re stirring and nothing seems like it’s really happening though you’re certainly stirring a whole lot. And then, all of a sudden the whole thing comes together and becomes food in one shot. Boom. Pudding(or sauce. Your call.) .

Aside from the fact that I now want chocolate pudding (or maybe hollandaise sauce.), that’s the best analogy of how work went this weekend. Miami has started to congeal. How’s that for a visual?

This is looking like a super busy week as well since I have a lot of projects on my plate, all of which are demanding attention.

But aside from doing a lot of work on my own stuff over the weekend, I did get a boost of inspiration from this, which I saw over at momeld(they got it from Nat. Geo.) I have been fighting the urge to pull out my flexible shaft tool (I actually own three of these, and they’re far less obscene than their name would imply) and my box of micro drill bits to try to do this myself(I’m also thrilled I actually have everything I need to do this already in my house.) I do think that at some point I’m going to have to try this, though. It’s just so COOL. This work was done by Franc Grom, an artist from Slovenia.





And now, back to stirring my congealing projects.

Tools of the trade.

This is one of those posts where it’s stuff that designers/architects/engineers already know all too well, but the general public doesn’t quite have a handle on it as well as (at least I) wish they would.

Though what we do is a creative job, at the heart of it, it is a technical job (see: differences between designers and decorators, part #5,781).

A lot of it comes down to margin of error. Though it is true that clients have been known to bitch mightily about a difference in color so slight as to require a spectrometer in order to detect it (I suggest smothering them with the offending throw pillow at that moment, thereby saving the rest of us from having to deal with these same people later), if the pillow is 1/4″ larger than you expected, it probably doesn’t matter.

For the rest of us, 1/4″ is an ocean.

To put this in terms the average person can easily understand, the margin for error when designing something like your kitchen is 1/16″.  Any more than that and you’re going to notice. Any more than that, and you have problems filling the gap. Any more than that, and you’re pretty much screwed.

No pressure, right?

But the other part of this being a technical job is having to keep up with all the technology that comes along with it. Yes, I still think the folks at AutoDesk are sadists, but I still am using AutoCAD 2008(thank goodness for the classic interface.)   There’s a whole bunch of people who still prefer to draw things by hand, because  that works for them.  They’re comfortable with hand drawing and they have something that resembles a natural ability to draw with something that approaches a reasonable degree of accurate perspective.

I am not one of those people. Faulty brain wiring has made that >< shy of impossible.

For the rest of us, thank goodness, there’s computers.  The downside is the endless array of complex software packages you’re expected to learn and master in order to keep up with the industry.  AutoCAD is industry standard, though not every office uses it. Some use other things like Microstation.  AutoCAD is like chess- there’s always some trick you never knew was there that you can learn, but the basics come with only a few commands.  It’s an incredibly complex program- but you really can learn how to slap it into submission pretty quickly and be able to put out perfectly usable documents.  It’s complicated enough that some people specialize in doing nothing more than creating CAD documents. I am not one of those people, but I am glad they exist.

But in the past ten years a whole boatload of very powerful graphics programs have become part of the designers tool kit.  Of course none of them work with the same set of commands,  look the same or are even very intuitive.  The struggle is always “how many of these tools can you learn to wield”, because you never know who is going to require you know how to use which one.  And if I said that learning all this stuff wasn’t tiring, I’d be lying.  Even a program that’s designed to be simple isn’t quite *that* simple when you’re first learning to use it.  I’ve known people to completely boggle at my abilities using photoshop, but how to do it didn’t just leap into my brain-cause learning that shit was a pain in the ass.

Today’s pain in the ass has been Sketchup, which I find so far to not be as simple as FormZ, but simpler than Photoshop.  I am sure that in two months time I will be very comfortable with it.  Today is not two months from now though, and I feel like my brain has been put through a blender after 12 hours of hacking away at it.

The good news, having nothing to do with the little model I have been trying to build all day, is that I finally have a workable design(you will note I said design, not sketchup model) for the island in that kitchen in Miami.   Which I will build in AutoCAD tomorrow just so I have something to send to the clients (in plan and elevation, of course) and then go back to learning to build it in Sketchup, trying frantically not to cave in to the desire to just build the damned thing in FormZ and be done with it.

Or 3ds Max.

Or any other of the five or six other programs I have kicking around here.

My brain is full.

So much for a narrow focus.

(Y’see this is why it’s a problem.)

Because this post is all over the place.

I entered the DesignBoom/Swarovski Crystal product design competition yesterday. Sadly, that’s pretty much all I’m allowed to say about it in public because of the rules of the contest.  Stay tuned, sports fans.  Oh and please, don’t talk about the contest with me here (beyond the usual generic comments.)  You can always contact me via other means if you need to know something.

I also registered to attend this year’s ICFF here in NYC.  This would be my first time going.  In previous years there was always something that screwed with the scheduling and I couldn’t make it.   Hopefully the registration goes through smoothly(nope. I have five days to fax them a crapload of stuff. Damn it.)  and I’ll be able to give everyone a full report of all the interesting and inspiring things I find. I assume they will let me in with Ye Nikon o Wonderment, but  I suppose I’ll find out (and not the hard way, cause I am *not* traipsing all the way down there for them to fight with me at the gate over my damned camera.)  I also want to scope it out because I am strongly considering exhibiting there next year with one of my own furniture pieces.
Which I guess means that now is as good a time as any to talk about that.  I really like designing furniture.  I tell people all the time, and this is the absolute truth, that I design furniture because I hate shopping.  I would rather design it myself than have to shop. I also find that a custom solution is very often the best one, but mostly I just hate shopping *that much*.  (Yes, I know I’m anti-social. I’ve been told.)

I admit, when I went into design school I had no idea that I’d wind up being the kind of designer I am when I came out the other side.  I do think I was more prepared than most of the people that were there with me, since I’d been working in the industry (just not as a designer) for so long before I decided to just go under the rock to get my most recent degrees.   And I’m grateful that my department chairman was (and I have no doubt still is), a sadistic, brutal, workhorse of a person (whom frankly, I adore to bits- you either love him or you hate him, and I think he walks on water.)  because I do believe honestly that he made me a better designer (even if I did tell him to go fuck himself on a regular basis for years.  He got used to it.  Yes, I know I’m anti-social. I’ve been told.)

Anyway, back to furniture. See, one of the problems with being as introverted (not shy, just introverted) as I am is that you often have an exposure problem. Unfortunately, the meatspace world still overwhelmingly works in favor of extroverted people, and I promise I’m never going to be one of them. So you may do a lot of really good work, but no one ever sees it because you have to deal with all those people, and you’d rather eat ground glass than have to do that on any given day.  It takes you a little while to find a series of coping mechanisms so you can interact on that level.

I have finally worked it all out to a point where I feel comfortable looking into getting at least one of my furniture pieces prototyped.  There’s a steep learning curve involved, but fortunately I know smart people who are able to assist.  I’m going to try to get the simplest one done first, since simple means less likely to have some kind of serious problem.  So, fewest materials, easiest construction.  Fortunately, it is the kind of piece that would fit in quite nicely at any ICFF event, so I am going to try to work it out somehow.

The first thing I looked into was getting a patent on the design. It may be that I wind up sending the design out overseas to be prototyped, and I really, *really* would like not to run into 40zillion of my chairs on sale on Canal Street before I ever get the original prototypes back.

Fortunately,  I know a smart person at the patent office, who kindly looked into it for me,  and told me that the expense wasn’t worth it- that the only way it’s honestly worth it is if you have the money to actually sue if the patent is violated, and patent suits are super expensive.

Well, poop.

My personal familiarity is with copyrights, not patents (I used to be a musician- I was smart enough at the time to take a course in copyright law.) So, my understanding now is that though the images of my chair are protected under copyright(and they are.), the actual physical product wouldn’t be. The expense of all of this now clears up a lot in my head about the proliferation of knockoff designer furniture out there. Now it all makes sense.

So I suppose the first steps are to find out what materials are most appropriate for the finished product (who knew there were so many kinds of rubber?) , and to work out making what I suppose could be called a pre-prototype out of “some other material that I can put together in my house”) in order to work out the engineering- how many pieces the chair will need, how it should be put together, etc.
Maybe I should do it in miniature first. That sounds less daunting. I see injection molded plastic and tool dip in my future.  Also, gathering a bunch of stuff to prove my credentials to the ICFF.  Bleah.