Kyoorius Designyatra 2009: Ross Lovegrove on detailing in product designs

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | September 07, 2009
Lovegrove, an industrial designer with a studio in Notting Hill, London, spoke of the intricacies involved in product designing at the Kyoorius Designyatra

On Day1 of the Kyoorius Designyatra 2009 in Mumbai, the first thing that speaker Ross Lovegrove, industrial designer, said (in not so many words) was that he hated his designation. The designer of suave products around the world remarked, "I never really liked the term product designer as it sounds commercial. On the other hand, industrial designer sounds like you fix engines." He added that the term designer itself is perceived as an old-fashioned one, and people are often left guessing what it is that you exactly do.

Having thus 'un-defined' the vocation of design, Lovegrove plunged on, quoting Leonardo da Vinci: 'He who walks straight, rarely falls'. "But I can't do that, I'm all over the place!" he quipped.

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On a more serious note, the 51 year old Welshman said that at his age, he has witnessed the evolution of design from geometry to airbrushing, to the more sophisticated digital age, and has come to the conclusion that design is a human activity. "This is a paradox as the world of design is intricately linked with technology on one hand and the human element on the other," he remarked.

Furthermore, when one has a global clientele, as Lovegrove does (he operates out of a studio in London), then one must also take care of cultural elements while crafting designs.

He went on to give examples of his own work while designing products, beginning with a water bottle design for a client in Europe. The design was made in acrylic, but the actual bottle was a PET. Lovegrove and his design studio took inspiration from several means: they studied works of da Vinci, and to understand how the texture of water should look in a bottle, Lovegrove even dived to the bottom of a swimming pool and looked up towards the water to see the form of the reflection. It was then decided that the bottle should be firm but flexible: it would assume the shape of the hand holding it, as well as change shape accordingly when the level of water went down. A 'changing, living sculpture' is what he called it.

"It costs 4,000 to create such a bottle in Europe," shrugged Lovegrove, "and the client sold 20 million such bottles - ah, this was eight years ago."

A more recent example of well crafted product design would be an Issey Miyake watch designed by Lovegrove. The watch is almost deceptive in its simplicity as he decided to keep it simple, elegant yet stylish, and most importantly, with a human element to its shape. "Often, product designing is like manufacturing a car: you design it whole, but when manufacturing, you split it up into parts," he said.

While giving the example of designing bathroom accessories for Vitra in Istanbul, Lovegrove made use of ceramic: a solid, made liquid, then solidified again. Many elements that go into design making are expensive and hard to obtain, hence the room for mistakes is minimal.

"They say the first mistakes were made in Terracotta as it is a cheap material - if you make a mistake, you can throw it away," he said, adding, "However, with today's expensive materials, your design better be feasible in the first shot." Design, therefore, also involves science: often, errors like wrong angles or incorrect fittings are corrected in the design stage itself.

On his favourite design/art destinations (particularly in the context of designing chairs) Lovegrove hailed Milan as a place with a flair for artistic representation, while in China, "there are cheap chairs that will do the job, but they don't say much." Furthermore, he added that the problem today is that the world has more artists than designers, and the skill lies in identifying the difference.

Lovegrove concluded with an example of the MUON speakers he designed for KEF Audio Systems. These speakers were designed using aluminium technology, with particles of carbon in them, which made them three times less the size they would have been otherwise.

"I loathe this American word, but I'll say it: awesome! That's what KEF is known for - sound that surrounds you like air." A polish of natural aluminium gave it a sleek look. Further, as these are speakers of big height, Lovegrove even took care of their synchronisations with the floor on which they were displayed. These speakers have been displayed in museums of modern art at Milan.

"There's no formula to do design, you have to do research on how to fuse craft with technology - it should be nothing more, and nothing less - just right," signed off Lovegrove, who admitted he draws inspiration for designs from things which grow and evolve naturally.