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Design Experience That Matters: Here's a Look at Our Build Process

Core 77 - Mon, 2017-04-24 20:59

Fabrication is always a blast, second only to field research in the hierarchy of excellent things about working in social impact design. It's an opportunity to escape our desks, and trade the abstractions of post-it notes and design frameworks for the satisfaction of creating tangible, physical things. 

At the end of last July, our focus on the summer design sprint for our Otter newborn warmer shifted from background research and product positioning to prototype fabrication. We drank lots of coffee and racked up the miles, dividing our time between DtM's Salem studio and the Autodesk BUILD Space in Boston.

Our goal was the development of the Otter's "alpha prototype," i.e. the first generation prototype that integrates both how the product works (warming elements) and how the product looks (user interface and overall aesthetics). A successful prototype would help us test our most critical assumptions about product features, manufacturing methods and price point.

Here's a look at that build process.

Machining molds with a CNCVacuum forming the bassinetsDesigning and testing the temperature control system

MCM Furniture Design History: Kai Kristiansen, Danish Modern's Last Living Legend

Core 77 - Mon, 2017-04-24 20:59

In the last MCM Furniture Design History post, we mentioned that Kaare Klint founded the furniture design department at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1924 and influenced the next generation of Danish furniture designers. The designer in this week's MCM Pick of the Week, Kai Kristiansen, is one of those designers.

Kristiansen's style, presumably informed by Klint, is known for clean lines, functionalism, and Kristiansen's own outside-the-box thinking.

Born in 1929 in Denmark, Kristiansen began studying under Klint at the Academy in 1949. At the age of 26 Kristiansen had set up his own studio, and produced his first "hit" design in 1955:

That's the #42 Chair, created for manufacturer Schou Andersen. It was radical at the time in that the rear legs, not the front legs, were what supported the armrests. Also note that the suspended backrest appears to float, with no vertical support members coming into contact with it. This chair is recognized as a classic example of the Danish Modern style.

Kristiansen scored another hit two years later with the design of a modular wall system. In 1957, three years before Dieter Rams designed the 606 Universal Shelving System for Vitsœ, Kristiansen designed the Reolsystem Wall Unit:

It was well-received, both domestically and internationally. While much more of a commitment than purchasing a standalone wall unit, the Reolsystem was popular because the end user could arrange and customize a variety of storage components on it to their specific needs.

The Reolsystem was produced by Danish manufacturer SB Feldballes Møbelfabrik, one of the many manufacturers Kristiansen was contracted by. (Others include Fritz Hansen, Magnus Olesen and FM/Fornem Møbelkunst, who took over production of the Reolsystem in the '60s.) Kristiansen designed chairs, desks, sideboards and wall units. The sideboard that Mid Century Mobler showed us as their Pick of the Week was also produced by SB Feldballes Møbelfabrik:

This is not one of Kristiansen's smash hits; it is a more workmanlike piece, designed for people's homes rather than a museum, and we must look closely at it to see what is significant about it. First off this piece was designed in the 1960s. To provide some context, let's look at this earlier sideboard designed by Kristiansen in the 1950s, here integrated with the Reolsystem:

As you can see, both the bureau and the sideboard have legs connected to each other by an apron or stretcher:

The Find of the Week sideboard, in contrast, has no apron at all. Kristiansen has pared down and minimalized the supporting structure as much as possible; the legs are connected only by two lintels running front to back, and these make the connection to the casework.

Photographed from this low angle, the lintels, though recessed slightly, are visible:

However, when seen from the angle at which this unit would most commonly be seen and interacted with--which is to say, standing height--the lintels disappear from view:

On the thin legs, the casework thus seems to float.

Like most mid century modern pieces, the casework itself appears seamless. The corners are mitered.

The faces of the drawers inside are pure form-follows-function, with a gentle curve cut into each face to admit fingers for pulling.

No fasteners are visible throughout, and the use of materials other than wood is sparing. Felt lines the drawers to prevent objects within from sliding as the drawer is opened, and the tracks that the sliding doors run on are presumably metal, but that's about it.

In the photo directly above, you can also see that the sides of the drawers are grooved, to accept the wooden runners affixed to the interior of the case. And looking inside the case, below, we can see three rows of holes beneath the two existing drawers:

These are undoubtedly to support additional runners, and it's likely that the customer had the choice, at the time of purchase, to specify how many drawers they wanted the unit to contain. It might not be as configurable as the Reolsystem, but there was still a measure of customization available.

Kai Kristiansen is alive today, and still actively engaged in design work, well into his 80s. Just last year Kristiansen released a new line of entryway drawers called Entre, produced by Danish manufacturer Great Dane. 

You can read the story behind those here.

Mid Century Modern Find of the Week: Kai Kristiansen Cupboard

Core 77 - Mon, 2017-04-24 20:59

This small, two door teak credenza was designed by Kai Kristiansen for Feldballes Møbelfabrik in the 1960s.

Originally, this piece would most likely have been paired with a modular wall unit.

These are typically found in small flats in and around city centers like Copenhagen, being used as hallway or entry chests.

Two sliding doors open to reveal two bays with an adjustable shelf and two drawers.

To provide context, Core77 is producing a companion entry on Kai Kristiansen and Feldballes Møbelfabrik. Stay tuned!


This post is provided courtesy of Mid Century Møbler, which specializes in importing vintage Danish Modern and authentic Mid Century furniture from the 1950s and 1960s.

Reader Submitted: Say Hi to LoLo, Kitchen Storage with a Smile

Core 77 - Mon, 2017-04-24 20:59

Traditional compact kitchen cabinets take up unnecessary space in the office and end up cluttered with junk.LoLo, themodular micro-kitchen, is a modern and flexible kitchen alternative for small spaces in offices, hostels or even at home. Designed in Russia, it is produced by furniture design start-up LLLOOCH.

The uniqueness of the LoLo concept is that it organizes space and provides an aesthetic solution for public areas such as meeting rooms, receptions or open offices.

View the full project here

High Design: How Cannabis Dispensaries Actually Work

Core 77 - Mon, 2017-04-24 20:59

It's a complicated but exciting time to talk marijuana in America. The medically invaluable and minimally harmful drug is fast becoming a socially normalized staple crop. But for folks in states where progressive values and massive tax income are less important than ineffective and racist drug policy, the idea of buying a scheduled substance so openly can feel mysterious and complicated. In part it is, but dispensaries are using design to fix that.

Cannabis stores in legalized states are at the crossroads of innovative retail and shifting legal constraints, and how they work IRL is fascinating. To get a sample of where the visionary edge of the industry is headed I toured Farma and Serra, two of the most cutting edge dispensaries in green-obsessed Oregon, to interview their buyers and budtenders. Farma was founded by cannabis researchers with an eye towards consumer education. Serra (Italian for "greenhouse" but rumored to be a reference to sculptor Richard Serra) was opened with an aim to bring cannabis to the more sensual and modern lifestyle.

Let's start with a standard tour. When arriving outside a modern dispensary you'll usually be met with tasteful signage and frosted glass windows, or a peek into a chic waiting room. This is because some jurisdictions disallow direct view into the sales floor, much like sex toy shops or strip clubs. Similarly it can double as security for the shops themselves - cannabis is not cheap merchandise. 

Farma, Portland OR

On entering a shopper will often be greeted by a front facing attendant who checks your ID for age, and might direct you to wait for a few moments. This is to manage the number of shoppers to salespeople - usually referred to as "budtenders" - to meet a legally required balance. While it might be mandated for security purposes, the high ratio of staff to shoppers also makes for ready access to product and information.

At this point the experience diverges a bit by each shop's ethos, but certain trends are already blooming. It's not common to see many symbols of traditional stoner culture - you'll find more attractive tilework and exposed brick than blacklight posters, and the color green and cannabis imagery are played down. You will however find clearly labeled and presented examples of the merchandise, be it flowers, oil, cartridges, concentrates, or edibles. Each shop tends to specialize in a particular category or a brand-tailored selection. 

Farma, on enteringFarma, looking back toward lobbyFarma

Farma for example prides itself on an exhaustive and deeply researched array of flower. Serra offers a more curated range, with an eye for experiential categories. Whatever the focus, each store usually has an internal method for communicating the "type" of high or range of experiences each offering can confer. There are often visual scales showing how intense the effects will be cerebrally or physically. This leads to the second important trend.


Budtenders are crucial to the modern dispensary. You can treat it like a liquor store - order by brand name and get out - but you shouldn't. All cannabis sold is tested by the state to ensure it is safe for consumption, and this usually includes a chemical breakdown of the active elements (the different cannabinoids and terpenes) in each strain. But because research linking strain chemistry to user experience is still nascent, the chemical fact sheet can only say so much about what users can expect. At shops like Farma, that fact sheet is both part of the buying process and part of the staff's research work well before it hits the shelves. They collect multiple user accounts from within the team, comparing their different dispositions and outcomes and triangulating with the vendor information.

Pairing the concrete testing information with a range of subjective experiences allows the budtenders to make exacting buyer-specific recommendations. Some users struggle with pain, anxiety, insomnia, low THC tolerance, or not laughing at stupid cartoons enough. Knowing first-hand how each strain may interact with personal factors is vital in making helpful suggestions for customers. 

Ben Frothingham, a budtender ("and some other things") at Farma describes the small team's genuinely excitement about triangulating official research and crowd-sourced industry data. "The impact of better information on people's lives is incredible. [Budtending] can be treated casually, but helping people make better decisions about their bodies is amazing."

If this sounds more complicated than the old Indica-vs.-Sativa, upper-vs.-downer way of describing weed experiences, it is. Every cannabis professional I talked to described the incredible value of working with customers directly, as a chance to explain how much broader the range of possible experiences really is. A seasoned budtender at Serra (called 'docents' in house) noted that convincing shoppers to consider other factors than THC content per dollar results in some of the biggest improvements in user experience. Getting high isn't a single line spectrum from sober to fucked up, it's a three-dimensional map, like wine or whisky if those could also alleviate multiple sclerosis symptoms. 

Serra, Portland ORSerra

Because of this, budtenders are a cross between research librarians and boutique attendants - they're equally ready to give you a closer look at a sample or to break down common side effects if you're the paranoid type. 

The third macro trend in cannabis retail and design is pushing the sales and use experiences to reflect the breadth of options already present. Rather than emphasizing strain name or chemical breakdown alone, dispensaries are starting to break strains out by the general field of experience they fit into. Not everyone wants to dig into the science, but they deserve to have clearly delineated options for "invigorating and not distracting" or "plaster me to the couch." 


While trying to class up the appeal of weed, shops like Serra maintain a tactile and cheery attitude about the stuff. Their store isorganized to help shoppers peruse by vibe, with standalone tables full of beautifully arranged product and accessories, a far cry from the sterile glass cases of more traditional dispensaries. Letting shoppers interact with product without having to ask is a great shift in hierarchy in an industry traditionally run on insider knowledge and secrecy. Serra highlights their categories through the full product line, offering options like locally made co-branded chocolates that feature their curated cannabis blends. 

Serra x Woodblock Chocolate

The docent I met with also waxed poetic about the sculptural ceramics and accessory design coming out of the woodwork now that in-state sales are legal. Serra has previously teamed up with designers like Ben Medansky to make design inspired pieces that look perfectly at home in trendy households.

Soleri-inspired pipe by Ben Medansky

When it comes time to buy things get a little oldschool again. Some shops post pricing on boards like at the bar, others have tasteful menus like your favorite overly serious pop-up restaurant. In any case you just ask a budtender for the strain and amount you've decided on, and they leave to their vaults to get it. Thanks to The Man, credit card processing isn't a good idea, so get ready to use an on-site cash machine and pay by hand. 

Once cash has been exchanged, you'll usually be holding an airtight container of product inside a larger child-proof bag. Swankier places might send you out the door with a cute gift bag. None of it is terribly low-key, but that's kind of the point. Shopping at a dispensary is a normal high-ticket shopping experience, with a few federal kinks thrown in. By blending the sterile authority of medical spaces with the friendliness of local boutiques, modern dispensaries are positioning themselves as welcoming gatekeepers for a previously off-limits culture.

Design Job: It's Electric! Tesla is Seeking a Color, Material, and Finish Designer in Los Angeles, CA

Core 77 - Mon, 2017-04-24 20:59

The Role As a Color, Material, and Finish Designer at Tesla Motors, you will be part of a creative team that is responsible for designing the future of transportation. You will work to translate trends into award winning designs that inspire customers throughout the world.

View the full design job here

Brain-Stem-Storming on Cognitive Systems and Advanced Technologies

Design News - Mon, 2017-04-24 13:28
April 26, 2017Embedded Systems Conference - BostonMax MaxfieldElectronics & TestConsumer Electronics, Electronics & Test, Design Hardware & SoftwareIn the context of embedded systems, I've started using the term "Advanced Technologies" to refer to things like cognitive (thinking/reasoning) systems, artificial neural networks, deep learning, machine vision, virtual and augmented realities.

Nanofilm Acts as Electronic-Device Tattoo for Wearables Apps

Design News - Mon, 2017-04-24 10:47
April 25, 2017Electronics & TestElizabeth MontalbanoResearchers have developed processes and materials for electronic-device tattoos, taking wearables to the next level.

Sculpture Becomes 1st Artwork 3D-Printed in Space on ISS

Design News - Mon, 2017-04-24 10:32
April 27, 2017Elizabeth MontalbanoMaterials & AssemblyA sculpture that represents human laughter has become the first piece of art to be 3D-printed in space thanks to a collaboration between NASA, Made In Space, and the Israeli artist Eyal Gever.3D Printing

Brown Recluse Spider Offers Clues to Developing Stronger Materials

Design News - Mon, 2017-04-24 10:21
April 24, 2017Elizabeth MontalbanoMaterials & AssemblyResearchers are studying the way the brown recluse spider spins its webs to provide clues for developing stronger and lighter-weight materials, such as those that can be used in space.Materials

Smart Building Automation Leverages System-Integrated, PC-Based Control

Design News - Mon, 2017-04-24 09:47
April 27, 2017Al PresherAutomation & Motion ControlIndustrial standards for automation and control, multi-core processing and integration with media technologies offer new options for smart buildings.IoT

Prepare to Network Furiously at ESC Boston 2017

Design News - Sun, 2017-04-23 22:11
April 25, 2017Embedded Systems Conference - BostonMax MaxfieldElectronics & TestESC is a wonderful opportunity to meet up with old friends and to network furiously with new ones.

Meet the Brain Behind ESC Boston 2017

Design News - Sun, 2017-04-23 20:15
April 24, 2017Embedded Systems Conference - BostonMax MaxfieldElectronics & TestWe're going to have some very exciting news regarding the session, "Building an Artificial Brain" at ESC Boston!

Motion Magic's Trippy Endless GIFs

Core 77 - Sun, 2017-04-23 19:58

A graphic designer going by the handle Motion Magic has mastered a new art form. Neither still photograph nor video, s/he has struck upon a mesmerizing balance between the two:

"When creating this effect on still images, I take great care in the small details that help to add a more realistic feeling in the movement," the designer writes. "It's as if the moment captured is brought back to life with an endless mesmerizing motion effect." 

As for how s/he does it, s/he starts with a still image and transforms it using a program called Plotagraph Pro.

You can check out more of Motion Magic's work here and here.

Milan Design Week 2017: Exhibitions Around Town

Core 77 - Sun, 2017-04-23 19:58

There are always the industry veterans who lament a decline in the quality of Milan design week, but all told it was a solid one, with as many highlights as ever before. Sure, that might be attributable to the surfeit of events and exhibitions, but rest assured there is far more to see than we can possibly include in our photo galleries.

From the cavernous spaces of the new Ventura Centrale district to showrooms and palazzos throughout the city center, here is a selection of photos from the Fuorisalone to complement our picks from the student exhibitions.

Maarten Baas, "May I Have Your Attention Please?"For the inaugural Ventura Centrale design district, Maarten Baas came up with an attention-grabbing audio installation.Photo credit: Ray HuMaarten Baas, "May I Have Your Attention Please?"The exhibition marked the debut of the Maarten Baas 101 Chair for LensveltPhoto credit: Ray HuMaarten Baas, "May I Have Your Attention Please?"The chair takes the Dutch designer's signature child-like style.Photo credit: Ray HuVentura CentraleThe new district, launched by the same folks behind Ventura Lambrate, repurposes the tunnels underneath the train tracks leading to the central station.Photo credit: Ray HuVentura Centrale - Baars & Bloemhoff presents "Transitions II"The materials consultancy brought the second edition of its "Transitions" exhibition series to Ventura Centrale, following its debut at Dutch Design Week in OctoberPhoto credit: Ray HuVentura Centrale - Lee Broom presents "Time Machine"Always up for a spectacle, London-basedLee Broom celebrated his tenth anniversary with "Time Machine" in MilanPhoto credit: Ray HuCOS x Studio Swine, "New Spring"The sensory installationmay have been pure spectacle, but it was widely regarded as a must-see during design week.Photo credit: Ray HuFormafantasma, Foundation: "Ellipse"For their solo exhibition "Foundation," the Amsterdam-based duo presented several new lighting experiments at Spazio Krizia.Photo credit: Ray HuFormafantasma, Foundation: "Magnifiers"Some pieces are from their "Delta" collection for gallery Giustini/Stagetti, Galleria O. Roma.Photo credit: Ray HuFormafantasma, Foundation: "Riflesso - Test 2"Others are experiments for their first industrial-scale project, for FLOS.Photo credit: Ray HuView the full gallery here

Hand Tool School #28: How to Apply Masterpiece Wood Finish

Core 77 - Sun, 2017-04-23 19:58

After I finished building a pedestal table based on the Hancock Shaker Table, I thought I'd try a finishing system I hadn't used before. I went with the 3-part oil-and-wax finish made by Masterpiece Wood Finish. Here I'll share my experience with it.

Deciding if This Finish is Right for Your Piece

First off this isn't a highly durable finish, and not maintenance free either; if your furniture will get a lot of heavy use then this may not be the best solution, or you may want to combine it with a varnish topcoat or something similar. For this table it will be fine, as it won't see more than a vase of flowers or the occasional paperback book.

The real winner about this type of finish are the oil basecoats that sink into the wood and give it that depth of color and natural luster. I built this table from some beautiful Walnut that already had lots of contrasting purples, tans and chocolate browns in it as well as a bit of curl figure on the central column. I knew the oil would highlight this character well. The addition of wax gives the woodworker the ability to adjust the shine of the finish while still keeping that depth and close-to-the-wood, finished look and this seemed like the perfect thing for my lovingly created table.

How Does This System Differ From DIY Oil and Wax?

As best I can tell, the Masterpiece system, while not terribly different from a can of Linseed oil and some paste wax, does simplify some elements and make the application pretty idiot proof. I haven't been able to get a clear answer on what "blend of oils and waxes" they employ (trade secret no doubt) and how this makes their finish superior to the DIY method, but the step-by-step instructions and premixed jars of finish do make the whole thing a lot easier with no guesswork. So if we assume the actual finish is no different, then I think this system still comes out ahead in application ease. But I'm getting ahead of myself, lets break down the process:

Step 1: Two coats of the oil basecoat

This is the money coat! The dry wood is very thirsty and will soak up the oil quickly. You want to apply a very wet coat, and give each about 20 minutes to penetrate then wipe off the excess. Then allow at least 24 hours to dry between each coat. It doesn't get any simpler than this. I even rubbed it on with just my fingers (with gloves). Immediately it brought the wood to life.

Step 2: Two coats of oil and wax blend

I do think the midcoat step here is a plus over the DIY oil and wax finish, as it acts as a pore filler to give you a ridiculously smooth final surface. If your project is using a closed-grain wood like Maple or Cherry then this may not be a big deal to you, but with a semi ring-porous wood like Walnut, it really leveled and smoothed out the surface nicely.

Unlike the basecoat, this step is more like applying a really viscous wax. It is even a bit grainy in texture. I found this step worked best if I heated the jar a bit in my glue pot water bath; it allowed the finish to flow more readily.

You slather on a heavy coat, let it soak in for 20 minutes then come back and wipe it off. Allow another 24 hours to dry between coats here as well, as there is still oil in the mix and without proper drying time the surface will be tacky. Don't panic it goes on in a white, waxy, pasty mess and covers up your beautiful oil finish; you might immediately start to panic thinking you just ruined it, but when you come back and wipe it down with a paper towel you see the magic come to life.

Use a little elbow grease here to build up some heat and you will start to see a lovely warm luster spring up out of the wood. One coat at this phase would probably work for most species of wood, but I found the second coat to be an insurance policy to make sure I had a perfectly smooth surface for the final step.

Step 3: One coat of wax

The final step is all wax, and it looks and applies just like you would expect it. The key here is less is more. Wipe too much wax onto the surface and you will end up with a hazy white-ish surface later on.

The process is to wipe on the wax, let it dry, then buff to the desired luster. The drying time really depends on how thick a coat you apply. Again, err on the side of a really light coat and you can expect it will be dry and ready to buff in a few hours (or to be safe, twelve hours later). If you find that you didn't apply enough wax, you can always apply another coat, but I can't overstate how you want to be careful how much wax you apply.

I actually waited almost 36 hours for the wax coat to dry (life intervened) and buffed the surface to a nice satin finish just using a paper towel. I then waited another two weeks for the finish to fully cure before going back and buffing again. If a high gloss finish is desired I would definitely wait at least two to three weeks before attempting it as you want the wax to be dry and hard. Though if a high gloss is your aim, then perhaps going with a different finish altogether is a better option.


There is no question this is a labor intensive finish; expect to take at least five to six days to complete the finishing process. Then add a few more weeks to the mix for that curing time, during which you want to put the piece in a well-ventilated area and put nothing on the surface. The results I think speak for themselves; the hand rubbed finish looks nice but most importantly feels incredible. This is a good thing because the finished look begs to be touched and you will find everyone who sees it immediately reaches out to run their hands over the wood.

Another nice factor of this specific finishing system is they provide you just enough to complete a typical project. For my small little table I had about half of the volume left over but I imagine a chest of drawers or a chair or table would use up the entire amount as designed. I would plan on having topcoat left over and for at least an annual reapplication as needed to maintain the luster. This is one of the drawbacks to a wax finish, as ongoing maintenance may be required. A lot depends on where the project sits and what kind of use it gets and how it is cleaned. Some dust products have oil and wax in them while others actually strip away wax.

If more durability is required, then you might skip the topcoat of wax and apply a varnish top coat. If you are worried about adhesion after the oil and wax midcoat, then a wash coat of 1/2- to 1-pound cut Shellac will ensure a good bond for your topcoat. I would use a super-blonde Shellac too, so as not to impart any additional color.

In the end, I have a mixed review on this finish. It worked as advertised and I have no complaints, but the lazy woodworker in me was not happy with the amount of work and the long application period. As someone who mostly uses Shellac and is used to applying several coats a day this process was painfully slow. I don't think that is a reflection on Masterpiece Wood Finish, but just a commentary on the type of finish.

However, looking now at my finished table I am really glad I took the time and effort to create this wonderfully touchable finish. Now my table sits in a corner with its best "come hither" flirtatious look. Put it this way, this is the first piece I have built that my wife noticed and commented on without me having to solicit her opinion.

Sketch Jam – Final Day to Apply to Our Live Sketching Showdown

Core 77 - Sun, 2017-04-23 19:58

Are you a wet-behind-the-ears student looking for an angle into the big leagues of product design? Are you a grizzled design veteran desperate for a last shot at glory? Can you sketch like a fiend? Ideate in your sleep? Are you only truly at peace while bathing in the heat and pressure of deadlines? Yes?  Then get in the game!

As a part of Design Week Portland, Core77 and Coroflot are hosting a bracketed design sketching tournament in Portland, Ore. on the 26th of April. Today is the last day for you to apply to be among the 16 contestants facing off that evening. Application is as easy as filling out our new Coroflot talent profile and confirming your interest.

All contestants will get some cool swag and one will walk away with a 27" Wacom Cintiq.  So if you have the skill and the will, start your journey to the top now...

Spectator?  We are bringing in the bleachers for this and beers, and tchotchkes – Get a $5 ticket while you still can!

Milan Design Week 2017: Form Follows Fiction

Core 77 - Sun, 2017-04-23 19:58

As the industry's biggest annual trade fair, the Salone del Mobile is certainly an occasion to reflect on the state of design today—both implicitly and explicitly as certain schools and organizations take the opportunity to critique the commercial pretense of both the Salone and the mobile. This year, two venues in particular captured a more cerebral notion of design week, though the skepticism—about making more stuff—also took various forms around Milan.

Once again, Atelier Clerici—a perennial exhibition set in the eponymous Palazzo in the heart of Milan—served as a kind of embassy for Dutch design, anchored by the Design Academy Eindhoven and a half-dozen kindred spirits. (Full disclosure: I am currently a student in the Masters Design Curating & Writing program at the DAE.) Curated by Jan Boelen, the head of the Masters in Social Design, the heady exhibition was conceived as a high-concept critique of contemporary newsmedia in the context of design weeks, Milan, and reportage in general. Set in a darkened mock TV studio, the slick production value of #TVClerici relegated artifacts to the periphery of the double-height space, such that the daily performances would literally take center stage. 

Enter a uccaption (optional)

Once again, Atelier Clerici—a perennial exhibition set in the eponymous Palazzo in the heart of Milan — served as a kind of embassy for Dutch design, anchored by the Design Academy Eindhoven and a half-dozen kindred spirits. (Full disclosure: I am currently a student in the Masters Design Curating & Writing program at the DAE.) Curated by Jan Boelen, the head of the Masters in Social Design, the heady exhibition was conceived as a high-concept critique of contemporary newsmedia in the context of design weeks, Milan, and reportage in general. Set in a darkened mock TV studio, the slick production value of #TVClerici relegated artifacts to the periphery of the double-height space, such that the daily performances would literally take center stage.

With the galleria transformed into a black-box playhouse, #TVClerici could best be described as an overambitious bit of theater, brazenly skipping ahead to meta-meta-level critique as a performance about media. In that sense, the concept soared over the heads of visitors without quite scratching the surface of the sensationalist culture it set out to expose, not so much a mirror for society but rather another spectacle among others. After all, a daily series of scheduled performances — staged, semi-scripted segments—are not fictional events but decidedly real ones.

Contrived though the "look behind the curtain" may have been, the concept stopped short of onanism, thanks largely to the pseudo-professional production (down to the trucker caps) and earnest dramaturgy (i.e. recent grad Olle Lundin). All told, #TVClerici did offer commentary on specific issues in culture —gender, identity, etc. — precisely by renouncing design and aspiring to art.

The balance of the offerings at Atelier Clerici were rather more conventional, with several notable presentations in the gilded halls of the neoclassical former residence. As a counterpoint to the void of the stage, two other exhibitors opted for a single massive plinth in the center of the room. Amsterdam-based periodical MacGuffin (pictured above) literally and figuratively examined the sink—each issue explores a single subject at length—while the Envisions collective reprised their graphically arresting mise-en-scène of models and form studies. (Other participants included Het Nieuwe Instituut, Fictional Journal, Space Caviar, Z33, and more; see more images below and find more details here.)

See more images of Finsa by Envisions here.

If Boelen's boldest statement was simply to bring the Design Academy from the periphery of Milan (i.e. Ventura Lambrate) to the very heart of the city, it was another exhibition tucked in a relatively quiet corner of town that posed a veritable counterpoint. Isolated if not insulated from the other design week festivities, Cascina Cuccagna, a converted urban farmhouse, hosted another polemical group exhibition. 

Forgoing the knowingness of a hashtag for a pithy declaration, Capitalism Is Over was clearly billed as "a provocation or parody," its overarching message (per the title) at once blunt and pointed. Curators Raumplan commissioned editorial and documentary photography to illustrate the point, the former imagery serving as a kind of ad campaign, the latter physically and metaphorically sited at the center of the second-story space. (In the wings around the courtyard, smaller galleries offered an eclectic mix of projects in varied media, from data visualization to spoken word, to round out the exhibition.)

The spirit of the Capitalism Is Over comes in the guise of architecture photography: On one hand, "But It Used to Be So Cool" documents Olivetti's headquarters in Ivrea as a throwback to post-war prosperity; on the other hand, "Bigger Faster Cheaper" offers Gursky-esque imagery of IKEA and Amazon logistics hubs in Piacenza. The typewriter company, of course, represents the boom time between 1945–1975, Trente Glorieuses, since eclipsed by the rise of neo-liberal economic models that have resulted in the likes of IKEA and Amazon. The two series of photographs invite facile, fertile comparison—vaguely nationalist nostalgia versus unbounded robo-futurism—in the face of a so-called post-capitalist era, the "fictional framework" of the entire exhibition.

It was a sentiment that resonated not only throughout the Cascina Cuccagna—Capitalism Is Over also included a few room-sized installations and a single "stockroom" gallery with design objects (pictured above)—but also in other exhibitions in Ventura Lambrate.

While Kvadrat launched the much-publicized upcycling initiative Really., Design School Kolding took a more poetic approach to repurposing waste materials and offcuts. For Super Supermarket, the Danish academy partnered with the textile manufacturer and 13 other brands, from Fritz Hansen to Ecco to Royal Dansk, repackaging scraps of leather, metal, plastic, and even potato pulp into faux-grocery items. Thoughtfully conceived and executed, the retail setting offered a delightfully subversive twist on both consumption and upcycling, coming as close as possible to having one's cake and eating it too.

But perhaps the most compelling fiction came from yet another school. Further afield in the Lambrate district, Burg Halle staged How Do We Deal with This?, a performative investigation into the topic of borders. The chainlink fence and whitewashed medical setting alluded to more pressing problems in society, those for which design alone may not be able to offer a solution, literally encapsulating the placebo effect of late-capitalist consumer culture in the form of a pill.

Ostensibly about geopolitical borders, the metaphor applies to design as well: Where do we draw the line between art and commerce? At Atelier Clerici, the DAE's transgressive presentation format was a kind of sleight of hand, eliding the distinction between the design and how it is represented. Did #TVClerici overstep the definition of design by extending it to include media writ large—i.e. conflating TV "production" with the design and manufacturing of objects? Moreover, will capitalism ever run its course?

Either way, the show must go on.

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