Blog: Bedside reading.
It seems that on - one of the questions they always ask in their interviews with product designers is always, "What books are on your reading list?" Well, no one is asking us, but if they were, we might mention these two exhibition catalogs- 'Intricacy' by Greg Lynn and 'Mood River' by Jeff Kipnis and Annetta Massie.

Neither of these books are new, but the ideas within still seem fresh and relevant. 'Mood River' was produced for an exhibition by the same name at the Wexner Center for the Arts in 2002. 'Intricacy' (also the title of the accompanying exhibition) was compiled and edited by Greg Lynn in 2003.

Mood River:

Kipnis describes Mood River as a 'gentle burlesque' on Philip Johnson's landmark 1934 exhibition 'Machine Art', at the MoMA. Johnson's depression-era exhibition was celebration of Platonic form, straight lines, circles, the functionalist sensibility found in manufactured designs, and claimed the inconsequence of handcraft. Kipnis' curatorial thesis counters with the idea that by looking at a range of contemporary design goods, both high and low: from toothbrushes to the Bombshell Dress by E.V. Day, we can see that a voluptuous, or 'non-ideal' form's sense of appeal is itself, 'a paramount function'

Given the raging debate about the future look of design and its relation to 'Function' and 'Depression Aesthetic', in a post credit-crunch economy, perhaps this book 'Mood River', love it or leave it, is as relevant as it was the day it was published.

In case you haven't been following it, the debate we refer to was sparked by a recent article in the New York Times by Michael Cannell with a strong response by Murray Moss on the Design Observer. A highly intelligent debate ensues in the comments section following the Murray Moss reply.

Here is one of the stronger ideas we take from Kipnis' essay:

"[We] make a claim that some will find dubious: That new feelings erupt into the world, that design and the arts give diverse and specific material moment to these new feelings, help make them coherent and concrete, and spread them about like the wind spreads pollen, like mosquitoes spread disease. After these new feelings have materialized, taken various shapes, and disseminated, they eventually evolve into their most auspicious incarnation as new ideas."


Produced a year later, 'Intricacy' demonstrates a new sensibility among contemporary artists, designers and architects. It is provoked, it claims, by advances in digital and genetic engineering. Here, intricacy connotes a way of working that emphasizes connections composed by many small and diverse parts which, unlike simple hierarchy, subdivision, or modularity, involve a variation in parts not reducible to the structure of the whole.

Many of the art, furniture and architecture projects discussed in 'Intricacy' employ digital design techniques. But what is perhaps more interesting, is what the collection reveals- an almost monolithic materiality enabled by machined processes, which is all the while able to express itself with a sense of an fineness and detail.

"Because of this machinic focus, the show has some kinship with the 'Machine Art' exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1934, curated by Philip Johnson. However," says Lynn, "instead of proposing a machine aesthetic for our age, one that would certainly be digital, these works outline a compositional, organizational, visual and material sensibility that is facilitated by, but not simply reducible to, digital design, or manufacturing tools."

Greg Lynn is proposing that what is important is not a change in tools with the adoption of the digital, but the resulting change in sensibility. What he sees emerging is not machined simplicity, or a spare and platonic approach to function and form. Lynn's attitude rings true to us when he says he is interested in a projects that use the computer, not only for its expedience, efficiency and potential to realize forms and spaces that would be otherwise too complicated to produce, but most importantly in projects that achieve a detailed sense of elegance, rigor, digital expertise, and he dares to say, beauty. Function is not simply something that arises from simplicity, but is something that can be culturally rich and infused with an intricate sensibility.

So, back to the design debate between Cannell and Moss: Cannell claims contemporary design is overblown with frivolity, while Moss claims design has finally been proud enough to address function as a topic that is much more culturally rich than simply, "And where do I put my ass?".

We think these two books serve as a pretty good starting points for a new path in the future of recession-plagued design. Happy reading.


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