Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Assignment 5, Activity 5A

Throughout Design Studies we have focused on using a variety of research methods to help us question how we process information, and as a result, the ways it can be manipulated and translated into assisting us in our own specific discipline. Semester one focused on secondary techniques; using research carried out by others to forward the analysis of our chosen subjects; and semester exposed us to a selection of primary research methods, to give us the experience of doing the initial research for ourselves, and the benefits gained from the process. We were encouraged to think like designers, by looking at things in a totally new light and embracing these alternative research methods to enable us to engage new ideas and concepts. To expand our thinking.

Having spent last semester developing an unusual obsession with subways, the idea of revisiting the subject was not too painful. The subject of crime was my original starting point, I discussed the “Broken Windows” theory as talked about in “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell (p141) which, in very simple terms, suggested that if a window is broken and not repaired, people passing by will decide that no one cares and that no one is managing the area. Soon, more windows will be broke

n, and the feeling of chaos and mayhem grows. Especially in a city, comparatively small problems like graffiti or public disorder are the equivalent of broken windows, a temptation to more serious crime. The atmosphere created in a confined and isolated space, such as an underground station, dictates a passengers feeling of safety and in turn, their likelihood of being a returning customer.

In order to research the pros and cons of subway atmosphere last semester, I spent a great deal of time, through books and internet sites, researching the most famous subway stations of the world and how they function at present. I did the same to get a better idea of how atmosphere can be affected by architecture. This topic grew arms and legs as many factors play a part in creating the atmosphere in a space.

Having previously been anti-mind-mapping, I reluctantly completed one on this topic as part of an assignment in semester one. Annoyingly, I found the mind-map extremely useful as a way of documenting and organising my thoughts.

This threw up many issues and ideas surrounding subway atmosphere. In order to take this research further it is now clear, having completed this semesters assignments, that primary research techniques are key to discovering the public’s needs. The underground system is of course a public transport service and so who better to look to to answer the question, “how do we improve the atmosphere in our underground stations?” than the public?

Most subway systems tend to be filthy and rather dull aesthetically. But there are cities that explicitly foster arts and good architecture in subways. Works of art or sophisticated architecture can be inspiring and thought-provoking for daily commuters as well as an attraction for visitors. Distinctive colour schemes and works of art help passengers for orientation. Furthermore, there is evidence that vandalism diminishes in appealing stations because works of art and good designs are widely respected.

Observation would be my key form of primary research here. So much can be discovered just by watching people, but not just watching aimlessly, by really observing their body language and behaviour and in this case their movement patterns, speed of movement, interaction, age, sex etc... Gathering this information to discover the patterns of behaviour would be invaluable to ascertain how the public use stations. The present design and decoration of each station would have to be considered as these factors would effect their behaviour. Observation would highlight the problems and possible good points of the existing stations. To develop the data gathered from such observations, an experiment could be arranged to temporarily alter the atmosphere of the station, for example, the lighting could be changed or a variety of music played to see if behaviour changes. In the London Underground was said to play fast marching music during the morning rush, and calm relaxing music in the evening rush - the first to get people moving, the second to calm them down.

A series of focus groups of regular commuters, combined with a small visual experiment could prove useful as an insight into what commuters would like to see happen to their stations. I this think would prove more effective than interviewing individual commuters as a discussion tends to throw up more interesting results and the idea of trying to get a commuter to stop and answer questions fills me with fear! Various stations around the world have instigated innovations in an attempt to improve their commuters daily experience, such as Moscow Metro’s mobile art exhibition. Perhaps a discussion surrounding the various innovations around the worlds subways would show up a particular favourite, an area which needs improving and possibly a solution. Involving regular commuters who can take the time to converse with other commuters should throw up the real problems they experience daily and what they would like to see done about it.

Our underground stations are ever changing and improving, with the addition of interactive technology as one example. TFL (Transport for London) will be investing capital into the renovation of the Underground network in preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games. In a private venture, CBS Outdoor (a leading outdoor advertising company) are investing £72 million over the next two and a half years to improve every single advertising site on the Underground including installation over 2000 digital sites. These days advertising seems to be playing a huge part in creating a stations atmosphere, keeping things interesting and stimulating. So with all this money flying around to invest in this country’s largest underground system lets hope that they have used their primary research to talk to the public, the people who will be using this service. Here is an example of some advertising in a Tokyo subway tunnel. This particular technology, brought to my attention by Jonathan Baldwin, uses the old-fashioned zoetrope device as its inspiration. A zoetrope is a device that produces an illusion of action from a rapid succession of static pictures.


Bennet, D, (2004), Metro the story of the underground railway, London, Octopus Publishing

Gladwell, M, (2000), The Tipping Point, Great Britain, Abacus

Lepori, R, and Franck, K, (2007), Architecture from the Inside Out, Great Britain, Wiley-Academy

Preston, J, (2004), Interior Atmosphere, London, Artmedia Press

Assignment 5, Activity 5B

In order to demonstrate how the skills we have learnt in Design Studies can be applied to the discipline of Jewellery and Metalwork, we were asked to review and rethink a studio brief we tackled this year. Then by applying the primary and secondary research methods learnt this year during my Design Studies, discuss how these techniques could be utilised during the research and design process if I were to approach this brief again.

Our studio briefs have been wonderfully diverse this year. We began the year with the vessel project which asked us to design and make some form of container. The second brief was the wire project which was to be influenced by the work of an artist or sculptor whom you found inspiring. The third studio brief was the catwalk project where we were asked to design and make a extravagant, colourful, piece based on a culture or time period. It had to be effective on a catwalk as a fashion statement. The project brief I would like to reconsider in connection to the secondary research methods we have developed, however, is the project we are working on at present, Stone Setting. This project did not simply require us to learn a selection of new jewellery skills, it also encouraged us to research into the ideas of myth, legend, superstition and religion which surround semi-precious stones.

At the beginning of any new design brief I have always applied secondary research skills, however, possibly not in the organised manner to which we have been introduced by Design Studies, more in my own mish-mashed style. To begin the stone setting brief for instance, I started off scouring the library with a clear idea of what I was looking for but as always, other books caught my eye and I was drawn towards them. My next step is always to conduct the same sort of search but online. To get a an overview of the subject I began with a general look at gemstones, then going on to look at their hardness, how they are formed, the different types of cuts and settings. Having now looked into and practiced Primary Research methods, I believe that interviewing a jeweller who uses stone setting widely throughout their work or possibly interviewing a stone-setter would have given me more of an insight into the various settings, their pros and cons and any hints and tips which only come with years of experience.

Having gathered a wealth of general gemstone knowledge I then moved on to researching their individual symbolism throughout the ages and the ways gemstones and jewellery have been used. I found some of the myths and legends surrounding the stones fascinating but found that, after doing all my research and telling people what I had discovered, they had heard other variations which could have been added to my bank of knowledge had I shared my findings earlier. Luckily by this stage I had not decided firmly on which myth to go with and so I went with my three or four options and basically had an informal brainstorming session with some friends. I tend to do this at some stage during every project as I find it invaluable in the design process. It is too easy to become blinkered to other views and to become fixated on one design without trying out any alternatives. Other people see things differently and can input observations and ideas which would never have occurred to me, they can broaden your thought process.

The primary and secondary research methods I have developed this year in design studies will, without doubt be even more useful when it comes to designing for the public in the form of commissions. Here it would be imperative to use various primary and secondary research techniques. For example if a client commissions me to make an item of jewellery I think a combination of interview, observation and experiment would hopefully give me a real insight into exactly what they are looking for. Initially, I would conduct an interview to ascertain the basic requirements and get a feeling for what the client is looking for. A good line of communication is essential to keep your client updated and to make sure you are both on the same page.

Sometimes when designing for a particular person it can be hard to get to the bottom of what they are really like just by asking them a series of questions no-matter how well thought out and planned your questions are. In this case I believe observational skills are invaluable. We use observation almost without thinking from the moment we first see someone, this can be a dangerous thing which can easily cause you to jump to conclusions but if used properly can be incredibly useful. As with interviews, people can portray themselves in a particular way by means of dress, hairstyle etc when in-fact this is not reflecting their true personality. I would observe their body language, dress sense and their reaction to certain questions I ask. All of these would help me gather a better picture of what they might really be looking for. I would also conduct a sort of experiment by showing them examples of my previous work and gauge their reactions to the pictures or items I show them. Paying particular attention to the items of jewellery that they find the most attractive and enquiring after what exactly they like and dislike about them.

Without really realising it, I believe I was already using these highly beneficial research techniques, introduced to us this semester to aid me with my research and design processes. This series of assignments has been beneficial as they have made me far more aware of the techniques and how I use them within my discipline. I may have been already using these skills, however, I was doing so without thoroughly thinking about what I was doing and so was not using them to their full potential. Books and internet are not the be-all and end-all, talking to people and observing their behaviour holds a wealth of knowledge which I think I was previously missing. I will carry on using this approach but in a a far more conscious manner as I believe it will contribute to me producing work with a far deeper personal meaning.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Adapting a Brief

Our last lecture of the year focused mainly on how we classify people and how this affects our design process. A brief has to be adapted to suit the client or be aimed at a particular type of consumer. To practice getting used to this we were asked to look back at a brief from the past year and think about how we would change it to cater for a certain type of person.

I chose to rethink our Catwalk Project - Design and make an extravagant and unusual piece of catwalk jewellery. Taking inspiration from a culture or a period of time. The design should adorn the body in an unusual way. Originally I designed a 1920's inspired headpiece.

When designing for someone who would fit into the traditionalist category - averse to risk, guided by the traditional behaviours and values, quiet and reserved, hanging back and blending in with the crowd - I would stick with a headpiece but scale it down and soften it a little to make it more of a fascinator.

To satisfy an innovator - self-confident risk-takers, seeking new and different things, setting their own targets to achieve - I would go in completely the other direction towards Lady Gaga's world! I would make it bigger and bolder using unusual materials to make it as eye catching and unique as possible.

I think with the free reign and wide open briefs we are lucky to have during our projects we sometimes forget that it is necessary to tailor a brief to a particular person, with certain tastes and requirements. These classifications, however, are still very broad and as we've discovered during the past few assignments, everyone is different and we need to be more aware of this. As Jonathan says, "Everyone has a story and if you don't know it you can't design for it."

What objects do people treasure the most and why?

Recently, in our Design Studies Seminars, conversation has kept coming back to the question of whether mass produced jewellery can be worth as much to a person as a piece of handmade jewellery. In order to research this a little (and to complete assignment 4) I chose to interview a small selection of people using the subject, "What objects do people treasure the most and why?" in the hope that some jewellery would crop up among the results.

I basically asked the same few simple questions using a semi-structured approach depending on the answers. I avoided closed questions (my extensive sales assistant training finally paid off!) as "yes" or "no" weren't very helpful in this exercise.

These are the main questions I asked although they were adapted slightly each time:

1. What would be your most treasured possession?
2. What makes it so valuable to you?
3. Does the item have any monetary value?
4. Was this item inherited?
5. Do you keep this item for it's memories?
6. Where do you keep this item?

I interviewed four people ranging in age from teenager to middle-aged. I didn't realise how personal this subject and the questions I was asking were until I looked at the results and realised how enlightening they were about that persons sentimentality and feelings.
To begin with, everyone had a treasured possession and didn't have to think twice about what it was. In three of the four cases the possession was an item of jewellery (as I'd suspected!) and in the third it was a baby book containing, among other things, a lock of babies hair.
One of the pieces of jewellery had been inherited, had been passed down through the family and obviously had some monetary value as it was rather old and of good quality. It held many memories and provided a feeling of family closeness even when miles away. This particular gentleman chose to wear this ring all the time seeing no point in keeping it in a drawer gathering dust when he could wear it day-to-day and he can look down at it whenever he needed any comfort.
The third item of jewellery had been given to her by her parents on her 21st birthday (quite a few years ago!) but this item was considered too valuable to wear and lay safely in it's box. She doubted whether it was worth a great deal but couldn't have cared less.
The third piece of jewellery was a friendship necklace that a young girl had received from her best friend. It was clearly worth very little money but it meant so much to this girl that it was never off her neck as it was a constant reminder of their bond.
Speaking to these people it became clear that the monetary value of something was worthless to them. The memories they contained or the people that had given it to them or what it symbolised was far more important.
As a jeweller this was a very satisfying exercise as I believe that jewellery should be something treasured. Not necessarily because it's worth a lot of money or because it's pretty or in fashion but because it holds other meanings brought by the giver or the receiver. Earlier I was unsure whether whether mass-produced jewellery could have as much value as a handmade piece, I'm now sure that it can.

Thursday, 11 March 2010


David Gallaugher's grass-lined wheel. He and three other Canadian architecture students built it to make a social statement - we need more green space. Their contraption is a way to "take the park with you". I love this but I do see some problems.....!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Reflecting on My Safari

Looking back at our safari assignment I realise how many day-to-day things just wash over me. We become so used to seeing and doing certain things that we don't realise they're even happening. I think I approached the assignment with a slightly too general view. By focusing on particular people and exactly what they're doing and why they're doing it would probably bring more interesting and enlightening results.

In regard to how this assignment could relate to jewellery design, I feel after attending our seminar I'm far more aware of how personal a piece of jewellery can be. I see now that you really need to look closely at a person to begin to understand them and to know what they are ultimately looking for you to produce for them.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Nature's Call

I just saw these on the news and thought they were great. The brand new Dobbies in Aberdeen features unusual men’s urinals in the shape of flowers, designed by San Francisco-based artist Clark Sorensen, and called Nature’s Call. Male customers can choose between an orchid, an arum lily or a pitcher plant.

Design Safari and the Discovery of Coffee

This assignment focused on observing people and their behaviour in public spaces. Two of us coffee virgins decided to have a wee rest and a go at getting addicted to the brown liquid in Costa on a Tuesday around 4pm.

We queued up and ordered our Mochas (easing into the coffee) just like everyone else and then chose our seats carefully to obtain an ideal spying position. I can't say that we were blown away with hectic activity, Costa was pretty quiet but this allowed us to inspect the clientele more closely.

Costa in the Overgate is a sort of semicircular, sunken pit at one end of the shopping centre (arguably the busiest area of the centre). There are three entrances and exits to the Costa pit meaning that people can move around very freely. We sat with our backs to one of the pit walls, facing the counter as you can see in the photo above.

99% of customers knew exactly what they were doing when they entered the pit. They clearly had their own routes from their chosen entrance around the tables to the counter. People went directly to the cake cabinet and immediately looked up at the board which listed drinks and prices. An orderly queue would then form behind this person. Each person forced to stop in-front of the enticing cakes to look at the board. The clever positioning of the board and cakes worked. Around 95% of people purchased a cake with their drink (we were well behaved and resisted). It was almost as if they felt obliged to take a cake after standing in-front of them. Most of the customers were clearly seasoned Costa users as they knew the system. They switched to Costa mode and went through the motions, arriving at the till with their money out ready and waiting. In stark contrast, the workers behind the counter were constantly hectic despite the small number of customers.

Even though there were very few customers, there was still a broad selection of ages and sexes. Most customers were sitting in same sex pairs. There was no sign of snobbery with a full range of classes.

Everyone was very relaxed, sitting having finished their drinks, just chatting. Most people seemed to only be having on drink and sitting for a long time after finishing. Nobody seemed to be looking around they were all deep in conversation. Even two people sitting with notepads and cameras staring at everyone raised any sort of alarm.

Choosing a seat proved very important. The centre seats were largely avoided with people opting to sit around the edge of the pit even if it meant having to move dirty cups and plates. Surprisingly, the few people who were sitting alone did choose to sit towards the middle of the seating area. These lone customers sat day-dreaming not looking around them at all.

There was very little interaction between customer and worker resulting in very swift service. We counted a substantial number of takeaways. Looking around us we found that most people were drinking coffee in some shape or form while only children were drinking juice or hot chocolate.

We only had one definite "new to Costa" couple but they very quickly worked out the simple system and in the end were behaving just like everyone else.