, Sunflower Power

Q&A - Thomas Vailly

This questionnaire was originally submitted to five international designers, including Charles Eames and Joe Colombo, by curator Yolande Amic, in preparation for the Museum of Decorative Arts' inaugural exhibition "What is Design?" in 1969. Deeply influenced by its time, the original questions and answers to this questionnaire testify the birth of the discipline in the era of mass consumption. By facing this archive, Atelier Luma's designers propose a renewed vision of design and the role of the designer in the 21st century, which after an unbridled industrialization is confronted with an environmental emergency.

What is your definition of ‘Design’? Designing is a working methodology flexible enough to tackle a wide range of problematic. It's not only about designing products but looking at systems, processes and context.

Is Design an expression of art? Design embed certain qualities of art but it is not reduced to it. For example design can be very functionality driven.

Is Design a craft for industrial purposes? There is not one way, one methodology. Industrial techniques can also be adapted to produce crafts.

What are the boundaries of Design? I think that the amazing thing about design it that it should not have boundaries. The only limitation is the one the designer gives himself.

Is Design a discipline that concerns itself with only one part of the environment? Well if by environment, we speak about environmental issues. Yes, most of the designer around are closing their eyes on environmental issues. A few years back I decided to open my eyes to it and start addressing environmental issues on my own way. The latest project of the studio are the beginning of an answer to this difficult quest.

Is it a method of general expression? Yes but it is linked to specific context.

Is Design a creation of an individual? I developed personal reading of specific problem by collaborating (mostly with scientists).

Is Design a creation of a group? It's all about collaboration.

Is there a Design ethic? Ethic is a complex topic. I have an design ethic but I do not claim it is universal. I would rather talk about what makes sense to me and what does not. For example, producing biomaterial by mixing natural fiber with synthetic resin does not make sense to me and it could be called greenwashing. Not really ethical in my opinion.

Does Design imply the idea of products that are necessarily useful? That is where design join art. I believe in our society triggering experience or reflexion can be as meaningful as sitting on a new chair. Necessity is a matter of context. However if you sit in a dirt, you will find a chair very useful.

Is it able to cooperate in the creation of works reserved solely for pleasure? If it is very well done yes ! but it is not what I am aiming at.

Ought form to derive from the analysis of function? In my case I would rather speak about « form flow from ressource ». For example when working with sunflower waste, the plant (the ressource) dictates the colors (green protein), the texture (foamy cellulose) and the overall form of the end product.

Can the computer substitute for the Designer? In certain aspect but it will take time before computer (IA) can have an holistic view of complex problems. And what about intuition ?

Does Design imply industrial manufacture? I am now looking at ways to translate some of the design research I have been carrying out into industrial scale project.

Is Design used to modify an old object through new techniques? It seems that we have a lot of object and material to change today. We don't need to look to far back to find design problems to solve. Lets start with the plastic bag for example.

Is Design used to fit up an existing model so that it is more attractive? I'd rather focus on improving the material.

Is Design an element of industrial policy? Not always.

Does the creation of Design admit constraint? Totale freedom is frightening. Constraints are useful to direct the design process.

Does Design obey laws? Design obeys to contextual constraints, for example nowadays environmental issue.

Are there tendencies and schools in Design? Yes but internet allows this trend to spread and not stay limited to specific schools.

Is Design ephemeral? It is more that at the moment, product will take thousands of years to disappear. So in regards to the materials we are using design is the unfortunately the opposite to ephemeral.

Ought Design to tend towards the ephemeral or towards permanence? Probably a clever and pragmatic mix of both.

How would you define yourself with respect to a decorator? an interior architect? a stylist? It is not at all what I am.

To whom does Design address itself: to the greatest number? to the specialists or the enlightened amateur? to a privileged social class? So far each of my project reach a different audience.

After having answered all these questions, do you feel you have been able to practice the profession of ‘Design’ under satisfactory conditions, or even optimum conditions? Well, there are still many things that I can improve in my design practice.

Have you been forced to accept compromises? Yes.

What do you feel is the primary condition for the practice of Design and for its propagation? A problem to solve.

What is the future of Design?Exactly the same than the future of our society, nobodies knows.