The international Alvar Aalto Design Seminar this summer brings together top names in contemporary design to discuss a hot topic - the origin of product identity. Organized by the Alvar Aalto Academy, the seminar is arranged triennially, and will be held August 21-22, 2010 at the University of Jyväskylä in Helsinki, Finland. This year's theme "Invisible" has been conceptualized by Timo Salli, a designer and professor of Applied Art and Design at the Aalto University School of Art and Design. "Invisible" explores the creative process of the designer, something that does not show in the final product. What does the design of an industrial product comprise? How does the designer decide what to show and what not to show? And what is the role of art and creativity in mass production? What is the relationship of commerciality to functionality and beauty? Speakers will also address the issue of how to design a long-lasting and durable product. What type of corporate setting produces a high-quality result? How does one create a classic? ”Lying behind the identity and quality of a piece of applied art that has become a classic is often a successful match of functionality and beauty. Yet, the role of art as a material for product identity has often been overlooked, even if it is obvious that with classic products art is precisely the glue that provides them with a long life and improves their quality. There is always that ’invisible’ something that produces the insightful ideas,” said Salli. In his article in the Finnish Architectural Review, the director of Alvar Aalto Academy Esa Laaksonen writes about the meeting between Jasper Morrison and Naoto Fukasawa at the Super Normal exhibition of the Milan furniture fair 2005: ”Supernormal is something so self-evident, normal and commonplace that we do not notice its ’normality’. So we should start by demystifying the concept of ’design’. Beauty is given a new content that arises from the use of an object. Morrison says: ‘We begin to appreciate an object as we use it, and the more we use a good object, the more we are capable of appreciating its characteristics. We do not only find beauty in the way an object ages, but also in the way in which we age with the object.’ So the aesthetics of an object arises from function and invisibility.” The seminar speakers chosen by Timo Salli include industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa from Japan, industrial designer Ross Lovegrove from the UK, designer Inga Sempé from France, professor and design consultant Hans Maier-Aichen from Germany, designer Monica Förster from Sweden, interior designer Simo Heikkilä from Finland and designer Clemens Weisshaar from Germany. Naoto Fukasawa is one of the most renowned industrial designers in Japan. He is known for his everyday products that always feature an insight related to their use. Before setting up his own business in 2003, Fukasawa worked for Seiko and IDEO. According to Dieter Rams, the grand maestro of industrial design, "Fukasawa is one of the few designers who do not add to the chaos of our environment but offer a refreshing contrast to it”. Fukasawa aims to design products that work so well in their environment that they unnoticeably become part of people's lives. Fukasawa is also the artistic director of MUJI, a chain of stores and an internationally famous ”brandless brand”. The hallmark of the industrial designer Ross Lovegrove is organic forms and structures. Lovegrove is well-known for his ability to take a material to its extreme: the basis of his design is intelligent and innovative use of materials. Previously, Lovegrove has worked with products such as the Sony Walkman and Apple computers; he also created the successful Alessandri office system. Lovegrove has said that he is more of an evolutionary biologist than a designer. The designer’s guiding principle is ”organic essentialism” – reducing a product to the maximum and only using what is absolutely essential. In his designs, Lovegrove uses the opportunities of modern technology with the aim of pushing the alliance between forms and technology even further. One of the most famous French designers, Inga Sempé, designs furniture, light fittings, small objects and fabrics. She opened her own studio in 2000 and has worked for companies such as Ligne Roset, Baccarat, Cappellini and Edra. Sempe was awarded the Grand Prix de la Création en design de la ville de Paris in 2003. She had a solo exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 2003. Sempé questions the conventional definition of design. In an interview with the New York Times in 2004 she said: ”People often associate design solely with expensive, elitist objects but fail to notice that the ordinary everyday objects have all been designed, too. For example, I would have loved to have invented the umbrella.” Sempé’s long-time objective is to work with ordinary objects, such as light switches and litter bins. The German professor and design consultant Hans Maier-Aichen is the founder of the design brand Authentics. Founded in 1983, Authentics set a new standard for the development and production of high-quality, everyday design products through, for example, its use of young designers. Before his career in design, Maier-Aichen studied painting and sculpture in Germany, France and the United States and worked as a visual artist. Currently, Maier-Aichen works as a professor of product design at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design in Germany and has taught at the Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design in London. Maier-Aichen was also one of the curators of the book Spoon – 100 International Designers. Monica Förster is an award-winning designer from Stockholm. Her expression has been characterised as clean-cut and full of surprise. The organic forms of her designs often carry a reference to nature. Her office space divider, for example, is like a small patch of woods; a portable room is inspired by a cloud; and the rhythm of the rows of seating backrests forms a sea of waves. Förster is also interested in impressions created through the use of textiles and drapery; many of her designs are characterised by a feminine formal idiom. Förster’s clients include Poltrona Frau, Modus, E&Y Japan, Offecct and Swedese. The interior designer Simo Heikkilä continues the tradition of innovative but clean-lined Scandinavian design. He began his career by designing Marimekko stores and exhibitions but set up his own studio as early as in 1971. Heikkilä’s furniture is characterised by exposed structures, ergonomics and purity of materials. Collaboration with the best Finnish craftsmen has increased his knowledge on different materials, and he has also considered it important to share this knowledge in his teaching. Currently, Heikkilä works as the head of the wood studio at the Aalto University School of Art and Design, and he is also one of the key figures behind the Alvar Aalto Design Seminar. He was awarded the Pro Finlandia medal in 2003. Clemens Weisshaar of Germany is a child of the digital era, whose office Kram/Weisshaar, which he co-founded with Reed Kram, closely links products with the planning of production processes. The office rethinks design by combining traditional production methods and the latest technological innovations. Kram/Weisshaar’s breakthrough project was Breeding Tables: a table with legs designed by a computer. With this project, the designers abandoned the idea that a product should always be a reproduction of one prototype. Breeding Tables uses a new kind of process that enables mass production of unique products. Works by Kram/Weisshaar have been included in some of the most renowned design collections in the world: the Vitra Design Museum, the Pinakothek der Moderne, the Centre Pompidou and The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA. Timo Salli, the chair of the Alvar Aalto design seminar, is Professor at the Aalto University School of Art and Design and the head of the Master’s programme in applied art and design. Besides teaching, Salli is an active designer. His background is in metalwork and welding. Salli studied at the Lahti Institute of Design and the University of Art and Design Helsinki (today Aalto University School of Art and Design). Salli made his international breakthrough in 1997 at the Milan Furniture Fair, in which he participated as part of the Snowcrash design collective. After Snowcrash, Salli has been involved in product design and exhibition architecture, as well as curated and produced design exhibitions. Recent international projects headed by Salli include Saunabus (2003), New Dining Luxury and Imperfect Home (2004-06), and the cooperative project Lovesick (2010). Alvar Aalto Academy is an international player in architecture and environmental culture, networking and specialising in continuing education in architecture and international events. Previous themes have included the influence of purpose-designed objects and details in improving the quality of buildings; empty spaces and their significance in what designers produce; the interrelationship between surface and content; and the choices made by designers.
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