ross mcleod


'The real business of design is ... a way of widening the concept of the functional to embrace the subconscious and the unconscious ... to communicate new ideas about object and their function.'


Our life is populated by objects from the purely functional to mementoes of sentiment. Our dwellings and work places can be understood as landscapes in which objects hold a plethora of functional, personal and cultural detail. Early in the twentieth century, architects, designers and sculptors sought purity of form in everyday life through modernist abstraction techniques. We are all familiar with the Bauhaus statement that 'form follows function'. The renderings of this dictum evolved from the efficient German rationalist view of object as tool or instrument. This austerity gave way to voluptuous aerodynamic shapes pioneered in the fifties through American 'dream home' affluence. In the 1970s and 1980s the symbolic metaphorical characters of new wave Italian postmodernism led the way, expounded by the 'Memphis' and 'Alchymia' groups of designers and popularised by Alessi products. Today form still follows function, however the scope of 'function' has expanded far beyond a single dimensional ergonomic or technical need. It is now recognised that the function of an object is not merely its mechanical usage. An object's function is also to provide joy, identity and prestige.

Students were asked to approach the design of objects at a 'ground zero' approach, where nothing is assumed as being a typical furniture form. Students develop their own briefs through a careful analysis of the contemporary domestic environment in which new types of interactions and relationships are sought to meet the changing patterns and needs of modern lifestyles. Through the design of products and objects the designer becomes a cultural interpreter defining societal needs and desires and focusing this understanding into the contained language of the everyday object.

Within the marriage of artistic vision and manufacturing reality lies the essence of good design. Through a basic understanding of materials, workshop techniques and processes, students are encouraged to develop a personal approach to the imagining and creation of objects and furniture. Working closely with crafts and tradespeople and through developing a language of communication via construction drawings and technical jargon, students were encouraged to appreciate the possibilities and limitations of industrial techniques and in doing so create a vital link between the designer and the manufacturer .

As students worked through from primary investigations to initial concepts to end products, the objects took on a life of their own. Decisions came from not only the designer but become inherent through the object themselves. For an object to stand alone, it needs to satisfy a given purpose and relate and express a given function in a poetic and aesthetic way. The relationship of form, metaphorical sources, function, materiality and production techniques becomes intertwined within a complex web of ideas. Objects and furniture are most successful when they work on all these levels simultaneously, combining a cerebral formality with instinctive poetry to become something greater than the sum total of their parts. This is when an object has life. When its meaning is a subtle blend of reference and reverence. When the object becomes a character which inhabits our lives, an icon of our rituals and values of daily existence.


1. From Paolo Polledri, 'Ettore Sottsass: a retrospective, I.D. magazine May/ June 1994