Critical Reflection

I have chosen to reflect on each semester individually, as both had different key points and aims.

 

FIND/PLAY

Semester one consisted of the “Find” and “Play” stage of my design process. The research stage of the project was the strongest, in my view. Conducting lots of primary research in studios of varying creative people provided vast amounts of in-depth insights. Having built up a friendly relationship with many of those involved with my research was also beneficial, as it meant I could continually have their input throughout the design process as it progressed. However, having refined my brief several times and finally decided upon making a really user-centred desk just for Janet Stephen, I began to forget to refer back to all of the rich content that I had gathered in the initial stages of research.

I tended to have “ah-ha!” moments

The “Play” stage began with concept sketching (admittedly not enough) and prototyping interactions through laser-cut models with 3D printed components. I did not sketch very much during this part of the design process, as it wasn’t how my ideas best flowed at that point – I tended to have “ah-ha!” moments, and develop prototypes from there. Though an unconventional approach to idea generation and development, I feel it did not have a negative affect on my final outcome. Changing my brief so often, though in minor details, had an affect on the “Play” stage, as I continually added and removed features in order to fit new briefs.

 

PLAY/MAKE/TALK

The start of semester 2 brought about the decision to focus on creating a desk that would enhance the multi-disciplinary practice of Janet Stephen. I am very pleased that I made this design decision – not only did it allow me to best practice the user-centred design skills that we learn here in Social Digital, but it also helped inform difficult decisions such as what “surfaces” to make for the workspace. Such a specific brief also helped greatly as I began to lose steam and confidence in the project, as health problems and social problems started to get in the way. Using the project as a way of escaping problems seemed like a good idea at the time, but working on it 24/7 tired me out very quickly, which had a negative affect on my work pattern. I hesitated in going down to the workshop to push the project forward from where I had got to in semester 1.

The way that materials can affect us psychologically has been one of the most interesting things that I have learned through this project, as well as learning the craft of furniture making and design.

Another aspect that helped bring momentum back into the project was a shift to focusing on materials and their association with user wellbeing, as taught by StudioIlse. Choosing to take a very “StudioIlse” approach to choosing materials and shapes for the desk was fascinating in that I was constantly learning new things, and learning to appreciate my environments in new ways. The way that materials can affect us psychologically has been one of the most interesting things that I have learned through this project, as well as learning the craft of furniture making and design.

The “Play” stage eventually continued, as I began prototyping with more knowledge of furniture design. It was at this point that the project began to move in a positive direction again, as I designed not only with the modular function in mind, but also with the function of being a strong, sturdy desk that remained beautiful. Creating 1:10 and 1:5 models in Balsa and dowels was exciting and helped me effectively generate ideas for form quickly, whilst learning about wood joints and how best to utilise hardwood. Also during this stage, I took the time to draw accurate scale sketches of how the desk would look and fit together, which was much more effective than drawing quick, messy sketches in semester 1.

By the MK.2 Presentation hand in, I had made a 1:2 scale model of how the desk would look, fit together and how the user would interact with it. Contacting Janet during the making of the MK.2 model was very helpful in ensuring that the piece truly was as user-centred as I wanted it to be. It became clear at this point also that though I was designing this particular desk with Janet’s artistic craft in mind, it was a concept that could be applied to any home studio of a multi-disciplinary craftsperson.

Soon after the 1:2 scale model was completed, I started to think about making a 1:1 scale finished piece. Material choices had been finalised, and I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the “Make” stage progressed. It took only 2 weeks to complete the legs and shelf frame for the desk, and only a further 2 weeks to construct the top piece including the modular surfaces. I was also pleased with how much of the construction I could undertake myself; I had envisioned this being something where the workshop technicians would do most of the hard work, however Malcolm and John were very helpful in teaching me how to do it myself. Making the vast majority of the desk myself allowed for a greater appreciation of the project, and also harks back to StudioIlse’s thoughts on mass manufacture vs. handcrafted pieces.

I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the “Make” stage progressed.

Whilst working on making the desk, I also spent time focusing on the “Talk” stage of my design process. For me, this involved creating a brand behind my desk; which I decided to coin Uachdar; the Scottish Gaelic word for “surface”, and also the name of part of an area in Blair Atholl, where Janet’s home studio is. To create a brand, I firstly looked to brands that inspired me and who had the same feel that I wanted Uachdar to have – a sense of slowness, calm and relaxation. I had decided upon such a brand because of the heavy focus on wellbeing, and also the slowness of the craft practiced at the desk – stained glass, illustration and intricate pottery cannot be rushed. I greatly enjoyed this part of the design process, and rounding the project up to be one coherent body of work.

 

THE FINAL OUTCOME

I am very proud of Uachdar. Upon looking at the final prototype, there are of course aspects of the design which I could have considered and developed further, but it is often easy to forget these when you are deep into a project. At the start of my 4th year, I knew I wanted to play it as far from safe as possible. Though there are no major pieces of technology in my desk, I feel that I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone and into an area where I could learn lots.

– J

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