Each grouping of works represents a contemporary category whether through the materials employed, the concepts conveyed, or the uses intended:
New Essentialism: During the first decade of the new millennium, a range of aesthetically straightforward objects have called attention to their materials or function without the distraction of ornament or complicated functioning. The works reflect the legacy of modernism, which has endured a long, steady revival in recent years. Nendo’s “Hanabi” light, made of a shape-changing metal that expands when heated, and is one example of “New Essentialism.”
Mutant Remix: Our global economy and the widespread use of the Internet have produced a mixing and combining of historical styles and aesthetic motifs in a single object. This remixing creates works in which each element retains its meaning, while at the same time provoking new themes and meanings. An example of this “Mutant Remix” is Maarten Baas’s “The Chankley Bore” furniture collection, which mixes 1960s pop styling with references to space aliens.
Of the Body: The human body has always been a source of perpetual obsession for designers. Today, with the development of sophisticated prosthetics and increasingly humanlike robotics, it has also become a site of new and complex issues. Of the Body features designs that relate to human anatomy or performance, while celebrating life-extending and life-enhancing technologies. At the same time, many of the works demonstrate a general anxiety, questioning where flesh-and-blood ends and artifice begins. For example,Ted Ciamillo’s “Lunocet” fin dramatically enhances swimming performance, but when worn, appears like an alien, robotic extension of the leg.
Social Anxiety: Design has always acted as a barometer, reflecting cultural desires and a tendency to alternate between minimalism and aesthetic abundance. Good design has also been historically bought by the upper classes with disposable income and a heightened awareness of style, taste, and aesthetics. Today, across the globe, we are experiencing greater social anxiety than ever before. Every country in the world is affected by one or more of a range of problems, including terrorism, environmental issues, natural disasters, disease, famine, and failing economies. For the first time, many designers are directly addressing these issues, reflecting the perceived and very real experience of inhabiting an increasingly dangerous world. In this category, examples range from Yael Mer’s inflatable “Evacuation Dress” to Fabricnation’s “Lifelines” textile decorated with a pattern of AIDS cells.
Beyond the Designer: A growing interest in fabrication processes coupled with new technologies has resulted in a class of objects that almost design themselves. In such cases, the designer acts as facilitator, initiating the process and then stepping aside to allow a result that is either self-directed or shaped by its use or user. Ugobe’s programmable “PLEO” robot, for example, is intended to be “hacked” by the user who can design new behaviors for the robot to interact and perform. The manner in which the design process is rendered simple and devoid of mystery may be seen in the video in which the designer Max Lamb casts a pewter stool, while describing the process in what amounts to a series of do-it-yourself instructions.
Super Beauty: Up until the economic crisis of 2008, global prosperity at the turn of the millennium resulted in new attention to the decorative potential of objects, even humble ones that had previously been overlooked. The resulting objects are ornate, and even rococo in their design, beyond their actual function. For example, Joris Laarman’s ornate “Wirepod” is an outlet for electronic appliances; however, its sinuous curves and decorative nature make a usually hidden and unattractive object, beautiful, and intended to be seen.
Craft Economy: Craft, a discipline that has long been segregated from art and design, is undergoing a revival and redefinition, particularly due to its potential to support the economies of developing nations. A number of designers, and in some cases whole villages, are using traditional, indigenous craft techniques to create beautiful objects, some of which directly confront significant contemporary issues and styles. As such they encourage entrepreneurship, and help with global economic development. One example of this is Stephen Burks’s “Love Furniture”, which is made by African workers from recycled shredded magazines.
Design Lab: Design Lab encompasses new materials, processes, and technologies that have never before existed. Many of these works remain in prototype stages – including nanotechnology and exciting uses for new materials such as carbon fiber, which provides incredible lightness as well as strength. The designs in this category showcase recent advances in both areas. Rapid-prototyping technology, for example, is used to create Patrick Jouin’s “One Shot stool”.