The 2010 California Design Biennial

The 2010 California Design Biennial

Currently on view at the Pasadena Museum of California Art is the 2010 California Design Biennial: Action/Reaction, an exhibition that highlights some the most significant and innovative designs created in California.
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This year's exhibition is divided into categories of fashion, transportation, industrial and graphic design and--for the first time--architecture. Curated by experts in each of the fields, the works in the show focus on how California's established and emerging designers are responding to current economic, political, and environmental challenges.

Alissa Walker, a design expert and journalist who writes for Good, Fast Company and Core77 (and Dwell!), curated the Biennial's Industrial Design category. Below, she shares her insights into current design issues, what she thinks the future holds for design, and let's us in on some of her favorite works in the exhibition.

The Los Angeles team of Project H partnered with the Downtown Women's Center, a shelter in central Los Angeles, to develop four retail products that could be made using basic sewing skills, and whose function would have retail marketability, as well as tell stories about the women who made them. The design team and women from Downtown Women's Center worked side by side for three months on the development and prototyping of four products, each with a double-function. This hoodie doubles as a tote bag.

Have the different design disciplines represented in the show approached today's economic, political, and environmental challenges differently?

This bag designed by Project H transforms into a hammock.The sale and proceeds of all the Abject Object products, which will be sold through local and online retailers, go back directly to the individual who made the item, and the Downtown Women's Shelter.

I think there are two major trends you'll see across all the categories. One is attention to craft, which is both a physical desire for this handmade, anti-machine age aesthetic, but also can be seen as a political statement, reacting to our over-processed lives. And another trend is the very careful choice of materials, whether it's a return to natural, reclaimable materials that have a lower impact on the planet, or the engineering of new, high-tech materials that perform more efficiently and responsibly.

826 storefronts are exciting, whimsical, magical, and sometimes downright weird places where you can purchase anything from a new positronic brain for your favorite robot to a giant can of mammoth chunks for your next 450 B.C.-themed dinner party. Each product has been thoughtfully created by designers across the country, with all proceeds going directly to the tutoring centers founded by Dave Eggers that they front.

What are some of the main trends you see in design?

OK GO has long been known for its carefully choreographed, innovative videos. In an age of high-tech effects and animation, the brilliance of this Rube Goldberg-like machine is all the more magical. For nearly four minutes---captured in a single, unbroken camera shot--the machine rolls metal balls down tracks, swings sledgehammers, pours water, unfurls flags and drops a flock of umbrellas from the second story, all perfectly synchronized with the song.

Especially for product design, there's a move away from designing objects and towards designing the entire product experience, from working with manufacturers to create more responsible materials, to choosing the most efficient way to package and ship something, and even getting feedback from users and improving the product after it hits the market. It's very different than the past when a designer just dictated the form of a gadget.

Like a thumb-drive for fitness and powered by sophisticated 3-D motion sensor technology, the FitBit Tracker--designed by New Deal Design--counts steps taken, calories burned and quality of sleep, conveying this data in the blue glow of an OLED display. FitBit is miniature wireless tracker that clips easily to clothing, complementing any outfit. With its own web account, this wellness device paints a vivid digital picture of overall activity as well as automatically uploading data of its wearer’s movements for easy tracking of progress over time.

What do you think the biggest single challenge has been for designers today?I think designers are often much more progressive than their clients when it comes to sustainability, and they are charged with becoming more and more active in helping their clients make more responsible choices. It's challenging for sure, but hopefully more clients will realize how designers can become this incredible resource and use them more effectively.What message would you like viewers to leave the show with?

Thanks to an ultra concentrated formula, Method designed a teeny package that requires less energy to produce and creates less waste. The bottle uses over 36% less plastic compared to traditional 2x detergents and 50% of that comes from recycled plastics.

That's a great question. I want people to discover the incredible design projects that are happening in their own community. I think the fact that this show is local really reveals to people how many designers are working right there in their neighborhood and it gives a lot of insight into how those designers are improving where they live. I know I've learned a lot about the products and experiences that are designed in California and it definitely gives me a sense of pride for my state.What are some of your favorite works in the exhibition?

Responding to the cold industrialism of modern furniture, designer Tanya Aguiniga hand-felts the traditional folding chair using a time-honored craft method that brings a handmade warmth to a mass-produced object.

The "This too Shall Pass" video, 826 Valencia and 826 LA products, Method Laundry Detergent, Tanya Aguinga's Felt Chairs, FitBit and Abject Object are some of my favorites.


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