Last week, I had the enormous pleasure of flying to Mexico City to represent SVA’s MFA in Products of Design and run a five day intensive workshop sponsored by Nike Air Max at the Centro University for Design and Communication. Centro conducts annual workshops with corporate clients under the name, Zona C. This year’s Zona C was timed to coincide with a large installation and party celebrating Nike’s global Air Max Day at Centro’s gorgeous, year old, LEED platinum certified campus.
Drawing from a student population of about 1800, Centro’s Zona C workshops assemble a mix of 2 or 3 of the strongest students from each of its seven departments: interior design, film & television, communication design, industrial design, digital media, fashion & textile design, and advertising & marketing. It was a thrill to work with 15 truly gifted students, trained in a diverse range of skillsets. Each student was sufficiently grounded in the fundamentals of design practice that they could change positions at the drop of a hat to get the project and deliverables to the best place possible. Not one of them was predetermined about the role he/she should have and not one of them was a prima donna. It was like conducting an orchestra where every first chair could also play every other instrument almost as well. The pressure and responsibility I felt to steer this group of young stars to its highest potential was intense!
The Air Max Zona C brief charged the students with exploring how to deepen Air Max’s market penetration as a lifestyle brand in Mexico’s youth culture. The deliverables were left open by the brief, but the key insights going in were plain: the Air Max brand DNA lies in making the technological innovation of high performance athletic footwear (literally) transparent, and as a consequence of the cross pollination of North American sports culture and lifestyle culture, Air Max has been able to transcend the category of high-tech sportswear to become a leader in conspicuous, lifestyle apparel. However, right across the border, in the vibrant and diverse megalopolis of Mexico City and its surrounding regional market, that cultural framework has not allowed Air Max to establish the same strong foothold by relying on its formula for North America. In short, The USA has a deep sneaker culture, and Mexico doesn’t– what to do?
Is this a problem of styling? Is the Air Max bubble uninteresting in Mexico? Is it a problem of function? Does the Mexican youth not relate to exercise and leisure? Is it a problem of connecting consumers to direct and brick & mortar retail outlets? Do Mexican young people not shop? Or is it a question of brand extendability? Does the Mexican youth lack the same semiotic flexibility as North American consumers that allows them to mix and match cultural signifiers in such a way that athletic footwear can become lifestyle apparel? Intuitively, the answers to all these question seemed to be a resounding, no. But as with all things design, we needed to do our homework.
We began with that critical stew of market analysis and design lead research. After a night of scraping through the surface of the brief and the state of Air Max in Mexico, the students returned to the studio with their insights. Based on the insights they developed and how they sketched them out, and NOT on their trained skillsets, we broke the students out into four teams to begin working on deliverables: logo & brand DNA, three dimensional sneaker prototypes, app development, and a video.
At an early presentation of preliminary design sketching to the Air Max team, the key insights of the students were unanimously applauded. It was immediately apparent that asking 15 young people, all trained in the art of exploring and manipulating the tools and materials of culture, to tell a brand how to sell to their own demographic was a good call on the part of Air Max. The shape and direction of the deliverables was adjusted and focused. But the underlying thesis of the students’ collective insights moved forward.
I would go on in detail to tell you what that their thesis was and what we gave to Nike Air Max, but as we say in the business, then I’d have to kill you. #NDA #signhereplease
After five days of ceaseless research, sketching, filming, prototyping and deck building, the 15 exhausted students presented their work to the Centro community and the Nike Air Max MX office. I am happy to report that the project was a hit and that talk of continuing the work with additional workshops is still buzzing. Additionally, some students whose work and participation showed particular promise may be rewarded with internships at Nike in Portland.
In truth, our work only scratched the surface to reveal what could be done to deepen Air Max’s role as a lifestyle brand in Mexico and to lead the growth of sneaker culture there. So I sincerely hope the work is ongoing and that I’m lucky enough to get the opportunity to participate again.
My trip to Centro was incredible. While I spent little time site seeing in Mexico City, I was able to have an immersive cultural experience with a group of extraordinarily sophisticated designers and thinkers, students and teachers, young and old alike. That kind of experience cannot be seen or purchased in any museum or market. And I made good friends with a group of people whom I hope to see again some day soon. I congratulate everyone at Centro on the fine job they are doing to create a curriculum that produces such capable students and I applaud the students for their hard work, good humor and welcoming spirit throughout the workshop. I am deeply grateful for the confidence and trust that everyone showed me in letting me steer this workshop and I look forward to Round 2!
For this incredible experience, I would like to thank the following people:
From Nike Air Max in Mexico…
Ana Maria Rozo
From Centro’s Administration and Faculty…
Kerstin Scheuch, General Director
Uzyel Karp, Chair of Visual Communication
Sebastián Ocampo, Chair of Industrial Design
María Bostock, Head of Development and International Relations
Daniel Pezzi, Design Coordinator
And last but certainly not least, the students…
Chantal Fernandez Lopez, Interior Architecture
Ruth Araujo Gutierrez, Textile and Fashion
Mariana Martinez Lozoya, Textile and Fashion
Arturo Neuman Smolovitz, Industrial Design
Carolina Moyano Izquierdo, Industrial Design
Daniela G. Trejo Buendía, Industrial Design
David Iniguez Spinola, Marketing
María Elena Guadalupe Elorza Sánchez, Marketing
Carlo Canún Uribe, Visual Communication
Raquel Achar Cohen, Visual Communication
Emilio Ferrer Rueda, Visual Communication
Mariana Mena Tello, Digital Media
Javier Martinez Martinez, Digital Media
Jaime Jair Montañez Cervantes, Interior Architecture
Pavel Cortés Ramírez, Visual Communication
Finally, huge thanks to my friend, mentor and the chair of our department at the School of Visual Arts MFA in Products of Design, Allan Chochinov, for the introduction to Sebastián Ocampo that lead to this fantastic experience.
Great article by Brian Miller in the Guardian.
The Death of the Artist—and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur is a fascintating article in The Atlantic by William Deresiewicz on the history and market forces that have transformed craft based artists and artisans into business facing creatives.
Computers are essential to new means and methods in design as everywhere else in the world today. This goes without question and I believe we need no further argument to justify their place. But we can argue about where, when and how much. As a design educator, I am very concerned by what I see in the classroom/studio. Basic sensitivities to form, material, scale and ergonomics are in decline. Students are easily and heavily seduced by the computer’s capacity to deliver images that gleam and glisten on screen, regardless of how they might one day feel and work in the hand. This phenomenon is ironically worsened by the one-two punch of CAD programs coupled with robot printers that generate 3D models. The work of the robots makes it all too easy to create something that looks shelf and market ready, with little thought, little testing, and almost none of the essential hand to mind feedback that made our species uniquely capable of dreaming and building such a complex environment for ourselves. I use the computer and I use 3D printers. But I use them in careful conjunction with traditional studio skills that I am proud to have studied and mastered and I would never give a user a designed tool that I gave to a robot for production before deeply vetting its form and function with my own two hands. I am sincerely concerned about a future wherein we find ourselves manually bankrupt and beholden to technologies that undermine the very ingenuity and self-reliance that make us human. This article in the WSJ speaks to that with interesting data.
Cameron Tonkinwise has two heavy and fascinating pieces up on Medium– one here and another here– about this period of change in design and the opportunities for greater systems intervention. From the first: “Transition Design signals an ambition for design to play a role in larger scale social change. Faculty at the School of Design have started to speak about Transition Design in terms of the imperatives for change: the need to develop societies that resource themselves in more sustainable and equitable ways. We are developing an argument about why and how design plays a crucial role in the systems-level changes needed to develop more sustainable ways of living and working.” Read more…
I just completed teaching Design Performance for the first time in the inaugural year of SVA’s MFA program in Products of Design. I developed Design Performance for the department at the request of my department chair and mentor, Allan Chochinov. Design Performance is a five week course that examines the rituals of design exhibition and pushes students to explore and develop the space and behaviors they stage around the pedestal instead of solely fixating on the artifacts they place upon the pedestal. The official course description is here. The five weeks of the course at year’s end are followed by three intensive weeks of supervised production wherein the students prepare their work for public viewing.
The process my students went through culminated in “ALSO! Project,” which we presented at Wanted Design this passed weekend. The reception by the public and design community was beyond expectation. I am thrilled. We got a great tip of the hat from Julie Lasky on page 2 of her review of design week for the New York Times. Margaret Badore gave us a huge shout out in a dedicated post on Treehugger. And there’s a thoughtful post on Core77 by Ray Hu with some valuable crit and suggestions. The department has thoroughly documented the project on its blog here.
The coverage aside, I am primarily proud of the 16 dedicated individuals who dared to be this department’s first class and who followed me down the rabbit hole for the first run of my course. It was not always an easy ride. I am grateful to them for their trust and for their patience as I worked out the ideas of the class for the first time. They are an amazingly close, creative and energetic group. They deserve all the praise they are getting. They are (from left to right above in white shirts):
Zena Verda Pesta
Gaia Orain (not pictured)
The work they did in Design Performance was a group project. Each student took on specific responsibilities based on their strengths as unique designers but they worked as one and deserve to take credit equally.
Kathryn McElroy gets a massive photo credit; her insane diligence and skill is best seen on the ALSO! Project documentation tumblr. Additional credit is due to PoD faculty member Benjamin Critton who provided graphic direction and supervision for the project, actors Jason Schuler and Anna Foss Wilson who provided voice overs for “BOOM”, and Samantha Hinds and Marko Manriquez for their tireless coordination of administrative and technical needs of the department and students. Many thanks to Claire Pijoulat & Odile Hainaut of Wanted Design for hosting us, giving us carte blanche to do our work and providing access to the space and vendors. And last but not least, huge thanks to my mentor and friend Allan Chochinov for bringing me on as faculty and even bigger congratulations on an incredibly successful first year with the department. Here’s to many more!
As far as I’m concerned, every third adult needs to know how to do this in a pinch, otherwise we’re all fucked.
Code.org has a pretty clear agenda. I’d like to learn to code too. But is Steve right? Should all students learn to code? Is that more important than learning basic electrical wiring or how to tune an engine or chop down a tree or kill for food? Or play a musical instrument? Or are all these skills forever outdated and irrelevant? What is the baseline for essential learning and assembling the fundamental tools that lead to innovative thinking? What are the new tools for survival? Surely it’s increasingly important to understand basic coding to compete even for blue collar manufacturing jobs. But I am always concerned that we mistake our tools for our content. The medium is not necessarily the message when it comes to education. Teaching children to code is not teaching them to think. Coding is a skill. I don’t think the success of the people in this video comes from their ability to code; I think it comes from their ability to think, and to deploy their knowledge of code to execute and follow through on their ideas. Not the other way around. This is not to say that I disbelieve that learning to code can have formative benefits to learning. I think any constructive process that engages abstract thought to solve problems is critical to developing keen minds. But again, I am concerned that our educational system confuses– much as our species generally confuses– tools for content. And the tool of coding should not be mistaken as the main path toward a rewarding and innovative future for our civilization.