After the cat table appeared at Milan Design Week in 2014, it was spread by the Internet in fragments, and was loved by many ordinary people, evoking their childishness and possessing the self-evident characteristics that I believe a good design should have: it does not need to explain the connotation of the design in any way, in a fussy and quotable manner. So why am I writing about my design for the first time today? Because I don't want it to be a climax. The climax is a breakpoint, short-lived and unsustainable, but what I want to explore is what it brings as a "Scalable Prototype", a continuous design direction, and what this prototype and model can do for the future of design. Of course, it is also an introduction to the Cat Table 2.0 before it is presented at Milan Design Week this year.
1. The third entry point
What is a scalable scale prototype? This question can be explored based on the relationship between furniture design and architectural design, in the context of the categories and contexts that have emerged since the emergence of modernism. From the architect's point of view, there are two ways in which these two appear to be related in this context: the first is to emphasize their co-existence, that is, furniture is an extension of architecture. The series of wooden furniture designed by Alvar Aalto, for example, are strongly characterized by the consistent character and connection of his architecture in organic and natural terms. The second is the formal and constructive connection and similarity, such as Mies' Barcelona chair and his contemporaneous architectural designs, both with the constructive logic and formal language of "less is more".
The third entry point is not exclusive, but focuses on the application of a spatial prototype with strong formal precision and equivalence in different scales and dimensions, such as furniture, interior space and architecture. In other words, before and after designing the cat table, my team and I have been investigating what results can be obtained from a spatial prototype at different scales of reduction, and how these results can be compared and extrapolated to each other to reveal future-oriented architecture and furniture design.
2. Change of scale subject: Catable originated from ants
The essence of design science, which emerged in the 20th century, is oriented towards solutions with functional problems. This means that the design of furniture in this period, especially after the Bauhaus, was mainly oriented towards the human being as user and scale subject. It is often based on precise ergonomics. This subject of scale is clearly not unique when understood from the perspective of a scalable spatial prototype. The logic of the scale subject is not complicated, for example, the object designed by Zaha Hadid can be understood either as a prototype of a 1:10 sectional architectural model or as a bookcase. The scale subject of the former person and the book of the latter reach the same basic size. So the scale of the furniture can be a book, a dress, or of course a miniature human model of the architectural model, or an animal of this scale. The design does not explore the scale of the furniture at the beginning, and thus the idea of the cat.
This design is actually part of a series of designs that first originated with ants. I started working on a toy called AntWorks in 2008, which is a container where you can observe ants making holes. The design "Learning from the Ant Colony" is an attempt to apply it to architectural design after recording and studying the trajectory and information transmission of its holes. In this attempt, it is assumed that the organization and efficiency of the ant colony as a group is higher than that of the crowd, and the pheromone (the material used by ants to transmit information) is expressed as a solid space, and a spatial prototype is formed, using the channel as the internal spatial logic of the geometric prototype of the box to organize the space. This spatial prototype was then used to compare and borrow from the exhibition space, which also requires the physical representation and ordering of information, and thus the design of an exhibition hall was made. The process of this application is actually the first attempt of the scalable scale prototype: scaling ants and people, and scaling pheromones and exhibition information in the scale body.
This attempt to scale the prototype over a wide range illustrates the lack of an intermediate scale between a subject that does not need to be viewed through a magnifying glass, and a scale that can be constructed by oneself. The cat table is the answer. Rather than turning the cat into a scaled subject, we are exploring the possibility of the coexistence of two scaled subjects, the human and the cat. This possibility is one of the future-oriented features of the scalable space prototype: the process from "containing still life" to "containing animals" to "containing information".
The only scale in existing furniture design exists in the grasp of the scale function of the storage space, that is, "to hold static objects" With the emergence of storage changes, the original furniture used to stuff the physical function will be weakened, which does not mean that it will be only external form, but provides new possibilities for scale coexistence: the cat table extends this The cat table extends this coexistence of scales to the category of "animal". The term "mounted animals" refers to objects that move and change in a short period of time in space, and it is not limited to living things. In the foreseeable future, when the flexibility of touch screen materials can meet various spatial needs, furniture design will also take on the scale of "loaded information" with the characteristics of information terminals.
3. The retreat of constructive elements
Another great feature of the exploration of spatial archetypes at scalable scales is that it attempts to liberate the spatial impact of the elements constructed at each scale. Traditionally, just as you can't use glue to make an architectural model during the construction of a building, the realization of the same spatial archetype at different scales is very constructed differently, and it is the characteristics of these constructs themselves that secondarily define the characteristics of the furniture, the interior and the architectural space. For a scalable spatial prototype, in order to ensure the unity of its spatial characteristics at different scales, the key lies in the possibility of realizing the design in one or several uniform, homogeneous materials, which is a process of de-construction.
Looking to the future, this de-constructive change is precisely the shift from industrial-age design with assembly as the core of manufacturing to information-age design with the technical elements of turning information into entities as the core of manufacturing. Therefore, the mature solution of 3D printing will be the last barrier for furniture design to move from the industrial age to the information age. This process coincides with the aforementioned trend of "animal" and "information", and the mechanical and assembly nature of furniture is gradually receding, and its constructive elements will gradually recede.
The process of making the cat table is actually a practice for the above point. Although it is still limited by the homogeneous material itself, i.E. It cannot be 3d printed in wood, we tried to follow the process logically. The model of the cat table was first printed out in small scale by 3d printing, cut in half and used as a 3d drawing, and then the complete wood was carved by hand sanding by woodworkers. The result is a table that removes as much of the construction, assembly and mechanics as possible, following the principle of "scalability" and scaling up the 3d printed model in the most direct way possible to explore how far homogeneous materials can go in different scales of design.
The cat table is just a small step in the scaling of spatial archetypes to de-constructivize, and if it achieves design within the realm of furniture scale, the series of interior space projects we are designing are exploring this process on a larger scale. Likewise, the process of building backwards from a logical perspective should be achievable in the foreseeable future.
4. Catable 2.0 :from prototype to pattern
Whether it is the change of scale of the subject or the retreat of the constructive elements, we are discussing the characteristics of the concept of "scalability" at the design level. The essence of scalability is the application of the pattern of the "spatial archetype" of the subject. The so-called pattern is a way of thinking and designing, an ecological chain that can be reproduced.
The way of thinking about space is the first layer of the pattern. As pointed out in the previous article, the spatial prototype of the cat table, its mode is to think about the story inside the furniture. The various objects placed in the furniture, such as books and souvenirs, are a representation of the user's living condition, carrying the life experience and emotional attachment of each user. For the cat table, the question we are most interested in is "What is hidden in your drawer? "This secret has a carrier, which is its space. The narrative of space is more real, delicate and intriguing than the focus on shape.
The second layer of the pattern is iteration and reproduction, that is, how to apply the above-mentioned way of thinking about space to different designs, with a consistent and unified pattern between them. So we designed the Cat Table 2.0, which is no longer a traditional scale table, but several wooden cubes "kitten tables". Each one has a different shape and a path for the cat to play, while the remaining space can be defined by the user, such as for a book or a collection. Users can combine these units in a "building block" fashion to create stools, coffee tables, cabinets, or bookshelves, creating selective, personalized furniture.
From 1.0 to 2.0, the scale of the spatial archetype has been reduced, weakening the single functionality to a relatively more abstract form to cope with the various different functional needs of cabinets, tables, chairs, coffee tables and so on. And the emphasis on the coexistence of scale subjects and the retreat of constructive elements is consistent. This process is very similar to the iterative algorithm in the information model through the process of repeated feedback, gradually approaching the goal and the result, and its core is the continuation of the logic of spatial thinking. Iterations can be continued indefinitely. At the small iteration level, the iteration in version 2.0 is also open, that is to say, more small cubes can appear, with different paths and different functions, but the spatial logic is the same; at the medium iteration level, the future can appear in the same way 3.0, 4.0, etc.; at the larger iteration level, it will even go back to indoor space and architectural design scale. The process and result of this reproduction is the core value of the scalable scale space prototype.
5. Designers: create open systems that address users' emotions directly
If we go back to the root, the ultimate purpose of the pattern being multiplied and iterated is to create an open system that faces the users' emotions directly. Like the interface of cell phone IOS system, each icon represents an application, which has two obvious features: firstly, it is an open system, its distribution and sorting is decided by users, and the design subject changes from designer to designer + user model; secondly, it is directly facing users' emotions, its selection and content are determined according to users' emotions rather than pure functions. The following is an explanation of these two features from Catable 2.0.
1. The change of design subject and open system. The traditional definition of the furniture design object is the user of the design product, who chooses the design product according to the aesthetic and basic functional needs. The constraints of structure, expertise, and construction methods place them in opposition to the designer. In contrast, the scalable spatial prototype hopes to evolve various combinations of units through one prototype. Unlike the traditional combination furniture that emphasizes functional combinations, this combination is designed to be assembled by the user through a uniform modular cube in a completely consistent external form, achieving nearly unlimited assembly possibilities.
Catable 2.0, is exactly such an open system that puts the user as the main body of the design. We designed only four units, which users can reorganize according to their preferences and interact with the cat. Different combinations have different forms of aesthetics, and users will have a strong sense of satisfaction with this. The designer's design focus is on the front section, that is, how to extract the units for combination from the scalable scale space prototype. Each square unit we designed has six faces, each with its own character, and four units is 24 faces, allowing for a myriad of possibilities, while leaving openings and paths inside the units. This is the logic of the English letters and roots that make up words: the first segment defines the word, leaving the second segment as an open system to the user. It can have thousands of possibilities, but the holes and paths define the rules of word formation, and the user cannot go outside of them to form words. Of course, there are times when the rules are broken, such as when the hole is blocked and the cat can't get through and has to turn back, or when a resting space is formed.
2. Facing users' emotions directly. First of all, whether it is Catable 1.0 or Catable 2.0, each single unit in Catable 2.0 is concerned with an emotional design rather than the traditional context of form or space design, it is not simply beauty for the public, but aims to evoke their emotional needs. This is similar to the "flush toilet effect" and the principle of "what you see is what you get" in Internet design, where the process of flushing when you press the flush button is the shortest and most direct realization of the distance. So the purpose of emotional design is to anticipate the user's emotional expectations when he first sees it: cat slaves want a fun, weekly or even daily changing space to share with their cats, and cats want a playground that satisfies their curiosity and desire to explore. Emotional design cannot create some kind of emotion that does not exist in the user's heart; it actually releases some of the most basic physical and psychological desires. On this basis, when an open system can provide nearly unlimited possibilities for purchase, combination and assembly, it can magnify the emotions that these individual units and individuals can bring to the user. When users have the initiative to design, their experience is the strongest and most adequate, and the degree of emotional amplification is the greatest.
In an open system with these two characteristics, the function of designers will undergo a subtle shift. Instead of focusing on how to design a product that consumers will be happy to buy, they will provide a design possibility, or even a design platform. Here the designers play more of a guiding role, they can anticipate the abstract form of the final design, but they cannot anticipate the final form, aesthetics, or even the scale, because there are too many possibilities, and the user's ideas can never be predicted. Users become half designers in the process, while designers themselves exist more as developers of systems. When social innovations emerge in large numbers and innovation platforms like Quirky mature, the possibility of future furniture designers acting as a technical realization of these innovations will also be very large.