Almost 30 years ago, Ron Arad hit it big in the design world with a living-room chair made from the seat of a junked car. The Rover Chair, named for the British car maker whose bucket seat he repurposed, redefined industrial chic and made him famous.
Ron Arad hit it big in the design world 30 years ago with a living-room chair he made from the seat of a junked car. Since then he has pushed his field in new areas with innovative shapes and materials. Recently he sat down with The Wall Street Journal Asia to talk about industrial design.
Since then, Mr. Arad, the industrial designer, artist and architect who headed the design products department at London’s Royal College of Art until last year, has pushed his field into new areas with innovative materials and shapes in furniture, fashion, art and architecture. The curvy, shape-as-you-like “Bookworm” shelf uses a thermoplastic polymer; a sleek lounge chair is made of polished and mirrored steel; earrings are polyamide, shaped using a process called laser sintering.
“The only reason to do something,” says Mr. Arad, “is if you believe it can be done better than before.” It’s the creed of his field of work, to design things that are beautiful yet functional and that are thus, in theory, superior products.
Born in Tel Aviv, the 58-year-old designer has his own industrial-design and architecture firm — Ron Arad Associates — in London, where he has lived since 1973. He’s married, with two daughters.
His work takes him all over the world: He was in Hong Kong recently for a one-man show at the Ben Brown Fine Arts gallery, where he sold several ping-pong tables of mirrored steel and bronze for US$490,000 each. His newest project is a video-screen-based installation that will be a focal point of “Restless,” a survey of his work at London’s Barbican Art Gallery beginning Feb. 18.Thomas Lee for The Wall Street Journal
“I am like a pinball in the studio,” says Mr. Arad. “There are deadlines, things that have to be done now, things I want to do now.”
Weekend Journal Asia sat down with Mr. Arad during his recent stop in Hong Kong to talk about his work, his life and the future of industrial design.
Is there a limit to what you will create?
I will not design weapons.
Will machines replace people in manufacturing?
I remember when the Times [of London] changed from traditional printing to digital. There were big demonstrations. My sympathy was with the workers but you look at it now, what were we thinking? We arranged lead letters by hand before a newspaper was printed. Technology will replace some aspects and give us time to do other things. There is a lot of stuff that we don’t even think about; we don’t even bother remembering phone numbers anymore. I used to have a whole telephone book in my head. I don’t anymore.
How has China’s rise as a market and manufacturing base affected you?
Four years ago [on a trip to Hong Kong] I took a ferry to Shenzhen and visited factories that make copies of my furniture. I wasn’t angry at them. I have some respect for the young entrepreneurs who started this. They created employment for 300 people. I complimented them on their choice of things to copy.
Why doesn’t it bother you that your designs are being copied? It bothers me. But it would bother me more if no one copied me. That means I’m not good enough.
What is your favorite design creation so far?
What’s on the drawing board now.
Which one means the most to you?
My first chair [the Rover]: My children jumped on it. They were breast-fed on it.
How do you relax?
Snatch. It’s Scrabble on steroids; it’s anagrams and things.
What is the purpose of industrial design?
To make us better in some way, to delight us, to entertain us, to make sure we are comfortable and warm, safe and wealthy and amused.
What’s next in the field of industrial design?
We can make things smaller, lighter, compact.
—Alexandra A. Seno is a writer based in Hong Kong.
Villa Saitan by EASTERN Design Office
The site is in Nishioji-hachijo, Kyoto. From the main street we enter into a covert place along an alley of 4 meters in width. This construction is a collective housing consisting of 11 units.
The impersonality of segmental housing complex is completely concealed in this architecture. Instead it is built to be seen as one big house.
The architecture is covered with a wall in which holes are cut. The shape of the holes resembles a trunk, leaves, a root and bulbs. It also can be seen as clouds floating over the trees. Concrete shape which is based on nature turns into a hollow cave, light, and sunbeams filtered through trees.
The idea of windows like sunbeams filtered through trees has developed with the following methods: lined up balconies of average collective housing are completely hidden here, there is no balcony for each room, the ceiling height of one room is raised, dwelling units are elevated one meter from the ground, floor level of entrance and apartments is different, center of the wall surface is curved, the center of the façade of the architecture is sculptured, a curved winding slit is made on the curved wall surface, the shape of the holes matches with the winding slit, the result is one shape of a plant growing roots undulating from it.
Since curved holes are made on a carved wall surface, it is physically inevitable that the section of holes is also twisted. This distortion resembles the shape of plants and the organic and free style of nature.
The entrance to the house is from the root carved into the center of the front wall. An inner pathway peculiar to Kyoto can be found there. An inner pathway is a narrow corridor which runs from street to street and from lot to lot.
In this project the inner path is connected to the garden of the town house of the client. He manages this collective housing by himself. It is his daily routine to do sweeping, arranging flowers at the entrance, and watering the path. Thus he enjoys his post-retirement years.
This land was once the site of NIshihachijo-palace, which was the residence of a hero of the Japanese classical tragedy, “Tale of Heike.” It was a stage of rise and fall of a clan in the 12th century. Such an old and sad memory is cherished and still told among the people of this neighborhood.
The collective housing that is built on such a historical place should not be seen as an average apartment house. Such notion occurred to us, which might have led us to the idea of an “immortal tree.” We, therefore, designed a building which does not take vaguely a shape of a tree, but rather an intense and massive form with a tint of movement. The lot size is 16m×19m. This architecture gives an answer how to build a low collective housing in a quiet but dense place.
What does the name Saitan mean?
Like millions of others around the world I was so subjected to the overly hyped launch of Apple’s latest creation that by the time I saw the device I was over it before I had even laid eyes on it.
When the launch happened and I finally got a chance to see proper visuals and video of the product, I was to say the least disappointed at what Apple has produced. My largest single beef with the iPad is the fact that Apple has not again taken a revolutionary leap in design language, styling or aesthetics, its just a large iPod Touch or iPhone.
With the amount of hype surrounding this launch and such raised expectations it was pretty much guaranteed that most of us would be quite disappointed with Apple producing no more than an enlarged iPhone that currently provides us with nothing more than a larger screen and the ability to read ebooks. Plus with a screen that big, how many do you think will get cracked screens quite quickly? Over half of the iPhone users I know have managed it within 6 months of purchasing their shiny new iPhone. As proof of how disappointed everyone was, take a look at the decline in Apple’s stock price when the iPad was announced. It goes down and then only recoverers with mention of the price!
Anyway back to the original beef, design language. While Apple has not produced an obviously revolutionary product (that said, and I will get to this later, it will be revolutionary in the long term in particular market segments) it has produced something that not only fits within its tried and true strategies. Basically by producing a device that fits within an established and well understood design language (how many countless computer manufacturers have plainly tried to rip off many aspects of the iPod?) we can see that Apple has primed a huge market for the release of the iPad because they are completely familiar with how it looks and works.
A side note here: although Apple would clearly attempt to have us believe that this was their master plan from the start. And that they always had the iPad as a goal. I am not so sure this is the case. It is more likely that they happened upon the fact that they could produce a device like the iPad somewhere between the development of the latest MacBooks/MacBook Pros and the iPhone3GS.
While it is clear that Apple is leveraging the iPod design language and user interface to segway many people into at least trying the iPad, don’t be surprised, as they are certainly not the first company to do this with the design of their products – although they are now one of the most prominent examples.
An earlier example of the use of design language to create familiarity with new products in the tech space is Sony. Sony used similar design languages, branding and various other design archetypes from the early products like the Sony Walkman in the production of their Discmans, MD and MP3 players.
Creating a set of products that share so many fundamental design ideas that they become a product family allows companies to create products that appeal to different market segments and market needs, while allowing users to be comfortable with the product or associate it with the products producer. Or it could just be said that it is lazy on the part of the designers (but that would be a crude thing to say).
However I suspect Jonathan Ive and his team might be getting a bit bored with producing different versions of the iPod language and we might just see a departure from it in the next set of Apple products, then again maybe not? But I really hope so.
The iPad will be purchased by many who already own a full suite of Apple products, they would most likely own a combination or all of the following: iPhone, MacBook, MacBook Pro, iPod, AppleTV etc…. These buyers will fit into the “fanboy” stereotype and fuel the initial sales, they will be the early adopters lining up around the corner late at night at their local Apple store when the iPad is released for sale later this year.
Due to their early adopters being covered by their “fanboy” base Apple has focused its marketing efforts on capturing the ebook, video, web browsing and gaming market. Which fits into their mantra of the iPad being being a casual computing device. So in the end the iPad will be a huge hit for Apple in the same way that both the iPhone and the iPod have been.
Will iPad revolutionise the computing industry?
The above then leads us to the pertinent question, if Apple’s iPad is going to be a runaway success will it revolutionise the computing industry?
For a segment of the industry their is no doubt in my mind that iPad will revolutionise the way computers are used within that segment. The segment of the market where I see the most use of the iPad will be in home computing. We will see a shift from having a single home computer in the form of the desktop, to each member of the family having something like an iPad. The iPad will live mostly in the home, but might also be used in the classroom. It will take the place of the laptop or main home computer. We will only see desktop computers (and probably only one) in homes where there is a professional that needs the serious computing power – i.e. a freelance industrial designer. The iPad will eventually sync seamlessly with your iPhone and the cloud, so that when you need it you can take your iPad out, but overall you will mostly take your iPhone out and about. So will this happen on a global scale anytime soon? No, but it will happen and the iPad will be the beginning. Especially since more players wil move into the space and soon Dell will produce something similar at a quater of the price.
The Apple iPad’s impact on the Industrial Design industry
There are a few potential applications that I can see for a device similar to Apple’s iPad in Industrial Design.
I don’t think that the iPad in it’s current form will be of huge use to designers on its own. As I mentioned earlier a device similar to the iPad will be synced with something that has more serious grunt. So you would do your CAD models on the desktop that has serious computing power, but would then take the designs to show the client on the iPad like device. You would then be able to interactively notate and markup the CAD in front of the client or while on the train.
The most immediate use for the iPad within Industrial Design circles, apart from being the talking point and reference point of choice for the coming year for every design related debate, will be for sketching. However I suspect for the accuracy level needed for decent sketches, we will still require a pen like device to do it even though Apple wants us to only use out hands.
Designers around the globe will also spend the next two years churning out look a likes and attempting to one up Apple, unsucessfully. Design schools will be filled with students designing the “next” iPad. Lecturers, Professors and professionals will lament that there are no talented student designers left because they will all be designing iPad killers.
Quick thoughts before I stop ranting
I think Apple could have incorporated a projector into the iPad. Imagine being able to mix up music and video on this thing and then projecting it. Or just projecting movies directly onto a wall when watching with more than one person. Or you could even use it to do presentations. Maybe this will be on the next one?
Apples newest marketing video (for the iPad), opening with Johnathan Ive makes me cringe, it has got to be some of Apples worst marketing since Steve took the reigns back.
So thats my rather long rant on the iPad, and I am sure I could keep going. But at over a thousand words do you really want to hear anymore?
A patented technology based on the radical notion of replacing formwork and heavy machinery with air. The system, developed by Dr. Dante Bini in the 60’s uses low air pressure to lift and shape wet concrete and reinforcing steel. The system has been recently improved, rendered more environmental and architecturally flexible. Today Binishells use 80% less materials, have 95% of the embodied CO2 and have a carbon footprint 80% smaller than traditional construction.