Design Parade 13

Hyères, France

5 July 2018

It is tempting to imagine Design Parade, an annual festival of design hosted in the modernist Villa Noialles in Hyères, France, as a kind of barometer of the state of design.

Each year, the Villa invites a series of 10 emerging designers to exhibit work at the festival, with the competing projects subsequently evaluated by a jury of established designers, curators and manufacturers who eventually select an overall winner. The Grand Prix du jury, then, tempts you to consider the winning proposal as the project par excellence of that year’s output, with past laureates such as Julie Richoz, Brynjar Sigurdarson and François Dumas going on to enjoy considerable success. The problem, of course, is that this tendency simply doesn’t work.

The reason for this – as one might imagine – is that the projects on display at Design Parade are simply non-commensurable. Each year, the festival invites its jurors to compare examples of rigorous product design with projects that tread more conceptual or speculative territory. Mathieu Peyroulet Ghilini, the winner of the 2013 edition, was recognised for his trétreaux series of trestles; Carolien Niebling, 2017’s laureate, claimed victory with her The Future Sausage investigation into the future of butchery. While both projects were rooted in meticulous research, their disparate subject matter and final outcomes highlight the breadth of fields and approaches across which designers now roam. Placing such projects in direct competition, while fascinating, is somewhat arbitrary. For apples and oranges, read trestles and sausages.

Design Parade 13, the 2018 iteration of the festival which took place last week, saw the festival in its usual eclectic mood. French designer Loïc Bard displayed his Bone project, a set of carefully handcrafted maple seats, while Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Anaïs Borie exhibited L’épopée de Prométhée, a series of narrative-laden lights and a clock that fused their electronic components to the symbolism of the Prometheus myth. Camille Viallet and Théo Leclercq presented their crisp, colourful and clean La cité public seating proposal, while Alexandre Willaume’s bricolage-esque La station installation of a modular living space found a delicate aesthetic balance within its visual chaos and grunginess. The festival is to be applauded for its willingness to exhibit diverse forms of practice, and to acknowledge that contemporary design is capable of valuing countless different forms of practice.

Nowhere was this more clear than in those projects selected for recognition by this year’s jury, which was chaired by the designer Philippe Malouin, and numbered among its members the curator Matylda Krzykowski, Artek’s director Marianne Goebl, journalist Felix Burrichter, and designers Erwan Bouroullec and Carolien Niebling. The jury awarded its grand prix to ECAL graduate Sara de Campos, whose Uva project consisted of a high-density polyethylene bucket and box designed for use by grape pickers working during harvest season on vineyards. A special mention, meanwhile, went to University of Cincinnati graduates Alex Sizemore and Hank Beyer for For the Rest of Us, a research publication exploring the diversity of material production in the US midwest, supported by a series of sculptures of computers executed in materials such as lard, coal, terracotta and peat.

One of Alex Sizemore and Hank Beyer's computers. IMAGE Luc Bertrand.

Of the two, it was Sizemore and Beyer’s work that more immediately caught the eye. “We were curious about material resources near our homes and we wanted to apply material values that aren’t commonly associated with objects,” explained the designers. “There are a lot of materials that serve industry really well – they’re affordable and suited to mass manufacture – but our thinking is to challenge the notion that materials which are best for industry are also best for humanity.” In the vein of work such as Christien Meindertsma’s PIG 05049 book and Thomas Thwaites’s The Toaster Project, Sizemore and Beyer presented design as an interrogative and investigative discipline – one which can and ought to engage in regular self-reflection and self-criticism of its material and production mores.

“Different materials carry different values, and we found that by shifting into these unusual materials to create the computers, you really change your relationship to an everyday object,” said Sizemore and Beyer. “Overall, the project was about the communities we visited and showing that materials are about more than what they present at face value.” And therein one of the constraints of the project. While Sizemore and Beyer’s computer sculptures were charming and thought provoking – a device which proposed using a clay chimney liner as a monitor casing proving particularly successful – they primarily operated at the level of props. Rather than serve as integral elements of the project, the objects instead seemed to be visual amuse bouches for the main course – a publication detailing Sizemore and Beyer’s research into American industry and its interaction with the communities that support it.

While a publication is a legitimate outcome for design, it will be interesting to see whether Sizemore and Beyer now develop their project further and direct it towards a more emphatic material outcome. The computers might immediately gain in force, for instance, were they to be designed in conjunction with the communities who support the production of the device’s constituent materials. In this respect, the final designs might come to serve as artefacts of their own creation, as well as their attendant socio-economic networks.

If Sizemore and Beyer, then, were not object-orientated in their approach, the eventual winner de Campos stood out for her dedication to rigorous product design as a worthwhile pursuit, and one with an emphatically problem-solving character. “I come from a family of wine producers, and recently I have realised how important the harvest, and the way in which grapes are handled and collected, is for the final quality of a wine,” explained de Campos, whose studio is based in Lisbon. “My main concern, however, is the health conditions of the workers, who in Portugal tend to use simple buckets that they carry on the head or shoulders. They’re carrying 40kg of grapes at a time, which is quite painful and can be damaging.”

The winning design: Sara De Campos's lightweight basket and bucket for grape pickers. IMAGE Luc Bertrand.

Both de Campos’s basket and bucket, which is carried on a tubular metal structure attached to a nylon rucksack harness, were perforated, enabling a reduction in weight and material usage, while also allowing any juice or rain to drain off the harvested grapes. “It’s not good for the grapes to be wet,” she explained, “and in some wine growing regions you’re obliged to have holes in the box, like in Champagne. Rules around harvesting change from region to region, so I’ve tried to create designs whose qualities comply with those rules and which can be used everywhere. I used high-density polyethylene, [for instance], because it’s safe for food and drinks and has already been approved by the industry.”

De Campos equipped her basket with generous handles, enabling it to be easily picked up. The bucket meanwhile, can be quickly slipped off the harness and onto a flatbed truck, without the need for the backpack component of the design to be removed first. Both designs are stackable, with de Campos having carefully considered the constraints within which her products would need to operate. While still at the stage of prototypes, de Campos’s designs were confident, and unashamedly functional and non spectacular. De Campos identified a problem, researched it thoroughly, and presented a series of solutions that seem highly promising. Her selection by the jury seemed a vindication of the idea that any piece of design, no matter its aims, ought to be thought through and considerate of the environment in which it will be deployed.

In recognising both de Campos and Sizemore and Beyer, Malouin and his jury used the 13th Design Parade as an opportunity to acknowledge the diversity of design practice available today. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and more than one way to operate as a contemporary designer. In its celebration of this plurality, the 13th Design Parade ought to be recognised as offering a fine sweep of the field.