ECAL and the Olympic Museum


10 January 2014

On 29 January 2012, the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland closed for renovations. To mark its reopening in December 2013, the museum turned to the Spanish product designer Héctor Serrano and a group of industrial design students from the city's ECAL university to develop new souvenirs for its shop.

The project invited second year students from the school's Industrial Design BA to propose and design small products for the museum, two of which will now be manufactured and sold. Yet alongside its function as a project valuing creative output it also served as an important educational tool – an opportunity for student designers to experience the constraints of a commercial brief; to liaise with a real client; and to consider the impact of the needs of mass production on the design process.

Overseen by Serrano, a visiting lecturer at the school, the project served as a way of blooding the students to commercial realities. "Obviously in terms of of a concept the Olympics is a good one," says Serrano. "It’s a nice event and there's a lot of heritage to consider when designing in connection with it. But alongside this, the students were having to work with restrictions. The Olympic Museum wanted objects that worked for a production run in the thousands. Similarly the Olympic Museum had to be able to pay for the production, so that affected the proposals."

The results of the workshop are diverse. The students were challenged to move away from the kitschy connotations of souvenir design and to instead create portable, affordable products that nonetheless stood as items of successful design. "Something a designer would be happy to buy," says Serrano.

Two students, Cyrille Verdon and Clara Dalbéra explored the theme of the Olympic flame. Verdon producing matches shaped in the form of various Olympic torches, while Dalbéra cast the Olympic rings as a sparkler. Elsewhere, Paul Tubiana and Renaud Donadey experimented with sculptural forms, Tubiana producing a pop-up book of athletes in motion, Donadey creating silver-plated brass sculptures that demonstrate the performance of athletes.

Two of the projects, those created by Emil Hjorth-Rohde and Camille Ringenbach, have now been selected by the museum for production. Hjorth-Rohde designed delicate pop-up postcards, where spindly paper olympians peel up from the surface of the paper, while Ringenbach produced a moo box that plays the sounds of an Olympic crowd when inverted.

"It’s the first time I’ve ever had this sort of product out, so I am really excited," says Hjorth-Rohde, an exchange student at ECAL from The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. "It’s really important for a designer to get something out there for sale."

The initial prototypes for the postcards were handmade ("I’ve always been pretty good at using a scalpel, my dad taught me how to use one") with Hjorth-Rohde now exploring more industrial methods of production with the museum. "These objects are so delicate you need to cut them using a waterjet or a laser cutter," he says.

Ringenbach's work is more robust. A blue plastic tub, it is embedded with electronics that replicate the sounds of crowds at the Games. "I focused on making the object reflect a specific moment of these Games, the joy caused by the athletes' achievements," she says. "The opening of the new museum was a great opportunity to reflect on what the Olympic Games represent for people today and the spirit of sharing brought up by sports is something I am sensitive to."

More of the students' work is likely to be adopted by the museum in the future, with a further set of the products created during the workshop to be manufactured next year. "To do something original was a big challenge because there are a lot of limitations in terms of designing a souvenir and there are already a lot of such products on the market," says Serrano. "But I was very happy and impressed with the results. Not only were they good ideas, but they were well executed."

Yet the physical results of the project are likely to be less influential in the development of the designers' careers than the simple opportunity to design according to a real world brief. "It opened up a whole new world for me, because it made me focus on having a really strong idea and concept," says Hjorth-Rohde. "Having a strong idea allowed me to really focus on getting the design aspect right. The whole process for me was focusing on not over-complicating the concept and making sure I got the basics right."