Connected, how designers worked during lockdown
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Connected, how designers worked during lockdown

9 designers, 3 hardwoods, 1 workshop

Connected, how designers worked during lockdown

The onset of Covid-19 has significantly changed the way people live, interact and work. In the design world, creatives and makers have had to adapt their processes using new technologies to work together at a distance and often operating from new, improvised home offices. Connected is an experiment set out to explore how designers and craftsmen adapt their working practices during lockdown. For this project the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), Benchmark Furniture and the Design Museum have challenged nine international designers to create a table and seating, which will suit their new ways of working from and living at home. They will also record their creative journeys to allow us to witness how they approach the brief and develop their thoughts, sketches and ideas during these challenging times. The designers involved in Connected are: Ini Archibong (Switzerland), Maria Bruun (Denmark), Jaime Hayon (Spain), Heatherwick Studio (UK), Sebastian Herkner (Germany), Maria Jeglinska-Adamczewska (Poland), Sabine Marcelis (Netherlands), Studiopepe (Italy) and Studio Swine (UK / Japan). The resulting pieces will be shown at the Design Museum, in London, as an installation called Connected, when the museum re-opens to the public, celebrating the act of physically coming back together – reconnecting – after lockdown. Connected will also explore how designers can champion a beautiful and sustainable material: hardwood. The project will challenge both the designers and craftsmen at Benchmark to work in innovative ways by relying solely on digital communication and video conferencing to bring the designers’ visions to life. This approach will require a new level of trust in the makers, since the designers will have no physical contact with their pieces until they are finished and on display at the Design Museum. Each designer will be paired with a craftsman at Benchmark’s workshop in Berkshire, with whom they will develop their pieces. Benchmark will collate all the production data for each design to enable AHEC to model its environmental life cycle impact (LCA). The designers will record the design process and product development throughout the summer, producing a series of video diaries to be shared on the project website (www.connectedbydesign.online) and social media, using the project hashtag (#connectedbydesign). These diaries will also feed into a documentary-style film that will narrate their individual journeys. Once complete, the pieces will be displayed in the atrium of the Design Museum this autumn and will feature both virtual and actual content as a way to celebrate these new designs and mark an end to the isolation caused by the virus.

Purely digital processes and a commitment to sustainability
Sean Sutcliffe, founder of Benchmark Furniture, says: “It is pertinent at this moment to explore new ways of working remotely – and of creating at a distance. It’s by no means the first time we’ve developed furniture using digital communication tools, but this will be the first time we’ve developed pieces in a purely digital environment, without visits to our workshops from designers. I’m interested to see what the lockdown period has made designers think about in terms of product development. How does working from home influence the furniture in our home, and its functional requirements?” As always, with Benchmark and AHEC, the message of sustainability is at the core of the project. AHEC’s European Director, David Venables, says: “We were faced with designers across Europe being, to a greater or lesser degree, in isolation, having to work alone. Connected will tap into their individual creativity, but will also bring them together to work towards a common goal. This material-driven project is all about three underused hardwoods - red oak, maple and cherry - which combined account for more than 40% of all standing hardwoods in the American forests. All three are beautiful woods and we want the designers to discover their aesthetic and performance potential. But our emphasis is also on the environmental merits of making more use of what nature is growing. Over-reliance on a narrow selection wood types must ultimately result in supply stress. So, we have a responsibility to widen the choice.” Justin McGuirk, Chief Curator at the Design Museum, adds: “Commissioning nine designers to make furniture from wood doesn't sound like a particularly original brief. But these are not ordinary times. We are all being over-exposed to our homes, and having to adapt to new patterns of working. The pandemic has forced each designer to approach their home-working set-up with a completely fresh perspective – what do they really need? The Connected project is a rare opportunity for them to design for themselves, but the key challenge is that they will have to rely entirely on digital communication. It couldn’t be more relevant and we look forward to hosting the results at the Design Museum.”
 

Any non-wood elements to the designs will be ethically sourced.
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