Monday, 16 January 2012

Designer's Drawings

This article was first published in Architecture Ireland #259

October saw the opening of the first major retrospective of the work of Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, prolific and influential French product designers, in the Centre Pompidou-Metz in north-east France. The exhibition is entitled Bivouac, meaning a temporary encampment, and as such the gallery space will be inhabited by the Bouroullec’s work until July 2012. As much a testament to the brothers’ immensely accomplished designs, the exhibition is also an insight into the process employed by the designers, with finished products shown alongside prototypes, and mass-produced objects paired with those which have been hand-crafted.

Another interest element of the show which is further explored in an iPad app produced to accompany Bivouac is the display of the brothers’ drawings. More elusive than the ubiquitous architectural drawing, drawings by designers are often hidden away and forgotten about, or not considered for public consumption. In his manual Drawing for Designers author Alan Pipes says that though they are “more than mere instructions on how to make objects”, designer’s drawings can often be “a private and hidden art, the marks on paper treated merely as a means to an end”. In many ways, the various types of drawings made by designers are a means to an end, be they tools for communication of an idea to a client or manufacturer or technical illustrations to instruct the end user on the finished product, but drawings are also an incredibly important method of designing itself – formulating ideas, exploring forms or finding solutions to the problem at hand. In Understanding Design designer and writer Kees Dorst instructs the designer to embrace “...not so much the brilliant execution of complete images, but the production of ugly little sketches that will help you think about your design. The kind of images that only you will understand”.


Far from ugly though, the drawings of Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec are beautiful, charming and full of character, and their iPad app entitled Cercles is a fantastic way of exploring their drawings, using the iPad’s high resolution and touchscreen functionality to great effect. Concurrently, and perhaps coincidentally, a book of illustrations and drawings by another contemporary design icon, Karim Rashid, has recently been published by FRAME. Where the Bouroullec’s drawings are imbued with the same playful quirkiness of their products, Rashid’s drawings hold all the curvaceous confidence you would expect. Sketch shows an extensive collection of Rashid’s own concept drawings along with some digital artworks to give a real sense of the place drawing and illustrating holds in Rashid’s practice.

To see behind the veil of highly finished presention drawings to the rough and ready sketches of designers such as Rashid and the Bouroullecs provides a snapshot of the question-asking, the problem-solving and the playful creativity that goes into the design of an object. There is something raw and honest about the drawings presented in Rashid’s book and the Bouroullec’s app, and they are wonderfully expressive of the vigour and energy by which the creative process is driven.