FUSE project with The Craft Council of Ireland

Since September 2012 I’ve had the pleasure of working for DesignBurst, a recent entrant to the design industry in Ireland which looks to provide an engaging and interactive space for innovators to complete projects, learn professional skills and start new businesses in Ireland. Collaboration is a core aspect of DesignBurst, and since September I’ve been working on a number of projects with a team of designers; Edita RipinskyteOonagh Geoghegan (design blog here) and Alan Donnelly, headed by Marianna Kane.

One of our first projects was quite a unique one. As Marianna is a mentor in the Crafts Council of Ireland, we were asked to take part in the FUSE project. The aim of the project was to forge a link between craft and commercial design, with the ultimate goal of making the Craft Council members’ products more commercially viable on a larger scale via the product design process.

The brief was broad. As a group we were assigned 3 different craft council members, and all we had to go on was 5 or 6 images of each of their current product lineup. We purposely did not contact the Craft Council members, so that as designers we could be as free and uninhibited as we pleased. This would be fun…

The first Craft Council member was Fergal Megannety. His speciality is reclaiming discarded wood and turning it into beautiful ornamental pieces, often utilising the wood’s inherent flaws as a central feature. It was immediately obvious that these were high quality pieces with meticulous attention to detail. We liked the reclaimed aspect to his work, and we all felt there was an undertone of astronomy and time in his products which we thought interesting. We got a strong feeling that Fergal really enjoyed his work and had a passion for turning wood.

Fergal’s work was primarily ornamental, and quite traditional in its style. We thought we’d take another direction, by adding some functionality and possibly a new material to contrast the traditional wood. Through the design process, we finally decided to design a small lighting range which would utilise Fergal’s skill and also stay true to his style. After numerous brainstorming sessions, we settled on a comet-style form which would either be table-to or ceiling mounted.  The comet form worked quite well as it embodied astronomy and also a timelessness feel as comets seem to have no end or beginning regarding time, they simply endure. We also wanted to add some contrast, and thought that the addition of a coloured polymer embedded in the piece would suit as this would allow Fergal to continue turning the wood and also maintain the theme of reclamation if the polymer were salvaged from a recycled product. The LED light strip provides light from the tail of the comet and adds function to the product’s visuals. The light could be hung form the ceiling by a used “choker” chain, a tool used in forestry to move large tree trunks, further expanding on the theme of recycling unused and unwanted materials.

The second Craft Council of Ireland member we had the pleasure of designing for was Fiona Smith Darragh. Her work revolved around capturing the lines and animal characteristics of birds and other animals in ornamental bronze statues for the home. The pieces were clearly elegant, expertly crafted and had a timeless quality. The pieces were not supposed to be replicas, as the strokes from the initial carving process can still be seen, which only adds to the organic feel and the sense of freedom so evident in her work.

Like Fergal’s work before, Fiona’s work was purely ornamental. We saw this as another opportunity to discover how Fiona’s skills might be utilised for a product which continues the theme of natural, organic forms and maintains that timeless feel, meaning it could be integrated into her current product lineup without looking out of place. After applying the early phases of the design process and exploring numerous options, we decided to design a wine bottle and glass holder for the home.

The holder, in a form reminiscent of a swan, holds one wine bottle and two wine glasses. Designed to fit into the surroundings of any modern house or apartment it can be either a centrepiece or a functional, understated addition to the home. This design would take Fiona’s skill in a new direction, and into new markets as those who may not have floor space or a suitable interior for her animal sculptures may have counter space and the need for an elegant wine bottle holder.

The third and final Craft Council of Ireland member we had the pleasure of designing for is Jane Walsh. Jane has created a fabulous collection using buttons set in resin. The jewellery collection includes rings, cufflinks and earrings. 

We were amazed with Jane’s images from the get-go. We loved the idea, the production process, the use of bright playful colours, we were just shy of placing orders ourselves! We learned in the brief company description which accompanied her images that Jane uses buttons from items of clothing which are of sentimental importance to her customers. For example children’s clothing such as communion dresses, baby clothes etc. This added a sweet uniqueness to her work which we also loved. The simplicity, affordability, geometric shapes and playfulness evident in Jane’s work gave us a lot to work with.

We analysed Jane’s work in depth, and got to work brainstorming. We identified a number of options regarding what direction we could take, and in the end couldn’t quite decide, so we presented her with three concepts.

The three concepts we developed for Jane were a cutlery range, an iPhone case and an ornamental piece which would utilise the magnifying and reflective properties domed resin has on light passing through it. We felt the inclusion of buttons to an iPhone case would be an interesting combination, even more so with the addition of a fabric, contrasting the texture of the hard, smooth resin. The idea of the kitchen utensils was to add en element of function to Jane’s ideas. They could be aimed at children, and could also be ornamental pieces in their own right. The final concept was an ornamental piece for the home interior. It would be a solid piece of resin with a domed top. The idea would be that buttons/fabric of sentimental value could be embedded within and the domed top would magnify the items. All 3 concepts were quite different, and offer different opportunities, appealing to different markets.

As a team we had the opportunity to meet the craftspeople we designed for in an event held in the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) on Friday 9th November. We got a chance to chat directly to them and present our final designs. We were delighted with some of the positive feedback we received on our work and many business cards were exchanged. There was a strong general feeling that the gap between the craft industry in Ireland and design for manufacture and mass production could and should be bridged sooner rather than later so that these ideas and products can be brought to a wider, international audience. I for one look forward to seeing this happen, and possibly (hopefully) being part of it.