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The following interviews are part of a larger project for a thirdyear Directed Studies in Design Futures. We have conducted these interviews with Emily Carr alumni to gather knowledge about design practices, methodologies, experiences and advocay, while simultaneously taking the opportunity to showcase former students of Emily Carr University. The interviews were prepared with two specific audiences in mind; Current, the Design Research Journal, and the Design째, which both are web based publishing mediums for design research and degree content respectively. We are excited to share with you the outcomes of our project, and to create a legacy for Emily Carr, sharing the experiences and insights of alumni.

Bree + Solveig

The following is an interview with 2011 Industrial Design Graduate, Ben McLaughlin. The interview was transcribed from a video of our meeting in November, 2011.

For this interview, we sat down with Ben McLaughlin, a 2010 Industrial Design Graduate, to talk to him about his grad project, Ubuntu, and his success in the industry after graduation. Ben’s essay on Ubuntu can be found on the Current blog, and it was also chosen for the 2011 Current eBook, downloadable off of the iBooks store in 2012. We encourage you to watch the video @, for a sample of Ben playing the drum he created.

SJ: Could you start with introducing yourself and tell

SJ: What are recent projects you are working on?

us a bit about your work?

BM: Actually, tomorrow I am going to meet the

BM: I graduated from Emily Carr in May 2011,

owner and director of a series of galleries called

though I actually had my grad show in May 2010.

the Mountain Galleries. They are within the

Since completing school I have been doing a

Fairmont Chateau Hotels. There is one in Whistler,

couple of privately commissioned furniture pieces

one in Jasper and one in Banff. I actually met

along the same lines as my grad project. More

a representative at a recent design expo, the

recently I have tried to further my network and

IDSA West Show at the Vancouver Trade and

marketing connections to get my designs into

Convention Centre. She said she “loved my work

more retail outlets and more avenues, galleries and

and needed it in all of her galleries”. She said


she’d never wanted a furniture piece before in her galleries, but that she needed mine! So for the last

Diverging a bit, I am originally from Omaha

month and a half we’ve been sorting out details,

Nebraska. My first two years of University were in

trying to figure out exactly what works she would

Milwaukee Wisconsin at the Milwaukee Institute

have as well as all of the logistical and business

of Art and Design, studying industrial design. I

aspects of things.

noticed they had an exchange program and one of the schools was Emily Carr. So I came here in

SJ: In what way are you most satisfied with this

the second semester of my third year and was only


supposed to be here for three months. Now three

BM: It seemed like a lot ideas and a lot of aspects

years later, I am still here. I just love Vancouver. I

from design and my life were coming together in

also love Emily Carr, so it kept me around

one piece, which is kind of rare in the world of

design, to have something that you are satisfied

is in seeing other people take enjoyment in what

with. I find that you are always your own biggest

I am doing. I have done glass blowing for a few

critic. Even with this piece there are very minor

years and as with the drum work, both of these

things that probably 95 % of people wouldn’t

mediums facilitate an interaction. People almost

notice, outside the design realm and of course I

seem enthralled by the mediums and gravitate

am going to pick those out first. Just to be very

towards them. That is a really strong creative

close to something that you have pictured in your

energy for me and helps me to pursue the greater

mind, to be able to produce it as a 3D object, that

quality in my work I desire.

is fascinating to me. SJ: How did you get into drums? SJ: You mentioned the business and logistics side of

BM: It would have been around four years ago.

things. How were you prepared for that after Emily

I was travelling with some friends seeing some


BM: You know I would say a lot of it has been learning by doing. I’m not criticizing the Emily Carr Curriculum, because I think it is a great school. However, there could be a design entrepreneurship class. There is Professional Practices, but that was more centered around my own professional practice. I have been figuring out all the logistical sides of things like “where do I find studio space to use and how do I pay those bills?” and “how do I buy materials, because I am working with a lot with exotic hardwoods” , just a lot of shipping considerations, packaging, pretty much “how do I get my work to a client at a reasonable price and still maintain really high quality?”. With each project

music and stopped in at a friends house. He

I am learning more and more.

pulled out this box and asked if we’d ever seen one of these before and he started playing it. I

SJ: Where do you draw your inspiration from for your

was wowed and had a closer look at it. It was


essentially a wooden box made of a couple of

BM: I am kind of all over the board on that one.

exotic hardwoods. I was looking for an amplifier

I look at a lot of design websites. I try to visit the

in it because the sound resonance from it was so

design events in Vancouver, like the IDS West

incredible. My friend told me there was no amplifier

show that was just here. I like to draw from the

and I thought: “I can make that.” So basically I just

architectural realm. When it comes to actually

heard the drum and saw a lot of possibilities there.

creating my work, I find that the biggest motivation

I actually came to Emily Carr right after this

happened and I was coming up on my fourth

SJ: So you’ve continued to make drums after

year and starting to think about a grad project,

you made your grad piece Ubuntu. What kind or

something that would keep me entertained. I think

responses do you get to your drums? What fascinates

I found it.


BM: The responses have been pretty SJ: Are the drums originally from Africa?Is that where

overwhelmingly positive actually. I surround myself

the name Ubuntu comes from?

with designers and creative types so I always have

BM: Ubuntu is essentially an African philosophy

people critiquing and saying “what If?”. It’s good

that means the essence of being human and

because I get a lot of good inspiration from that.

interconnected. The concept was based on the

It allows me to have a kind of futurist mentality. I

idea of cultures and people coming together and

keep asking myself what it could be before even

being one in some respects. The African tongue

making it. Every time I’ve had my drums out

drum itself is based on a log drum, which is the

in public it’s been a good excuse for people to

original version of it. It is essentially a hollowed out

come up and talk to me and for me to meet a lot of people that I otherwise wouldn’t have. At the IDSWest show it was great. It seemed like every time there was a large gathering of people coming together and my piece was there, it was like an ego boost because people come by who were so into it. At the IDSWest show I was surrounded by designers and professionals that have been doing this for years and years. So to go there and have my piece on display and have people come up and tell me that they think it is one of the best pieces of the show, is a positive encouragement to push on and continue pursuing doing what I am doing. And children just seem to love it. At the show, children, even thirty/forty yards away would

redwood log that indigenous people in Western

hear the piece and see someone interact with

Africa would cut slits horizontally on the log and

the piece. You could just see it in their eyes, their

then beat it with a stick. It would resonate these

eyes would get wide and they would zombie-walk

very deep tribal tones across long distances

towards the piece.

so that villages could communicate. They were also used in ceremonies to communicate to the

SJ: One of the goals you set with the drum project

listeners what dance to perform. These tongue

was to entice a multicultural interaction in a

drums were thought of as the first telephone as

communal setting. Do you feel that you’ve been able

they were used to communicate messages.

to achieve that?

BM: I think so. You know, when I first started

you are going to make or lose money. If you

the piece I had almost an idealistic vision of it,

know every stage of the process, then you know

of two people coming together from potentially

which stage of the process you can do yourself

opposite ends of the planet, having never met or

and which parts could potentially be done more

been able to speak the same language and who

efficiently by a machine. The whole sustainability

are able to communicate and create via this very

aspect of my piece has always been looming in

natural medium. I honestly do think that has been achieved. Vancouver is quite a multicultural city and any time I’ve had the piece out in public, there are multiple cultures playing it at one time. SJ: When in the process did you decide to combine instrument and furniture?

BM: It was quite early on. I think actually the phrase sound resonating furniture was really what kicked it off. I had not really ever seen it before so it was a new avenue of exploration that people had not done before. Like I said the tongue drum is an instrument that has been around for thousands of years, I saw the possibility to re-contextualize it in a modern day context, using the same means as it was originally created, as a means of

my mind. I find myself very inspired by nature

communication and creativity. Which I think is, via

and being in the outdoors, so I definitely have a

a natural medium, which is hard to come by these

concern for deforestation. I am using all wood


and for my drums themselves, exotic hardwood. So how do I touch on this issue without offending

SJ: How would you say your work has evolved from

people with aspects of my work. I think that

when you graduated?

ultimately I am trying to create a visual metaphor

BMcL It has become much more precise. I’ve

throughout my piece. The seats and the shell

found that I make far fewer mistakes and I am

that is holding up the drum, are made from exotic

better at documenting every stage of the process

hardwood. I use a bamboo veneer for the seats

that I do now. Especially with my more recent

and the shell. I try to create an artifact quality. Not

pieces that I do now. I’ve documented every bit,

something that you will see at a garage sale or that

every tolerance, every piece of material that I

you will want to throw away, but something that

used, every amount of time that it has taken me

can function as a family heirloom and be passed

to do every stage. I can really start to evaluate

down from generation to generation. That is what I

my efficiency. I think in the end efficiency is where

personally see as sustainable design. If something

can last longer and the tree or the material from

and saw blades. Now with this most recent piece

which it is produced can reproduce itself. I think it

it was like cutting butter; it wasas if I’d become in

is a step towards sustainability.

tune with the material.

SJ: Why do you need to use the exotic hardwood?

SJ: What do you think is the most important aspect of

BM: The exotic hardwoods are mainly used for the

designing in 2011?

tonal quality. The soundboard is an African padauk.

BM: Trying to create designed objects that are

I’ve experimented with an expansive amount of

the most efficient that they can possibly be. And

imported and domestic hardwoods and pedauk

when I speak of efficiency I mean efficiency of

for the sound board gives the best tonal quality.

ergonomics, manufacturing, production, shipping

That was what was traditionally used for the

and storage. Because efficiency ultimately allows

original log drum. So I am trying to touch on this

you to be sustainable with your work. If you can

cultural richness of Africa. It’s always been a place

limit the amount of off-cuts that you use, materials,

that has intrigued me (I’ve never been there but

power you use in creating something, I think you

hope to go some day). The sound box is a wood

will produce a better product that is going to be

called bobinga which comes from Western Africa

more user friendly, and more environmentally

as well as parts of South America. It is extremely


dense and very hard and heavy, which gives it good resonance qualities. Both hardwoods are very linear in grain which you’ll notice a lot with instruments. The wood that is used is generally linear grained, because you get better tonal quality out of it. SJ: What are key elements in your process?

BM: I start with a rough idea and then I try to go into 3D as quickly as possible. It allows me to see how a material will react. The more that I’ve created these drums and worked with them, the more precise I’v become. I’ve learned how far I can push a material in terms of quality. In industrial design we are able to learn how to create something that you would see on a shelf essentially

“Efficiency ultimately allows you to be sustainable with your work.”

and the high level of quality you can get it to. When I first started making these drums, I found myself almost fighting with the material because it was so hard and dense. I was running through a lot of bits

Watch the interview with Ben on the Current blog:





Curiosity Observation Inspiration Experimentation Investigation Evolving Methodological Reflection Revision Refinement

What is the biggest challenge Hello Design°, my name is_Ben McLaughlin_ designers face today? and I am one of the Acquiring the networking connections and resources to push your designs Industrial Design alumni_ at to the next level; In order to maximize design complexities such as (but not limited to): usability, innovation, ergonomics, aesthetics, manufacturability, Emily Carr University__, sustainability. an Art and Design School located in Vancouver __, BC. I am known for my Ubuntu Project and its How did Emily Carr prepare you for ability to allow for multi-_ your career in design? cultural interactions____. Above all else, the Emily Carr design program taught me that design is not An Emily Carr Alumni, I just about creating an end product that is beautiful, but how to use critical graduated in _2011__, thinking to situate a particular design (or set of designs) within the larger and found myself working__ system to which it relates. It fostered a state of mind that focuses on Awareness. Awareness of how the product or service it provides, fits into the in the film industry and ___ larger global system. A system that is both human and environmentally designing and building ___ centered. custom furniture. If I could What skillset is best suited for a give a student one piece graduate entering today’s design of advice, it would be ___ to fully utilize the resources industry? and opportunities available_ Work ethic/Passion Pursuit of Innovation as undergrads, because the Pursuit of Increasing efficiency same resources can be harder Environmental Awareness and Understanding of Impact Focus on ergonomics and user comfort X come by after ECUAD. to Cultural Awareness and understanding of end user/target demographic X. Ben McLaughlin_____ Deep understanding of material choice and how to maximize production

Emliy Carr Design Futures Alumni Interviews 2011 Ben  

Emliy Carr Design Futures Alumni Interviews 2011

Emliy Carr Design Futures Alumni Interviews 2011 Ben  

Emliy Carr Design Futures Alumni Interviews 2011