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The Memory Containers

Š Suresh Sethi Book design by Oh Wen Xin

Design education must direct the mind to the problem of intuitively discovering, relying on experience and forms appropriate to new circumstances.

A memory container sketch by Suresh Sethi




According to English art critic and poet Herbert Read, “Form, though it can be analysed into intellectual terms like measure, balance, rhythm, and harmony, is really intuitive in origin.” Indeed, the process of giving form to an idea in industrial design encompasses three basic disciplines: technology, which deals with production, materials, processes, and economic considerations; human dynamics; and aesthetics, the intuitive element Read observed that projects the perceived product image. The designer can claim uncontested expertise in this third area of image creation through form. Popular opinion believes designers’ aesthetic judgment to be more valid than anybody else’s. Styles last for a short time, and the notion of what pleases aesthetically changes with time. The environment profoundly affects human perception — the appreciation of aesthetic qualities cannot be divorced from the influences of an individual’s experience, education, culture, personal judgment, and bias. Culture finds expression in the many artificial objects found in the everyday environment at home, during work, or in public spaces. Products are part of identity and lifestyle; a continuous visual and tactile interaction exists between user and objects. Human beings have a symbiotic relationship with their times, determining as they do some behaviour, thought, and emotion. A designer acts as an important cultural mediator who helps shape human life and offers a means of cultural participation.

941Words “The way to understanding is through experience,” says Miyamoto Musashi in The Book of Five Rings. A person residing in a city lives a life surrounded by technology and is pressured to hurry — at home, at work, and while commuting. Design’s purpose has always been to define and solve problems; changing technology creates the need for new approaches that respond to a new context. “An obvious difference between New Design and Traditional Design is a question not so much of ideology or style but of changed market and production conditions,” states Andrea Branzi, an Italian architect and designer. This new view emphasises the importance of creating an alternative to the rigid strictures that industrial design has imposed on objects’ expressive and functional potential. Traditional design has always referred to mass markets — now rapidly disappearing, partly because standardisation, with its urge to transform different types of behaviour and traditions into fixed models, had its roots in a large homogeneous international market. Designers took the approach that they must formulate objects to suit everyone, when in fact they could not. The simultaneous presence of a variety of markets that correspond to different cultural groups, each with its specific behaviour, language, fashions, and traditions that demand particular consumer customisation characterises present society. The provider of a new product must actively choose


its targeted user, promote it to a particular group, and avoid standardisation. A new concept of product and environmental quality thus asserts itself — one that goes beyond performance and service to create an emotional value not by the object’s functionality but by its expressive level. The New Design approach lies in interweaving a different product culture via a system of ties and functions; it cannot be explained in purely ergonomic or functional terms, but it covers a wider cultural and expressive point of view. Design education must make design students aware of the world for which they design and alert them to the culturaldirectional flow. A need exists to develop a designer’s intuitive nature and the ability to see possible future images. So observed Johannes Itten, the founding teacher in the early 20th century of the Bauhaus School, Germany’s most important and avant-garde art and design school: “I reached the conclusion that we must counterbalance our externally oriented scientific research and technological speculation with inner-directed thought and practice.” Visual experiences draw from the features of the visible world. The visual impression, rather than the actual object, becomes localised to form the visual experience. From an early age, children register and coordinate their surroundings’ different sensory perceptions to interpret and explain what puzzles them and governs their lives. This stored knowledge grows with time and accompanies a person throughout life.


Design can therefore be considered a visual language, but it does not follow the same system as written language. As an extension of man, however, it relates to the words defining human action. Design involves feelings: the strength, the richness, and the order of the visual forms a person creates depend, to a certain extent, upon the nature of his or her visual surroundings. Design represents a prospective unfolding of the future possibility as well as a recovery of a particular history. The intent of the project “memory containers” is to give students better understanding of how their particular culture and personal experiences influence the way they interpret, connect and develop new forms relevant to the context. The projects shown are all from the first year students, at the School of Art, Design and Media, NTU, Singapore in 3-D class and are based on the context of basic quality and personal insights drawn through their own experiences. Our objects signal ‘who’ we are – the impulse to measure human experience through the things we can touch, see and hold comes naturally. This exercise is to draw ourselves into our own experience of spaces, of people and of things. Clues exist in our own memory. The students have to investigate the emotional and personal quality of an experience, how ordinary things are shaped, used and how they inhabit our lives. This becomes a pos-


sible starting point for design of a container. Students make abstract forms as signals to the imagination, form that take on qualities of meaning, forms that have a definite personality or begin as nostalgia of some quality. The final results are sensual, unconscious and adventurous.

Bibliography 1. Education of Vision, Edited by Gyorgy Kepes Studio Vista Ltd. London 2. The Morning Notes of Albert Ames Jr, Edited by Hadley Cantril Rutgers University Press New Jersey 3. High Tech High Touch, John Naisbitt with Nana Naisbitt and Douglas Philips, Nicholas Brealy Publishing Limited, UK 1999 4. The Dream Factory Alessi Since 1921 5. Alberto Alessi Electa, Milan 1998 6. The Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi translated by Victor Harris Allison & Busby Ltd. UK, reprinted 2004 Some of the reflections on new design in these pages have been from the notes of the lectures by Prof. Andrea Branzi which the author attended as a student at the Domus Academy, Milan in 1984–85.

His student’s works

Trios’s sketch by Lim Su Fang


Trios by Lim Su Frang

His student’s works

Decomposite’s sketch by Wang Xun


Decomposite by Wang Xun

His student’s works

Citrus Holes’s sketch by Chow Shu Jun Michelle


Citrus Holes by Chow Shu Jun Michelle

His student’s works

Wonder’s sketch by Wong Ka Man


Wonder by Wong Ka Man

His student’s works

Pod’s sketch by Magdelene Tan


Pod by Magdelene Tan

His student’s works

I remember most the time my younger sister and I were left at home alone because our parent were working. We would spend our afternoon playing all sorts of games. We would have lot of fun together giggling and laughing but we also quarreled and cried out loud to the empty house until our mum called back during her tea break. The connection between our world and my mum’s at that moment was through the phone. Phone as a mode of transportation, sent our mum’s comforting voice to our happy and chaotic world.

Connection by Jesslin Zhou


Connection by Jesslin Zhou

suresh sethi

Associate Professor Acting Chair, School of Art, Design & Media Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Suresh Sethi began his Industrial design career as designer in Philips India in 1983, after graduating from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. He went to pursue further studies choosing Milan, Italy, and did his Master’s from the Domus Academy in 1985. In 1988, he left Philips and set up his own consulting company Circus Design Studio, in Bombay focusing on product design. Various assignments firmly consolidated his position among the successful designers in India. Suresh has been visiting professor and has led many workshops and seminars at top Design Institutes in India. In 2003 Sethi was a tenured professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. In 2005, Sethi joined Nanyang Technological University as Associate Professor in School of Art, Design and Media, and is currently the school’s Acting Chair. For more information contact him at




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