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MICA’s Center for Design Thinking Publishes Its Fourth Book, 'Exploring Materials: Creative Design for Everyday Objects'

Book signing and reception takes place Thursday, March 11

Posted 02.22.10 by MICA Media Relations

'Exploring Materials: Creative Design for Everyday Objects' Cover

BALTIMORE--MICA and Princeton Architectural Press celebrate their new book, Exploring Materials: Creative Design for Everyday Objects, with a book signing and reception on Thursday, March 11, 5:30-6:30 p.m. in Brown Center's Leidy Atrium (1301 W. Mount Royal Ave.). The book, authored by MICA's M.F.A. in Graphic Design program Director Ellen Lupton and environmental design faculty member Inna Alesina, features dozens of MICA students' work in the environmental design program. Exploring Materials, the fourth book created by MICA's Center for Design Thinking, is scheduled to be officially released on Thursday, April 1.

The reception will include design prizes, remarks by the authors, refreshments and a raffle offering a free copy of the book. A free panel discussion, Design Revolution: Join the Debate, will follow in Brown Center's Falvey Hall. More details about Design Revolution are included in MICA's listing of spring talks.

The authors describe their new book:

Exploring Materials: Creative Design for Everyday Objects is a new book authored by two MICA faculty, Inna Alesina and Ellen Lupton. Published by MICA and Princeton Architectural Press in spring 2010, the book features numerous projects by students in MICA's environmental design program alongside work by prominent designers from around the world. The book will be distributed worldwide and marketed to students, designers, and educators. Exploring Materials is a project of MICA's Center for Design Thinking, which provides research opportunities for MICA students and faculty that contribute to the public discourse on design through publications, conferences, exhibitions, and other projects.

Exploring Materials focuses on how product designers can use physical forms and materials in a direct, active, hands-on way. Sketching ideas with a pencil or rendering them with computer software are useful experiences, but there is no substitute for confronting physical materials in the flesh. Foam, mesh, wood, plastic, and wire each have behaviors and properties that suggest different types of structure, surface, and connection. In place of the abstraction of pure volumes or the whimsy of "virtual" objects, this book encourages designers to make and test real objects in a studio environment.

Materials are like words. The richer your design vocabulary, the more solutions you can see and express. There are no good or bad materials. Each one has its place, consequences, and cost. Understanding materials is essential to design. Some designers come to the profession with a commonsense knowledge of materials, while others have only thought about their decorative properties. Use this book to begin looking at materials with new eyes. Ignore what you already know, and find out how you can coax cardboard, foam, cloth, metal, or rope into surprising structures with valuable functions.

The first chapter lays out our approach with a case study drawn from a MICA classroom project. A group of designers was asked to solve a common problem (an object for sitting) using a particular material. Instead of beginning with an end result in mind, each designer explored the material at hand--foam, felt, wire, and so on. The solutions are as different as the substances. The projects are rough and unrefined, but each one departs from the ordinary.

The second chapter uses another MICA classroom experiment to explore the design process in more detail. Here, a team of designers thought about creating an alternative to the standard shopping bag. Their research involved brainstorming, observing consumers and workers, and experiencing the act of shopping in a critical way. They made hands-on prototypes and tested them in real environments.

At the core of the book is a visual glossary of thirty-four materials, organized both to inspire and to inform. Although most of these materials are commonplace (rather than "smart" substances or exotic mutants), each is packed with potential ideas. This section presents everyday uses of the materials, pointing out the special ways each one functions as a structure, surface, fastener, and more. Also featured are experimental uses of these forms and substances, showing how designers from around the world have exploited their characteristics in inventive ways. The book concludes with a section on making it real, moving beyond the prototype to create a product that can be manufactured and marketed.

Exploring Materials speaks to a cultural shift in the design world. Many designers are thinking critically and creatively about materials--about where they come from, how they function, and where they end up at the end of a product's life cycle. There is growing interest across society in physically making things and thus directly engaging with objects and the environment. The revitalization of craft has helped revitalize design. Exploring Materials embraces this new wave of thinking and making.
-Inna Alesina and Ellen Lupton

Image caption: Exploring Materials: Creative Design for Everyday Objects cover, design by Julia Kostreva '10

Founded in 1826, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is the oldest continuously degree-granting college of art and design in the nation. The College enrolls nearly 3,500 undergraduate, graduate and continuing studies students from 49 states and 52 countries in fine arts, design, electronic media, art education, liberal arts, and professional studies degree and non-credit programs. With art and design programs ranked in the top ten by U.S. News and World Report, MICA is pioneering interdisciplinary approaches to innovation, research, and community and social engagement. Alumni and programming reach around the globe, even as MICA remains a cultural cornerstone in the Baltimore/Washington region, hosting hundreds of exhibitions and events annually by students, faculty and other established artists.