This Year's WantedDesign Workshop Will Explore the "Future Heirloom"

This upcoming NYCxDESIGN, WantedDesign will mark its seventh year hosting their Design Schools Workshop. The workshop brings together students from seven different design programs to create objects over an intensive six-day period. Each year involves experimenting with different materials to come up with a novel product, but this year’s theme of ‘Future Heirloom’ is more personal than usual. Under the wing of Art Center’s James Meraz, Chiara Ferrari and David Mocarski, starting May 17th, students from Centro (Mexico), Appalachian State University (Boone, North Carolina), Pratt (Brooklyn), Aalto University (Finland), Strate School of Design (Sevres, France), The Strzeminski Academy of Art (Lódz, Poland) and of course Art Center College for Design (Pasadena) will begin their investigation into the value of sentimental objects in Industry City.

As stated perfectly by Meraz, the ‘Future Heirloom’ theme asks participating teams to respond to questions along the lines of, “What are the artifacts and objects that the current youth generation value?” and, “What do kids value, that are meaningful enough to pass on to their kids and future generations?”

WantedDesign spoke further with Meraz about his ideas regarding this year’s rendition of the Design Schools Workshop and what he hopes to see by the end of the quickfire week full of design collaboration.

This year’s theme for the workshop is defining the Future Heirloom. Can you elaborate on this theme and how you expect to see it translated into objects?

Two personal moments this year had me pondering this notion of “Future Heirloom”, where I sensed a paradigm shift. One was going through my father’s drawer full of black and white photos filled with images of fascinating looking individuals and places that I may or may not have a vague recollection-memory of who they were, or where these places were. This was a sensory experience beyond the image. The smells of the photos, the tactility of the tattered edges, the sense of discovery had me daydreaming of an era gone by. The second moment was more of sober realization. As I was going through my library, I had one small shelf dedicated to old laptops, next to a small box of old hard drives. These semi-defunct objects contain an enormous amount of family history and images. Hardly the tactile experience I would want to leave behind generation to generation. This may be a modern archeological expedition that would hardly be satisfying, and most likely be an unpleasant experience to the senses.

I began to really ponder the notion of what are the artifacts, objects that the current youth generation value? What does my kid value, that is meaningful enough to pass on to his kids and future generations? I hope it’s not a box of old iPhones. The irony of this story is that it is a known fact that today’s youth is the most photographed generation in history. Does the millennial generation even print photos?

Yes, there are moments, with nostalgic trends in instant photography printing, but this is can’t compete with sharing an image in an instant, across our numerous social feeds. How will we record and share our history in a long term tactile way? Will we depend on ubiquitous or “calm” computing to do the work for us? Will it be a passive experience? Will we rely on hardware, software and digital devices or a “cloud” to preserve our past?

So, if we define “heirloom” as image, antiquity or objects of value to be handed down from generation to generation, our young designers will have the formidable challenge of speculating how we bridge the gap of the dialectic of our physical realm and virtual realm, which I feel can yield some very thought provoking interpretations.

Do you have any personal visions of what a hybrid future heirloom might look like?

I believe the future heirloom can be a rich hybrid of content, craft, and presence. Outcomes will most certainly explore the notion of hi-tactility, and craft through digital and analog material conjugations, bearing the metaphorical and physical fingerprints of the designer. These interpretations will also consider the relationship of where and how these heirlooms are experiences and displayed.

What will be the biggest challenge for the students this year?

The challenge of working in multi- disciplinary and multi-cultural teams is always exciting and full of unknown factors. Our theme is meant to be thought-provoking, and having our young designers approaching the design problem on a philosophical and perhaps existential level. I believe the content of our theme has a very personal component to be explored, which at times can be difficult. A personal cultural, historical and social framework will be a critical attribute in order to fully explore the potential of this “future heirloom.”

What do you see as the most valuable aspects of this workshop?

Exploring new toolsets, exploring mixed-reality and collaborating with cross-cultural colleagues on a design challenge that isn’t so much based on a brand identity, but based on a universal, social, cultural phenomena on not only how we understand the world but how we can elevate the human experience.

In leading this year’s workshop, what do you hope to add to the mix?

I hope to add a critical dialogue and personal narrative approach to the design process. Fostering young designers in creating rich future narratives on how we approach, experience and create lasting impressions in the design realm, as well as encouraging risky experimentation that can yield provocative design solutions.

What’s your best advice for design students working under pressure?

This particular challenge is meant to explore the “ontological gap”, so we will definitely be exploring unchartered territories and looking at philosophical questions of legacy and what we leave behind. Essentially trust your inner instincts. Savor the present moment and don’t be afraid to explore and open up to various frameworks of thought and meaning. This will always enrich your design process.

The Wanted Design School Workshop will take place at WantedDesign Brooklyn, Industry City from May 17-21. The public final review of the projects with the Jury will take place  at WantedDesign Manhattan on May 22, 11:am-1pm EST.

The workshop was made possible thanks to Industry City, Artefacto, Shapeways, FilzFelt, French Airline XL Airways, 3D printing mentor Lauren Slowik and textile mentor Emilly Howe (Submaterial).

Learn more about WantedDesign Manhattan and Brooklyn here.


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