Be it graphic, textile, product or set design, when designing for other people’s projects for a living it could be expected that a professional designer would have little energy left to pursue their own personal creative endeavours.
However the reverse is more often the case, as a new exhibition at the Design Institute of Australia (DIA) Gallery explores. Entitled Makette, the exhibition’s purpose is to capture the personal projects and creative output of what designers, writers and illustrators pursue for themselves in their own time.
Along with images and objects relating to said projects, the exhibition presents a series of video interviews that tell the stories behind each designer and their extracurricular activities. Along with the curatorial essay, below, the entire project is a thoughtful documentation of the value of producing self initiated work that sits outside the constraints of working to someone else’s brief.
Makette is curated by Karen Fermo and Martin Musiatowicz of Kart Projects, a new Melbourne based architecture studio and research practice.
Until July 31, Monday – Friday 10am – 5pm.
Design Institute of Australia Gallery
Level 1, 175 Collins Street, Melbourne
Featuring the personal projects of designers, makers and writers
Adam Cascio / Stuart Geddes / Ella Leoncio / Rafaella McDonald / Beci Orpin / Joel Priestland / Bruce Rowe / Melita Tomic / Claire Beale / Claire Hatch / Kylie Ligertwood
Detail of spatial installation Geyser by architect Ella Leoncio in collaboration with Caitlin Perry and Robert Bravington (Picture: Timothy Casten)
Quite distinct from most other career paths, there is something strange about those in creative disciplines, such as design – there is a slightly obsessive tendency to extend ‘work’ into private life. Thinking creatively it seems, does not finish at 5pm! This is not a question of ‘work/life balance’ but rather stems from the fact that for many designers, creativity forms the core of their life and inherent to the way they think. Being creative, it can be said, is a state-of-mind rather than simply employment. Many designers are also prone to stepping beyond the confines of their own medium or discipline in some way or another, seeing design thinking as transferable and adaptable even to tasks not remotely related to designing.
Outside of their daily practice – whether employed or self-directed – designers search for new ways of exploring ideas, techniques, materials and ways of working beyond the familiar and tested, through this developing their individual creative practice. These extracurricular or side projects can be intended and driven or come about in search of opportunity for distraction, curiosity or freedom – be it serious or just for fun. In relation to designers’ work, the notion of something on the side implies other or in addition to a primary or core design practice. It may be an activity that is subsequent in space or time, both physically and/or mentally, and side projects can themselves allow a separate space or an escape in which to explore new problems, unpack old ideas, find new ones and link making and designing.
Wooden Block Family by Beci Orpin from her book Find and Keep (Picture: Chris Middleton)
Examples of such side projects are plentiful, existing in many forms and not always specifically trying to reach a defined outcome. Within the context of this exhibition, however, the focus is on the stream of self-initiated activity that explores making in some form. The common link across this varied group of designers – architects, Ella Leoncio, Bruce Rowe and Melita Tomic; graphic designers, Adam Cascio, Stuart Geddes and Joel Priestland; set designer, Rafaella McDonald and illustrator/textile designer, Beci Orpin – is their dedication of time and effort to other creative projects which parallel or differ from their everyday work and which sees many of them learning through making.
It is through this process combining passions, seeking new collaborations and working across and in new fields or mediums that new threads appear. In addition to the presented work and personal narratives, the exhibition includes contributions from three writers, Claire Beale, Claire Hatch and Kylie Ligertwood, reflecting more broadly on learning through making, creativity and multidisciplinary practice.
Potter light by architect Bruce Rowe: A hand thrown ceramic light in charcoal glaze for his ceramics studio, Anchor Ceramics (Picture: Scottie Cameron)
In presenting these eight designers’ side projects, the exhibition is concerned with not just the products or artefacts of their sideline practices but also attempts to bring to the fore their stories, unpacking the motivations behind their pursuit. The reasons for starting ‘something on the side’ are varied, some of the projects have emerged with a clear intention to be publicly made available – whether to participate in discourse, as is the case in Ella Leoncio’s collaborative Geyser installation or to share another non-design related passion, as in Stuart Geddes’ motorcycle fanzine, A Head Full of Snakes or Beci Orpin’s DIY craft book.
For others, the projects have emerged as private exercises – to tackle a new skill such as jewellery making, leather or ceramics. Unlike most non-designers however, these creatives quickly depart from the taught or technical methods of their new medium and begin to bring design thinking and ideation into play as they explore making in this new format, quickly challenging it’s conventions. Out of this work to create something for themselves, these adjunct activities fanned by external interest from colleagues, friends or family have evolved, quite unexpectedly for some of the designers, as an ongoing, established practice – often creating links back to their core design practice.
Production image of self-published motorcycle fanzine by Head Full of Snakes by graphic designer Stuart Geddes (Picture: Stuart Geddes)
What is common amongst this work is that side projects allow designers to carve out a new space removed from the inherent constraints of design practice and business such as budget, time and clients’ desires and needs. This can sometimes be as simple as a change in task or returning to manual processes as opposed to being computer bound. Being self-initiated, the freedom in decision making and creative control is a great incentive for those seeking respite from the rigours of commercial design practice, or for a way to extend it.
For younger designers or those employed in bigger practices, day-to-day practice is often externally directed and allows limited creative freedom or control. To this end, side projects are a way of building and diversifying a portfolio and staying creative. Whatever the circumstances, the value of engaging in these activities enriches both work and down time, allowing the mind and hand to wander, find new inspiration and zoom out from the constraint and rituals of the business of the day-to-day.
Karen Fermo and Martin Musiatowicz, Kart Projects