2 (or 3 ...) Questions for notion
by sabine7 / January 28, 2010

We were recently introduced to a Dublin design studio named notion by way of its Shard lighting, a series of lamps inspired by another project, The Whitehouse in Translation. The lighting combines fragments and fractals, and there was something about it that made us want to know more about the notion behind notion.


Can you also tell us a little about notion's background and your team? To what other notion projects should we direct our readers?

Notion is a new industrial design studio, founded by designers Marcel Twohig and Ian Walton in late 2009. We established the studio for many reasons, most importantly to formalise our creative relationship, and to build on our shared desire to create beautiful objects with meaning. Our team's background is in Industrial Design, sharing over ten years' experience designing consumer products for both in-house and consultancy practice.

Our goal was, and is, to create a studio that nurtures ideas. The traditional consultancy/studio model places little value on the vague idea, the intuition, and this worries us. Nascent thoughts and ideas are all too quickly lost and forgotten. Our belief is that if given time and attention, it is these which flourish into the most interesting and successful products.

We constantly conduct exploratory work at the convergence of design, architecture and art to inform our practice. This work maintains our awareness of cultural shifts, behaviors and (often more importantly) less tangible facets of living with objects. Ultimately we use these insights to help our clients to create beautifully disruptive products.

Our most recent projects include the Shard lamp series discussed below, and more recently the AIR snowboard/ski helmet. These and other selected products are on designbynotion.com. We also keep a journal (no-one calls it a blog anymore) of thoughts, trends and project snapshots at designbynotion.com/journal


Although you say the shape of each Shard lamp is derived from random forms generated by 3D software, how important was it to remain true to the randomness? Were some forms modified to conform to your sense of aesthetics?

There are many people working in the generative art/design/architecture area at present creating some very interesting formal outcomes. While the point of departure for the Shard series was based on using 3D software to create unexpected forms, we wouldn't describe ourselves as generative designers.

We certainly exercised our aesthetic judgement in moving the project from idea to finished product. But the method we employed was not entirely predetermined. We did not sit down and design the shapes on paper then set about making them. The final designs were the result of making physical models one facet at a time, not knowing what the outcome would be until we got there. In this respect, the traditional design process was subverted in much the same way that it is subverted by generative methods.

As designers there is something fresh and exciting in this method, rejecting efficiency and planning it is full of surprise, discovery and serendipity.

glo pillow concept

In your online journal you state that "beauty is valuable" and that this is something designers have been made to feel somewhat ashamed of. How has this happened? And why?

The "beauty is valuable" post was a response to what we have seen happening in the design industry, both in the press and through personal experience.

The frame of reference is important with this. We're not referring to the high-end furniture industry or other "value-add through design" sectors that understand the power of design and the value that it can bring. We are making reference to the decision making process in the standard product development cycles of most consumer products.

Bringing a product to market is a huge financial risk for the producer. In order to mitigate this risk, there are masses of analytics thrown at the project from a marketing, engineering and logistics standpoint to ensure the product is successful. It is a system that relies on measurability.

Beauty is difficult to measure and impossible to predict. It is visceral, sub-lingual and simply elicits desire.

The reason we say that designers have been made to feel ashamed of being beauty-advocates is because there are fewer and fewer design consultancies who portray themselves solely as design consultants. In many consultancies Design Research, Ethnography, Innovation Management and Design Thinking are taking precedence over the act of creating beautiful things. Corporate systems have no way of valuing beauty. At a recent talk in Dublin, Paola Antonelli said that the truth about Design Thinking was that it is a term created to sell design services to large corporations.

We may have said all this more eloquently in the original journal post, so check that out too.

AIR Helmet

Where do you believe lies the true beauty of Shard?

Often, when a shape or form is difficult to understand, it confuses us. In commercial work, design teams push to create familiarity between object and user through understandable, inviting form.

For us the beauty of Shard is in its total opposition to these ideas. It challenged our understanding of form to create the pieces, and as a result they are equally challenging to view as a user/observer. Every viewpoint of the lamps reveals something entirely different (even for us).

The Whitehouse in Translation

+ designbynotion.com


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