June design news: ice cream, guitar straps and Lego | Life and style7 min read
Using design to shape the world so that it’s accessible and welcoming is a great achievement. This month’s design news celebrates projects that aim to do just that, from artist Annie Nicholson’s mental health support and ice cream project Fandangoe Whip to the biannual Index Prize shortlist which has a real focus on inclusive products. Special mention goes to social enterprise Love Welcomes, an organisation which brings craft skills, legal and business advice to women living in refugee camps. The Edge from U2 has designed a guitar strap for sale as part of their range.
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Social enterprise Love Welcomes launches a new product this month – a guitar strap from U2’s The Edge. The organisation was set up by founders Abi Hewitt and Becca Stevens in 2017 as a partnership with women in Greek refugee camps. The idea was to provide training in making products for sale to allow refugees to make an income. In addition, the organisation offered legal and health advice, as well as support setting up micro businesses. The organisation has been so successful it now operates in India and Palestine as well. One of its most successful products has been a Banksy-designed welcome doormat, made using recycled lifejackets discarded by refugees as they made it ashore.
The new guitar strap is hand sewn by refugees and also includes an orange strip of upcycled lifevest and morse code stitching spelling out “The Edge”. Morse code is included in Love Welcomes products as a way for women to share messages through the products they create. Buyers of the first 500 straps will also receive a personally signed postcard from The Edge.
Thaura is a refugee in a Greek refugee camp who works with Love Welcomes as a weaver and seamstress. She says: “I feel very good weaving because, first, it keeps me occupied and, secondly, it makes me stay with people. The ladies I work with, we are so happy being together. What I earn every month, it helps me a lot. I have a kid and I do take care of my son right now; before I couldn’t.”
Everyone knows that ice-cream makes you feel better, and this summer, artist Annie Nicholson is taking that idea on the road. Nicholson – known as the Fandangoe Kid – has made a career of colourful, fun works which are created from a serious preoccupation with grief and mental health.
Nicholson lost her parents and sister in 2011, a devastating loss that turned her world upside down. The brightly coloured films, installations and prints that she’s produced since have been an attempt to negotiate and understand bereavement and mental health issues. She’s best known for her graphic installations which have appeared in London, New York and Berlin.
This summer’s project is called Fandangoe Whip. Nicholson is touring the UK in a customised ice-cream van/workshop space. The van works as an outreach centre for people who don’t typically visit museums or galleries, a venue for talks and classes, and also as a space for people affected by grief and mental health issues who want to talk about their situation. But if you just want to come along for a 99 Flake, that’s fine, too.
“Grief is a part of life and one that comes to all of us,” says Nicholson. “The sooner we find ways in which we can share this, the less overwhelming I believe the world will be.”
The Index Award is a biennial prize celebrating design that improves quality of life, providing solutions for social and environmental problems. The finalists for this year’s prize have just been announced – and design for diverse bodies has emerged as a theme.
“Inclusive design has always existed but has struggled to find the platform or recognition it deserves,” says Liza Chong, CEO of The Index Project. “We’re now more heightened to injustice and aware that the world isn’t designed equally for everyone, accelerated further by the Black Lives Matter movement and conversations around social justice. These moments have encouraged each of us to consider our own position in the world, and other people’s by comparison.”
The Algorithmic Justice League is an organisation rallying against racism, sexism, abelism and other forms of discrimination in AI. Through a mix of art and research, the league raises awareness of the impact of AI on diverse groups. The aim is to spread information to policy makers and industry figures to improve accountability and help sidestep the algorithms and prejudices.
Another shortlisted entry is Dots – a body movement-recognition system which can be adjusted to work for a diverse range of amputees; people with disabilities use smart devices, avoiding digital exclusion. Finally Lego Braille Bricks are the latest innovation from the Danish toy company. This set of building blocks are moulded so that the top studs reflect letters and numbers in the Braille alphabet, while remaining fully compatible with the LEGO System in Play. They also feature printed letters, numbers and symbols so that they can be used by sighted people in a collaborative and inclusive way. Lego Braille Bricks will be distributed free to some institutions, schools and services for the education of children with visual impairment.
“These Index Award 2021 finalists go beyond product or service to help us create a more responsible and equitable society,” says Chong. “I hope that by championing these tangible solutions, we can demonstrate that designing for diversity is an absolute imperative to create an inclusive future for all.”
This month at Philadelphia’s Moderne Gallery, a pioneer of the American Studio Craft movement gets a long overdue retrospective. Paul Hultberg was a California-born artist, taught by Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still, a contemporary of Rauschenberg and and friends with Richard Diebenkorn and John Cage. He was a resident of Gate Hill Cooperative, an experimental and influential artists’ colony in Stony Point, New York.
He became known for his semi-abstract landscapes and unsettling figurative works, but he made his name with his unusual architectural scale enamel works and murals. Part of his studies were at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional in Mexico City with Jose Gutierrez, a renowned muralist. As well as winning awards and having various exhibitions in the 1950s, his enamelled panels in Busch Gardens, Florida and a 45ft mural in the Pan Am Building, New York, were well received. Burnt Sun, a large-scale work exhibited at Syracuse Ceramic National, was one of his masterpieces.
Rediscovering Paul Hultberg (1926-2019) is curated with Hultberg’s son, Lawrence, and showcases the artist’s full archive from early prints to his groundbreaking enamel work. “We wanted to tell the story of not only Hultberg’s career in enamel,” says Joshua Aibel, co-director of Moderne Gallery, “but also his incredible legacy as a seminal figure in the abstract expressionist movement in America.”
The winner of this year’s Design Ventura, the Design Museum’s annual design and enterprise competition for schools has been announced. Sow Beautiful was designed by students at Heckmondwike Grammar School in West Yorkshire. It’s a seed launcher created to spread wildflowers and help combat the declining numbers of Britain’s bees. Sow Beautiful will be sold at the Design Museum Shop and the sale proceeds will go to the students’ chosen charity.
Design Ventura follows the process of responding to a real design brief to give students an experience of life as a creative. This year’s design brief was set by designer Yinka Ilori.
“I wish I had had a programme like Design Ventura when I was younger,” says Ilori. “We need to encourage young people. Let them know that you can make a career out of design.”
Sophie Ashby, interior designer and creative director of Studio Ashby, launches a new journal called The Sisterhood this month. The publication is a supercharged quarterly. It will include interviews, culture stories, recipes and interiors tips. It will also give access to special sample sales and exclusive offers across interiors and design. The first issue will feature an interview with Sophie Ashby and her own sisters – Rose Ashby, who is head chef at Spring restaurant, and Harriet Ashby who’s a midwife.
Studio Ashby’s signature style is defined by colour and pattern. Issues of sustainability and diversity are important to her. When she designed the interior of her husband Charlie Casely-Hayford’s clothes shop, the till point was made from recycled plastic bottles, the bathroom from yoghurt pots and materials scraps left from his collections were used to make a curtain for the store.
Last year, Sophie launched a furniture line – called Sister – and also co-founded the charitable organisation United in Design to address the lack of diversity in the design industry with co-founder Alexandria Dauley. The organisation facilitates access to work and apprenticeships in the interior design industry for people from black, Asian, ethnic minority and socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
“I’m so excited to be launching The Sisterhood,” says Sophie. “To welcome you all even closer into our world of colour, conversation, and importantly: play.”