Nick Graham's chair

Designer makes an exquisite corpse

A New Zealander designed its legs, a Norwegian designed its seat, and an Israeli added a big skull on top. Massey University Master of Design student Nick Graham’s collaborative chair is a twist on the Victorian parlour game Exquisite Corpse.

In the game, players write a phrase on a sheet of paper, fold the paper to conceal most of it, and pass it on to the next player for their contribution to a short story.

In a digital twist, Mr Graham asked international designers to create a digital file of a specified part of the chair while only being able to see a 20 millimetre section of the part below. He then produced the complete chair in Massey’s digital fabrication facility, Fab Lab Wgtn.

The chair is on display as part of the College of Creative Arts Master of Design and Master of Fine Arts exhibition in Wellington (event details below).

Mr Graham’s Master of Design research focused on the changing role of a designer in the era of digital fabrication, by experimenting with Open Design – where designers share their concepts, techniques and computer files with users who also shape the final product.

“I heard talk about how we are moving into a sharing world. Like it or not, people are going to share what you design. That frightened me a bit at first. As a designer you think you can patent your ideas, you think of yourself as designing finished items, but digital fabrication changes that.”

“Some people talk about everyone having 3D printers and creating whatever they need at home. I think that’s far off. At the moment, most people using digital fabrication are confident with technology, can figure out software problems, and so on. And there will always be people who just want to buy an off-the-shelf product.

“Formal design training will continue to be relevant in future, but the designer’s role will morph and we’ll work alongside people even more than now. That’s where facilities like Fab Lab are so valuable, because people can sit next to a designer and discuss what they want to make.”

Nick Graham is hoping to run community workshops through Fab Lab Wgtn, and has also secured a more traditional industrial design job.

Massey’s College of Creative Arts is the first organisation in Australasia to join the global Fab Lab network, started at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and last year the College hosted the 8th international Fab Lab meeting, attracting experts in digital fabrication from 20 countries. The College’s Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor Enterprise, Chris Bennewith, says “Nick’s research is a great example of how the Fab Lab is already benefiting New Zealand. We have emerging designers here collaborating on projects with some of the leaders in the Open Design movement worldwide. Fab Lab will soon be a space where businesses can research and prototype future commercial ideas through some of the most cutting-edge technologies in the area of digital fabrication.”

Event Details:

Master of Design and Master of Fine Arts exhibition
10 am - 6pm weekdays; 10am - 4pm weekends.
Fine Arts Block 1 and Te Ara Hihiko, Massey University
Entrance C, off Wallace St, Wellington
Free admission.
Final day: Sunday, February 17

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