Sustainability and new aesthetic standards

RD : You graduated from ECAL before joining Starck as a designer, both powerhouse institutions in the industry — how have these two influences shaped you as an independent designer now, and how similar/different were the experiences you gained from both?

ADC : I was quite surprised to find that this succession of experiences was not so obvious. When I started working with Starck, there was no designer trained at Ecal, even though they are usually very well represented in French-speaking agencies... It's true that at first glance, the worlds of these two institutions may seem rather distant, but I was surprised to see how similar they actually are in their approach to design. On the one hand, Ecal is renowned for its rigorous, serious approach, training more industrial designers than auteur designers, but when you look at the details of the projects that are pushed there, I find the spirit of the school very playful. At the same time, Philippe Starck plays up his public image as an exuberant poet, when in reality, from what I've seen of it, his day-to-day practice is extremely rigorous and always focused on the most advanced industrial techniques, with the aim of optimizing production and offering products where nothing is sacrificed in terms of practicality.

I love this paradigm, and these two approaches, which are in reality the same, have never ceased to nourish my vision of design. Creating shapes that can hold together strong symbolism, a charge of emotion, all the intangible subtleties of which a work of the mind is capable, and the technical ingenuity that allows, for example, for the same quality to use less material or perform fewer operations in manufacturing: this is the same lesson I've learned from these two experiences, and the precept I try to perpetuate in my work.

"I need feedback from normal users, by which I mean people who aren't designers, people who are primarily concerned by the objects..."

RD : Congratulations on being awarded at this year's M&O! Can you share your experience showcasing your work at Maison et Objet? What were your key takeaways from participating in such a prestigious event and how do you plan to build on this recognition?

ADC : Thanks ! It was an extremely gratifying experience, I was very happy to be able to show all the projects I've carried out with my studio during this first year and a half of independent practice. There were many discussions with many talented people in the field of object design, and while I'm looking forward to new collaboration opportunities, I feel I've already gained a lot from these exchanges. There were many lessons to be learned, and so as not to get into commercial cuisine, I'd like to highlight one which may seem anecdotal, but which for me is the most important, because it's the essence of what interests me: the Asian visitors, who where numerous to attend the fair, were unanimous in their praise for the ergonomics of the porcelain chopsticks I was exhibiting, among other tableware designs. This was a point that bothered me before, because I need feedback from normal users, by which I mean people who aren't designers, people who are primarily concerned by the objects I design, and it wasn't the same to have their opinion as that of the occasional users I’ve already shown the project to :).

RD : You offer extreme versatility as a designer, having created everything from a facade system to a coffee cup. Your work is also often characterised by multifunctionality or certain flexibility of use — what is your experience with designing at these different scales and typologies? Is there, under the surface, a common thread or underlying principle that ties all of your work together?

ADC : In my mind, the possibility of working at different scales, of trying to make a positive contribution to a very wide range of objects, is part of the very power of the design discipline. That's what really stimulates me in my practice. There are areas I'm still too ignorant to explore, but the good thing is that as soon as you learn how a certain sector works, how such and such components are produced, what the stakes are, life can always inspire new uses and new forms, whatever the typology involved. If I had to sum up the attitude I try to adopt and which links my productions beneath the surface, I'd say there's an objective and a method. The objective is to get the most out of the material, in terms of practicality and efficiency, but also in terms of meaning and plastic quality. The method is to try to abstract myself from the preconceptions we naturally have of how an object should be constructed, of the shapes we reproduce by default without thinking about them. Successfully identifying those that are based on nothing more than old habits frees up space to work on. I hope it's this state of mind that shows through in my pieces.

"It all starts with the dimensions. This is the first step, the foundation of the object..."

RD : Could you walk us through your typical design process, from conception to launch ? Do you have a "typical" process, or do you tailor your approach to each specific project ?

ADC : It all starts with the dimensions. This is the first step, the foundation of the object. You can make beautiful sketches, find magnificent shapes and then spend weeks disfiguring them to fit the proportions required by the object. You can squeeze a chair silhouette so that the seat is 45cm from the floor, or worse: in the name of its perfectly elegant lines, convince yourself that "well, maybe a 48cm seat height isn't so uncomfortable", when in fact it is. That's why I try to establish useful dimensions before drawing anything. Then there's the abstract work I described above. I try to find an idea that makes me say: this object deserves to exist. CAD comes only after I've drawn the lines as precisely as possible, and I try not to dwell on it. I know it's a trend in this field to be fascinated by software, and there are plenty of reasons to be, but it's also a danger. There are a lot of designs that you can tell at a glance have only been drawn in CAD: the lines are banal, constrained by the tools. I don't make many mock-ups before a fairly developed stage of the project, but rather prototypes as close as possible to the finished product, which are used to go into the details of the object to perfect absolutely everything that can be perfected. Every detail is an opportunity to make the object unique. This would be the typical process in which I feel effective.

RD : Is there a designer, historical or contemporary, who inspires you the most in terms of their design principles or style ? Alternatively, if you had to choose one design/object, historical or contemporary, that embodies the essence of "design excellence" as you view it, what would it be ?

ADC : So many of them! I'm fascinated by the movement that founded design as a discipline around figures close to the Bauhaus. Breuer, Albers, and many others... Rietveld, who is enjoying a well-deserved revival, and whose blue and red armchair I feel has somewhat outshone the rest of his work, but every chair he designed is so fantastic that contemporary design is still exploring the same themes a hundred years later. These generations produced work that was intimately political, and saw the aesthetization of everyday objects as a means of changing society. In my opinion, they proved to be right, as they did a great deal to free the next generations from the shackles of tradition. If I had to choose just one object, it would be a little out of category, and that would be jean-prouvé's House of Better Days. Slightly later than this period, it's truly an architectural object conceived as a product. Everything about it is intelligent and practical, and it's designed to be produced in a factory, like a table or a chair, and this is reflected in its construction and plasticity. It's designed to house homeless families, built by a workshop where everyone was paid the same, from designer to operative, and imagined by a Jean Prouvé who personally fought the Nazis during the war. An absolute icon !

I'd also be hard-pressed not to mention, in a slightly more contemporary vein, the work of Grcic or Stephen diez, who are always beyond ingenious.

I've gone a bit overboard here, but it's hard to choose...

"These generations produced work that was intimately political, and saw the aesthetization of everyday objects as a means of changing society. In my opinion, they proved to be right..."

RD : What would you consider your most significant design project to date ? Defining "significant" is up to you, e.g. the project you learnt the most from working on, or the one that had the most impact on the direction and success of your career to date etc. Could you tell us more about this project, e.g. how you came up with the concept, guide us through the design process or challenges you overcame in bringing the idea to life ?

ADC : I see my career as an effort to diversify as much as possible. In this sense, developing the electric scooter I presented at M&O was an extremely exciting step. It gave me a foothold in vehicle design, which is a completely different world from the domestic sphere. The industry isn't the same, the players are different, and so is the pace... Discovering all this allows me to learn a lot, and that's part of the pleasure of the job. It's a project that started out as a personal research project. I really like riding two-wheelers in town, and I was wondering why this kind of mobility was so marginal among my friends who live in the countryside. Together we had many discussions about vehicle electrification and all aspects of sustainable mobility. Gradually, it became clear that in our dependence on the car, the need for convoying space was a blocking factor in the transition to other, lighter modes of transport. So I designed this electric scooter as a solution to this problem, trying to get to the heart of the concept by evacuating all the plastic fairing and cosmetic panelling that make up mainstream automotive design. The result is a lightweight two-wheeler with a wide basket-like structure that's equally at home in town or country. I built a first prototype and thanks to word-of-mouth I met a French manufacturer with whom discussions are well underway to industrialize the model.

"Fortunately, I have the impression that [...] a new generation of designers is enthusiastically embracing this opportunity to create new shapes for a new world !"

RD : As a designer in today's fast-paced world, it's important to stay up-to-date with current trends and technologies. Could you discuss any design trends or developments that you find exciting? What trends or innovations do you see emerging in the industry in the next few years?

ADC : I have the feeling that the industry is at the beginning of a new cycle. I think we're coming to the end of the period that began with China's entry into the WTO and the massive shift towards "made in china" and, above all, the appetite for disposable, low-cost products, etc. Plastic has gone way down, and all brands are now clearly positioned to produce quality products that are more durable and therefore more sustainable. There's still a long way to go in this direction, as many of them only have this attitude on the façade, but at least this theme is in the air and that's a good sign. It restores to design a stakes it had left a little aside for my taste. For the moment, however, I have the impression that the scene is slow to find the new aesthetic that will accompany this paradigm shift. The trends are very backward-looking, entangled in the style of the '80s until very recently, and Art Deco / '20s for a few years now. Fortunately, I have the impression that these trends are receding and that a new generation of designers is enthusiastically embracing this opportunity to create new shapes for a new world !

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