Activities Exhibitions

Inventory Exhibition Opening Night

The Product Design and Glass collaborative exhibition had a successful opening night with plenty of visitors from all around ECA and outside the college – here are some photographs from the opening night!


Chains to Constellations Projects

Design in the Age of Xanax

As much as there is a difference between a benign growth, and a vicious cancer – there is a difference between a simple grief, and a deep depression. People think of depression as being just sadness. It’s much, too much sadness and much, too much grief at far too slight a cause. Alprazolam, a sedative more commonly referred to as Xanax, is the most commonly prescribed drug in the developed world. It is addictive, unreliable and outrageously over-prescribed. A 2010 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that anti-depressants relieved symptoms in fewer than 25 percent of all patients, (seeing relapse in more than 70).

The reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, except that anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication is preventative or symptom-suppressive, rather than curative – they aim to rebalance hormones within the brain, rather than specifically “heal” a portion of the body. Mental health treatments also have a greater effectiveness over more severe cases, for reasons relevant within psychiatry. The introduction of Xanax to the US market in 1981 was without fanfare, party-hats and shame. It was a lower-cost alternative to Valium, the then-most popular anxiety drug, holding the title for the past ten years.

It’s distributor, Upjohn (now Pfizer), had chosen to test the drug as a treatment for panic attacks alongside anxiety. Xanax became the first commercial drug to offer treatment for panic attacks, during a period when panic attacks changed in the public eye from an affliction once thought to be rare, to something nervous mothers joked about.
During the 1990s, Prozac did for depression what Valium had done for anxiety: de-stigmatising a mood disorder into a treatable illness that might be dealt with using a single pill. It is alien to think that in 1993, “Listening To Prozac”, a book riding the wave in popularising a fallacy that Prozac could “cure” depressed individuals, spent four months on the New York Times best-sellers list. Fictional novel “Prozac Nation” also succeeded in fetishising the stereotype of a young, damaged individual reliant on prescription anti-depressants as an achievable and healthy aesthetic.

Three decades later, and America is still a Xanax nation – it remains the most popular psychiatric drug, topping more recent contenders like the sleeping pill Ambien, and the anti-depressant Lexapro. Conversation around over-prescription, particularly for ADHD, has been recently popularised; but lacks solid alternatives to disparage the majority from turning to medication before thinking.

Most psyciatrists, including those at the NHS, have a ten-point list for dealing with acute feelings of anxiety or stress. At the most basic and initial level, the two are considered interchangable with feelings of guilt, worry, and symptoms of cyclic depression. In constructing a constellation for those within a social system of diagnosing and addressing mental health, we can better understand the powers and choices that play to effect positive change in the lives of individuals.

What the sets of interviews show are that within social spheres, there can be a great abundance of support in the form of friends and family – but that often, those affected don’t speak out in fear of being misjudged, or to have the situation escalated beyond their physical control. Those seeing problems develop in friends, on the other hand, are often afraid to speak out in-case they upset their friend or are concerned that they’re not equipped to deal with mental health.

Under a stressed health-service, individual users are encouraged to take their healthcare into further extremes of responsibility – and with resources now only used on the most urgent of cases, departments addressing non-physical injuries have felt the largest shortfall. Mental health wards had already had one of the lowest resource funds, behind only learning difficulty departments; even if anxiety and depression are considered the second leading cause of disability worldwide.

It is as Grahame Cumming, strategic Lead for Innovation at NHS Lothian, describes; “our patients have to get far higher up the Triangle of Care before we can justify intervention”. And in removing immediate healthcare for non-emergency situations, basic and preventable illnesses will often snowball into more dangerous and more costly problems for future healthcare professionals. And so in designing a solution to empower those feeling under anxiety, growing stress, and depression, we can in turn reduce stress on key areas of the NHS whilst also raising awareness and legitimising the importance of telling others if they feel they may have a mood disorder.

If we embed technology into an object that can help us regulate our breathing, we can effectively help those that suffer from panic attacks, and calm those suffering from anxiety or stress. I’ve found often that holding onto an object; a chair, an arm, the walls as they meet the floor, is often enough to give stability in the moments when I find myself losing lucidity. It can be reassuring, however, to know that an object can actively help through haptic feedback; and more importantly for the health practise, recommend whether an individual is needing specialist help.

Grasp is a tool for facing adversity, gaining acceptance, and starting recovery. It provides a platform from which you can take power over your anxiety and control your breathing in times of need.

Mental health issues are the single largest cause of burden worldwide. Almost half of all adults within the UK will have a diagnosable mental health illness, and of those undiagnosed, survey has found that almost 40% will turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol.

The prescription of Xanax, Prozac, and other hormone balancers has been shown to be unreliable with lower-risk patients; and under our current culture of health that emphasises efficiency and diagnosis, almost half of all mental health disorders are left untreated and unnoticed; often leading to a dangerous build-up of higher-risk cases several years into the illness.

Utilising Grasp, you are invited to reach out and have help in guiding yourself back to a place of present mind during difficult times. We might not always have people to reach out to, or feel it necessary to do so; and Grasp offers an object in which you can release anxieties without letting stress compound.

Grasp is designed to monitor heart-rate and breathing and through visual and haptic feedback, guide your senses back to a comfortable space. Sensors will also flag up any potential medical concerns that can be seen by a doctor; such as an irregular pulse and breathing, often caused by stress, or high heart-rates.

New Making

Kakukei, An Orchid’s Pot

Kakukei reveals in use the image of a floating world with an elegant lightness of being. An orchid, framed oblivious, by the eight crisp planes that define its form. A conversation in textures, materialities, and translucencies; the glass arrangement suspends a layer of water to provide an osmose reservoir for its carer. Whether drowned in moonlight or sun-basking as a fleck of mauve on a windowsill, the orchid spins gold from hard life, moving forth and toward the grand sky.

The project of New Making hasn’t been an exploration of orchids, but rather that of iterative styles; digital craft, and product assemblage. First inspired by the jumbling and complex iterative repair of Ernesto Oroza’s Objects of Necessity, and taking the collage-esque method by which his chairs were constructed into task to house an orchid; I quickly became fascinated with the applications of emerging manufacturing methods in aiding the removal of ornament and craft effort, and in elevating existing objects through new materialities.

Through Kakukei, I refine and give purpose to the sculptural forms of gone era; the octagonal vase a tradition within eastern Chinese and Japanese pottery, now re-birthed without ornament or the physical effort required in craft, for more individuals to experience. Through utilising 3D-printed forms for mould-making, I was able to iterate rapidly in cast glass; a process traditionally very labour-intensive and heavily crafted now re-appropriated for an age of modern consumer culture.

From the onset, and as a quirk of the Cuban-inspired prototyping method of assemblage, the final object is constructed of very few materials. The glass reservoir is constructed from a single piece of solid glass, and the internal chamber of only two pieces. The hydrochomic coating is bonded to the outer surface of the Polylactide plastic pot. This streamlining of materials makes the object aesthetically minimalist, and easy to mass-produce.

Throughout the project I had made 10 iterative prototypes, one each week; and have displayed them below.

If we were to look forward and attempt to make Kakukei more efficient for mass production, it would require re-thinking some of the finer details of the product.  The current iteration utilises solid cast glass to achieve the frosted body of the pot, which is an incredibly labour-intensive process, even with the allowances of rapid prototyping to help in form-making. In exploring multiple material options, I feel that injection-moulded acrylic would provide the closest and most cost-efficient replacement to the cast glass; with a slight frosted texture. Acrylic is more hygienic than the cast glass, without any imperfections or air pockets that could harbour bacteria.



Student Work in April 2017

The Student-run Instagram account for Product Design at ECA is always brimming with student work as-it-happens! Follow along here:

New Making

Ornament, Crime, and The Monobloc Chair

The Villa Müller is formed of perpendicular planes and forms; each floor suspended misaligned with another, each room not opened onto by doors and windows but instead existing as open cavities.
Constructed in 1930 to the owners of a building company in Prague, it reflects in stark white and marble veneer the principles of its architect and modernist writer of design theory, Adolf Loos.

He posits that the removal of ornamental features within design is to be the natural progression of taste; in that whilst previous practitioners would hone craft and demonstrate value through the addition of superfluous detailing to their work, the advancement of automated manufacturing removed the necessity in “adding style” – saying that it would be a waste of a craftsman’s time, as with progression, everything would eventually become unfashionable.

The central living space of the Villa Müller has walls paneled with grey marble, a brass-trimmed ash table, and silk-inlay wallpaper. Loos had made a decision to refine the experience of a physical space to it’s texturality and materiality, rather than it’s physical dimensionality. Each material’s connotations can author the same message, but without wasted labour of styling and sculpting.

Could we consider too our imminent revolution in New Making a vehicle by which to remove ornament and further optimise the lasting power of our aesthetic choices? Or, could we utilise New Making as a method by which to explore spaces in materiality and texturality without the time and waste required for superfluous stylisation of a practised craft?


Cuban designer Ernesto Oroza speaks of the Monobloc chair as if it holds sentience, existing much like an animal in the natural environment; such as that “they ramble around the neighbourhood until they get tangentially trapped inside a human activity”.

The Monobloc chair is a lightweight stackable polypropylene chair – and for the past seventeen years, Oroza has sought to document their proliferation and abuse within Cuban maker culture, most often in the form of his self-titled “Objects Of Necessity”, so named as objects willed into existence through rough prototyping as a way to solve temporary problems.

Though not everybody can agree on the exact origin for the Monobloc chair, its cultural permanence is undeniable,  arguably billions being produced and hundreds of millions in circulation, sociologist Ethan Zuckerman describes the chair as an object without context – “Seeing a white plastic chair in a photograph offers you no clues about where or when you are.”

Many design variants of the basic idea exist – and that is exactly what creates of the Monobloc such a compelling object. Each iteration costs approximately $3 to produce, affordable across the world.

Atleast within Cuba, such Objects of Necessity are exactly that – neccesary, due to decades of trading blocades with the western hemisphere, as well as lasting sentiment toward self-sufficience and anti-globalism. When Oroza talks of “Technological Disobedience”, he speaks of the Cuban culture of re-design and re-making as a political act as opposed to an artistic one – a defiance against the manufacturer’s intended use of objects and a method by which to seize the tools of production to consolidate their own political beliefs within the act of making and repairing.

It is interesting, therefore, that such “design work” is so popular outside of Cuban culture, a fetishisation of poverty’s struggle with material culture – the designs of Marcantonio Malerba, an Italian designer,  selling the below offences for $1800 on home-wares store Anthropologie.

5.5 Design Studio in France has had a wonderfully inventive portfolio history with “Objects Of Necessity”, undertaking similar design exploration in merging rudimentary objects together to form new meaning and function in a playful manner.

There is this poetic dichotomy between unintentional, necessary object design, and the purposeful, ordinary object design – and to read it is to start to grasp how complexly intertwined practical design, and social anthropology truly are.

So if, perhaps – we could reverse the thread that pulls necessary objects into being, and instead take the items we hold common and contribute universal appendages so that their usages are multiplied and renewed afresh, could we find ourselves a prototyping technique that is quick, transparent, fluid and allows us to explore objects as they would be in the eyes of a non-designer – free of CAD, Sketching, or technical drawings.

Just as much as 5.5 Design Studio’s design of a monobloc chair consists of taping two curtain rails to a found-object chair, I can use the same methods to prototype around a theme.  Could I craft a quick solution to my problem from found objects to solve my design friction, and could it then spiral me into something more prototyped, more industrial, more official? This, I believe, is the immediate appeal of New Making.

Electronic Things Projects

The Work And The Light That Shines Upon It

When studying the Polaroids of Andy Warhol, and examining photographs of his studio space – it is easy to understand how the two arenas went hand-in-hand. The aesthetic style of each Polaroid and the interior architecture of “The Factory” (as it was called) were created and evolve together, in symbiosis – during the early 1960s at the opening of The Factory, his artwork was harshly lit and overblown – taken with consumer Polaroids under cold studio lighting in the otherwise dark warehouse space. By 1986, he had relocated into a conventional office building with a brownstone façade – a much brighter, window-lit space that reflected in his works more tonal variety, subtlety and softness of light.

It is this relationship between light, environment, medium, and the artist that is important to me – and poses design questions not often considered within the remit of traditional industrial light and furniture design. The light which we create work under can influence a great deal of our impressions of it – as designers, the materials we handle can appear drastically different under the right and wrong kinds of light.

Created as an exploration into colour, light, space and the work that we create, Shift is a lamp made intelligent through the use of micro-processing and colour sensing.

Shift is designed to both receive input manually and sense the surrounding environment for information that can be used to change the ways we experience colour, light and space. Interaction with the large track-pad base is a way for users to dictate directly what hues should be displayed – but brightness and colour can also be controlled by automated reading of the surrounding environment, through an embedded RGB sensor.


The lamp is designed to be sleek, almost anthropomorphised in form – with elongated armatures and a geometric head; the circular fillet motifs drawing parallel with the design of a magnifying glass. All hinged joints are suspended with tension grips, in an effort to minimise visual clutter and promote clean interactions.

Light is fascinating to design for – as the environment created through product form is often more important than the object itself – the interactions designed into Shift emboldened through minimalist form.


In choosing a lamp to explore the possibilities of design interaction and relationship with form when electronics are introduced, I am attempting to create an object that has familiar overtones, but pushes the boundaries of what interactions can be achieved in ways thought of as intelligent, or not achievable with mechanical technologies.


Bio Everything

In order to understand the process through which I went we have to go on a journey that starts somewhere in September. It was back then when during the first week we discovered that our next project, which was to last 3 months, will be exploring synthetic biology. It might seem odd to do biology in a Product Design course but soon it
all started to make sense with the help of frequent visits to the laboratory and of other people from the domain talking to us about all the possibilities.




Download PDF Report

Biodesign Projects

Algae & The Shape Of Things To Come

Barriers between design practitioners and scientific researchers have blurred in recent decades – particularly within the commercial application of scientific developments – but it’s still important to acknowledge that it’s quite obvious that i’m not a practising scientist, and most scientists don’t make embracing design their prime objective.

Context is everything – current projects struggle to grip because they rely on prescient without proper historical arguments, or on technologies that aren’t fully understood by designers or the (viewing) general public – what use is a table lamp powered by moss if we can plug in a lamp at home? Producing Bio-fuel is a process; simply replacing petroleum extraction with algae growth in industrial tanks, and to consumers, the end product is identical, with the designed process completely invisible.

It’s important that synthetic biology and design is therefore relatable and applicable – Sea Me from Dutch maker Nienke Hoogvliet is a rug woven from algae cellulose, a tactile exploration of algae in design. Farma from William Patrick poises a future in which we can grow our own drugs, a future made realistic through believable form and current product vernacular.


The Terroir Project from Jonas Edvard and Nikolaj Steenfatt is another great exhibition of how the materiality of algae within design can help the public understand real-world, actionable applications for synthetic biology.



As far back as the Ancient Greeks, algae dyes and pigments have been utilised for rudimentary makeup and clothing dye – the production of carotenoids and chlorophylls within algae allowing for strong colour penetration without the use of harmful synthesised chemicals. leonbrown_transactions_report10

Indeed, the Algaemy project from designers Essi Johanna Glomb and Rasa Weber (amongst other projects) is an exploration into modern design of a dye system using algae. It is still rather archaic in appearance however, and fails to relate to contemporary product vernacular and modes of use – why not design an algae dying system using common home products, such as an ink-jet printer?   leonbrown_transactions_report13

A printer in form like others, but functionally opposed – CYMKA is a concept artefact that attempts to bridge gaps between current synthetic biology practises within major industry and the consumer realities that face us within the home everyday.

As a way of safely and considerately introducing synthetic biology to the mass market and the challenging thoughts around living with living things, the printer is designed to appear normal – but is created with the intention of cultivating a symbiotic relationship with an algae ecosystem that resides on top of the device, sustained by constant input and care from the user much in the same way as a fish tank, or terrarium.

By revealing symbiotic opportunities that a Synthetic Biology future can offer us within a consumer product space, CYMKA hopes to garner attention of the public and generate further consumer interest for interacting with living things.leonbrown_transactions_report14

Dependant on the quality of care given to the algae ecosystem within CYMKA, will be the quality and craftsmanship of the inks and printed media that can be gained from it. Differing environments can be constructed in ways to harvest many thousands of different types of algae – and differing textures of ink, with varying success.

European algae are commonly red and brown in tone – and have a tougher epidermis that can produce hardy and deep inks; historically reduced and strained around the Irish sea and within Nordic communities, as a natural fabric dye. Bright green algae populate warmer waters, including Asian and pacific arenas – slightly dryer in texture, emitting a more consistent ink with a thinner texture for detailed dye work.


In choosing a printer, I have designed CYMKA to also celebrate to the long history that exists around the usage of algae as a cultural object – throughout history, algae has not only been utilised within cuisine and agriculture; but also within fashion, design, the crafts and arts. Egyptian makeup has contained algae dyes, as has clothing from cultures along the Mediterranean coast and up toward Nordic isles. CYMKA is designed to facilitate an emotional connection between man and microbe-kind, and as a tool of artistic collaboration cross-species. Care for the algae, and it will care for your printed work.



Algae, Edible Culture, and Contemporary Design

The vast fields of deep sea grass and thick diffused fog of iridescent river microbes share a common ancestry – both of Familiae Eukarayota, or Algae, in a partnership going back 1,600 million years.

Human interaction with algae came after hundreds of million years of evolution, first introduced as edible seaweed to Chinese nobility around 2700BC – alongside the birth of the silk trade and the Pyramids of Giza.

Algae has been found in pre-Christian fabric dyes along the Mediterranean coast, and in medieval fertiliser along the Irish sea – with Victorians even finding art in leaves of seaweed, the first photo-book published in 1843 featuring cyanotypes of pressed algae samples collected around the Kent coast. Diatom Arrangement even became quite popular during the later 19th century, being the practise of arranging micron-sized algae into patterns under a microscope.HistoryofAlgae1


So from the fields of shallow water surrounding Yokohama Bay to the scrapbooks of Victorian housewives, algae has been found woven into a number of historical uses, cultural narratives and practises.

Algae is therefore safe from the public eye and will likely continue to be used within cuisine, fabrics – but the emerging talents of synthetic biology and design will be amongst the first to promote new uses for algae.

The field, however, suffers from an image issue – conceptual projects are too elitist and abstracted for the non-designer, attracting parody and mockery instead of provoking serious discussion. It is a disgrace to the synthetic biology industry that great ideas are hindered by public perception – both due to collective ignorance of the subject from the public, and the arrogance of the scientists and designers that work with synthetic biology.

Realistic design futures make them selves known in developed steps, rather than leaps of imagination – as William Gibson famously said of first-world development; “The future has already arrived, it’s just not evenly distributed yet”.