Product design is increasingly becoming less about the final product, than about the process to reach it. DQ Editor Sophia Watson talks design process with Tait Director, Gordon Tait, and Designer/Maker Christina Waterson in the creation of her new collection: Stellar
January 22nd, 2015
What was the initial idea for the collection?
GORDON TAIT: We first spotted Christina Waterson’s work at her exhibition ‘Trace’ in 2012 at Brisbane Indesign. A beautiful sculptural hanging piece made from powder coated metal ‘Scale Screen’ particularly took our attention. We expressed our interest in catching up with Christina which due to distance and busy schedules took another year to eventuate.
Stellar’s remarkable origami-like aesthetic is true to Christina’s distinctive design approach. The first meetings were spent discussing how we could make a marketable product from this design method that Christina had been developing over a number of years. We could all see the possibilities for a screening system but it was also much more than that.
CHRISTINA WATERSON: The Stellar Collection was inspired by the night sky. As a child I was in awe of the Milky Way’s beauty and would spend many a hot summer’s night out on the water tank star watching. My brothers and I would look for satellites and shooting stars, often making our own constellations using the stars we could see, and our different interests as a reference point. This playfulness is at the heart of the Stellar Collection as it encourages people to become modern day astronomers, making their own constellations and patterns in the form of sculptural screens, ceilings, wall reliefs and objects.
While the names and patterns for our traditional constellations are inherited from Greek mythology, almost every culture on earth envisaged patterns in the stars that captured their unique culture and nature. For Stellar’s signature patterns I re-imagined the stars in the night sky to form a set of new constellations based on the patterns and lines of Australian flora and fauna; including the open mouth of the Frilled-neck Lizard (Kingii), the movement of Rosellas alighting (Rosella) and the micro patterns of Banksia spikes at different stages of blooming (Banksia).
What did the overall design process involve from both of you, from concept to production?
GORDON TAIT: Workshopping with the designer, we initially played with Christina’s cardboard maquettes to understand the different ways the shapes surfaces could be connected. Christina then sent her precious marquees and initial metal components to us and a few Skype meetings later we were able to go to drawings followed by prototypes. Once we had the samples to work with we flew Christina down to Melbourne for a workshop day.
This product seemed deceptively simple in theory yet proved complicated once we went to prototypes. Many prototypes later we could finally sign off and go to production.
CHRISTINA WATERSON: An early metal screen prototype using a single part type was developed through a 2010 Australian Council Grant. The grant enabled me to rationalize the screen design in metal as until then it had only been made in recycled materials. The prototype was showcased at both Pinup Project Space in Melbourne and Brisbane Indesign in 2012. I met Susan and Gordon Tait during Brisbane Indesign in 2012 and on seeing the metal screen amid my other prototypes and models they mentioned that it would be great to collaborate on a project together.
Tait are such an established and great company with unique design, manufacturing and retail strengths, having also collaborated with some amazing Australian designers. It took me a year to get in touch after that first contact because I was so awestruck with their offer. A friend and fellow designer, Darcy Clarke, encouraged me to contact Tait in 2013 and I’m so glad I worked up enough courage to call Susan and Gordon. To this day we laugh about how long it took me to call.
The collaborative process from there was a beautiful gift. It started with sending little handmade and painted marquettes to Tait. The marquettes showed the parts and some configurations to introduce the concept of Celestial Analogue or Stellar as it was later named. At the same time it was exhibited as a small-scale handmade artwork and developed into a three-part system. Tait prototyped the parts to streamline the final details of their fabrication methodology and fixing options to enable multiple arrangements and ensure ease of assembly.
Stellar was previewed at Designex in early 2014. The finer details of packaging, marketing and preparing the product for retail and commercial markets were finalized before Stellar’s official launch later that year. It’s been a privilege to work with Tait and witness their knowledge, skill and expertise across all of these areas and importantly quality fabrication. Stellar is a credit to all involved in the process, especially Tait’s dedicated and experienced team.
What were some of the bigger challenges throughout the process, both from a designer and supplier perspective?
GORDON TAIT: A series of holes not only created an attractive pattern on the components but ardmore importantly used to connect the pieces together with Chicago screws. The cardboard tests worked well, but when we made up the samples in metal, the positions of the holes now seemed to be incorrect and no longer lined up. What we learned through trial and error was every incremental change to hole and screw sizes grew the pieces you added throwing out alignment. We were glad we had all had childhoods playing with Lego and Meccano as there was a lot of head scratching while we reconfigured again and again to resolve the issues which on paper didn’t exist.
The screens can be reconfigured into different patterns, so you need to be able use the screws and holes multiple times. All these steps had to be taken into account to ensure the product would perform well and at the end of the day wasn’t too complicated for people to put together.
While playing with this product we started to appreciate the infinite number of possibilities which was exciting and overwhelming. Just like your building blocks as a child, you could make many, many things with the Stellar components. Narrowing it down to three designs and packaging for consumers proved very challenging. We wanted to create a system suitable for a retail consumer yet not limit the possibilities for the A+D market.
Finally the hanging systems which we initially thought we would be able to source quite easily of course proved illusive. As Stellar can be hung vertically as well as horizontally, fixed via cables or to a wall or ceiling, again all the variables needed to be met in a small unobtrusive system. After talking over the problem with friends in the lighting industry, they were able to point us in the right direction. We wanted to make sure we had successfully addressed all the installation variables before putting Stellar to market.
CHRISTINA WATERSON: The biggest challenge was selecting which patterns and arrangements we would launch first. Stellar’s elements can be arranged into so many different patterns, combinations and forms (including sculptural screens, ceilings, and objects, as well as functional furniture). It was actually a really exciting challenge to select the strongest most distinct arrangements (Kingii, Rosella and Banksia), with the option of showcasing other configurations at a later stage. Stellar also encourages people to come up with their own constellations and patterns using different configurations, and colour combinations.
What the new product represents in the current market, where would you position Stellar?
GORDON TAIT: Stellar offers people a sculptural screening system they can customise to an interior or exterior area. A space changer to create drop ceilings, divide rooms, screen areas or simply use as a decorative feature. Available in three beautiful designs and a range powder coat colours means you are literally only limited by your imagination. We can’t wait to see how people use Stellar.
CHRISTINA WATERSON: Stellar represents a wish to share my work with a wider audience and embodies my passion to create large-scale intricate surfaces whose depth, detail, and effect on light and shadow transform and bring a finer grain to the spaces around us. Stellar is unique in the market. It originates from an intensive art practice, and makes so many different configurations and forms. Stellar is beautiful when used in intimate spaces in the home through to larger public interiors. I feel it will really shine in large-scale commercial applications because it’s on mass that Stellar becomes especially captivating and visually dynamic.
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