Wednesday, May 13, 2015

DSDN 481: Project 7

Ron Swanson & Modular Furniture

1) Select an existing character from literature, television, or film and write a scenario that details their interaction with something you have designed in the past or would like to design in the future.
“Son, I leave my office for very few things. Usually those things involve food or government incompetence, neither of which I see here.” Ron said as he followed me.

Standing in the workshop space, we looked at the indistinct pile of wooden components and pieces. The pieces formed the basis of a modular system that could be used to build a multitude of different pieces of furniture. Ron strode over to the pile, leaning to pick one up.

“Red Oak. Good work. That’s my third favourite timber. Mortise and tenon. Solid choice for a join. Nice job on the bentwood.”

I nodded in response, smiling as I watched him take hold of several pieces and place them on the workbench next to the pile. He chose a small wooden mallet, and moved two of the pieces together before firmly tapping them until they meshed. His moustache wrinkled a little as he frowned at the shaped pieces of timber.

"Any idea what you’re going to make, Ron?"

"Something I can call my own. Please understand that I know more about this than you do." I saw him smirk as he said this, picking out pins from the pile to complete the joints. He gave the two parts a twist to see if the joint would hold. It did so with a creak, and I saw a deep furrow edge over his brow.

"You’re certainly no cabinet maker. Next time, get the the edges smoother and the joints cleaner." His criticisms felt harsh, but I could tell he meant well. On the workbench, what looked like a chair was beginning to take shape as Ron slotted the next pin into place. With a sharp tap of the mallet, the pin slid into just the right spot.

"I feel like I'm six years old again. My father used to give me old pallet pieces filled with nails and send me outside to make stuff. I got tetanus twice." I laughed at this. “I nearly died.” I immediately went silent as he eyeballed me. He held the stare for a couple of seconds before flipping the piece over and started lining up the legs. He lined up the pegs with the slots, pushing the parts together slowly and deliberately. The parts slid together with relative ease, and the seat of the chair looked complete.

“So every piece you’re using there could be used for an entirely different piece of furniture”, I explained. He looked up at me with a frown.

“This is the best and only option.” I started to argue against it, but he silenced me with a look. I mouthed a quick “Sorry” to him as he turned back to his work. The chair had legs now, and he was already picking out pieces for the back. A collection of smaller flat planks I had made was forming next to his incomplete chair. He smacked these smaller parts together with some curved struts.  

“I’ve never really cared much for this whole kitsch DIY movement. But I can see how this might get people to make more things. I think that skill is being lost. Make sure that doesn’t happen.” He almost seemed to be enjoying himself. I had hoped he might. Ever since I first made friends in the Parks department, I’d heard about the legendary Ron Swanson. I knew I had to have him test my design, and he’d reluctantly accepted.

His chair was finished. He’d usurped my original concept a little bit, and decided there was only one way to make things; his way. With a smile, he smoothed his moustache, then turned and sat in his creation. He leaned back and sighed, clasping his hands behind his head, smiling at the ceiling.

“Now, son, for my work here I was promised Lagavulin and bacon-wrapped shrimp. You had better deliver.”

2) Reflect on your scenario, in writing, addressing what you think are the strengths and limitations to using storytelling techniques to explore design.
The key element of Ron’s interaction with the design was that I was only able to shape, not determine precisely how he used the system. The way he used it came down to who he was as a character; something that I was unable to define. The strength of scenario writing is in its ability to mirror real people and real situations. In the real world, I can only ever guide people in their usage of the design, and even that won’t always be possible. People interact with objects in unexpected and unique ways and as a result, my design would be subjected to uses it wasn’t intended for. Writing the scenario allowed me to explore some of the potential uses and outcomes that Ron as a specific character might explore. The depth of Ron as a character with more defined traits and facets than a blank persona enables me to explore deeper involvements and outcomes with more dynamism and believability.

The problem inherently stems from this attempted mirroring of real life. What makes scenario writing so successful is also one of its greatest shortcomings. Because I, the designer, write the scenario, ultimately this still limits the potential outcomes to versions of the situations that I can think of. Despite toying with a character who is entirely different to me, I am still limited to the breadth of my own imagination and creativity. Employing real people with real stakes in a design would almost certainly expose new and different understandings, perceptions, and opinions.

Scenario writing presents itself as a powerful tool for conceptual phases of design, but is likely to fall off in usefulness as more in-depth analysis and development of design exploration is required.

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