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DESIGN TRENDS: What I want is outer space! A conversation with Oskar Zieta

03.03.2016 People

How do products come to life? How much technology, energy and human effort it takes to create a material object? Can a design process be actually designed? As it turns out, the answer is yes, it can. Today, we have a peek at the inner workings of Zieta Prozessdesign, a studio that connects the world of technology, design, architecture and art in a strikingly innovative way. Exclusively for PURO, Justyna Strociak talks to Oskar Zieta*, her former teacher at Poznan School of Form, for whom she works currently as a part of an interdisciplinary group of designers.

Text: Justyna Strociak
Photos: Zieta Prozessdesign

A design process is the actual key to making a product. Until recently, it was implemented by designers in production processes, yet they had no real influence over the objects they created. After all, it is not easy introducing changes to products manufactured on a mass scale. The fast growing access to digital technologies capacitates designers to design innovative processes, which help arrange the production method to suit a given product. Thanks to it, what comes to life is not only intelligent objects but entire generations of customized products.

Oskar Zieta, one of a few designers believing in and practicing the process-based design, tells PURO about the values he sees in this approach and the ways he implements it in his everyday work.

Justyna Strociak: You are an architect, designer and technologist. Your work focus is set on the creation of design processes and new technologies that give rise to a whole series of rare objects. To tell you the truth I cannot recall many designers who have taken your kind of a career path. I truly wonder what decisions and events led you to where you are now?

Oskar Zieta: You know that I am an architect with a long history of educational and architectural experience, even though I hardly ever attended classes in Poland (Editor’s note: Oskar graduated from West Pomeranian University of Technology in Szczecin) because I worked a lot. Thanks God I did it! Engrossed in the real problems of a real design studio, I didn’t have time to get “spoiled” by the school. It was at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich that I “came back to life” – thanks to my commitment, diligence and a tiny bit of luck I entered into a new, revolutionary phase of life. It was year 2000 and I was admitted to Ludger Hovestadt’s group. Ludger believed that we should stop using computers for rendering and use them to create objects for production instead. Back then it was a spectacular manifesto! We were pioneers in the field and had a wonderful team we’d built from scratch. Hence we looked down on and laughed out loud at people! And we were quite right to do that. It’s fantastic to look around and see everyone “plow”, over and over again, the already barren ground, when you know you’ve just conquered a virgin territory and everything you sow bears fruit.

You’re right in saying that what you proposed was fresh. Still, I think that the phenomenon of the design process and its significance for designers was not new to design in general. It’s only the approach that has changed. Now it’s technological.

You’re right. The experiment we’ve started with students at School of Form shows that digitization and computers simply force designers to be more meticulous in the analyses of parameters controlling the production process of an object. In most cases, a designer goes to a factory and uses the already-made elements: “I like this profile so I think I will connect it with this one. Perfect! And here’s where the seat will be. It’s groundbreaking!” When it comes to me, I find it cheap. Unfortunately, this is how design is frequently made these days. It’s all driven by profit and nothing else. At Zieta Prozessdesign, we use digitization and new technologies. We cannot just go to a manufacturer and say “hey, since you specialize in profile bending, do this for us”. No, we need to get to know the process itself, learn about it to acquaint ourselves with all its parameters, which we later introduce to a design process. The results of such an approach are breathtaking.

At School of Form, we also put emphasis on the process of designing. Currently, we do the project called "Do Roboty", in which students study a given craft in order to explain it via the language of robotics. Theoretically, everything seems easy – brush painting, tattooing, 3D printing in caramel or ceramic – but when you have to delve deeply into the essence of the craft, when you have to dissect it, that’s when it gets complicated. Students’ work needs to be heavily based on constant experimentation. It’s indispensable for every designer and we truly believe it, in our studio as well. We’ve spent ten years searching to finally find ourselves in the moment we are now. The design process is all about cognition.

This process is much more time-consuming than a simple design of a particular object.

Yes, it is. We often begin something and then this “something” has to hover in the void for a while until we have time, knowledge and an idea on how to approach it. At home I have this tiny element that came to life 5 years ago. It’s still on my desk while I try to find out what to do with it.

So, for you, design is not about one process – you keep creating new ones. One process turns into another, and then another, and another. We’re not talking about a linear activity here, are we?

No, we are not. It’s fascinating that we’ve succeeded in developing comfort that allows us to freely move within various fields. The scale of what we make is broad and may range from trophies, sculptures and façades, even to objects in outer space – this is my aim! Economics is a problem to be solved. I wish I could make enough money to employ a group of people devoted exclusively to research and development. Everything we do now revolves around the need to experiment a little bit more while doing our best to support a 40-person group of employees. So it’s the luxury, but also a heavy burden for a manufacturing company.

Oh yes. Speaking of production, an indispensable part of a design process generating lots of problems.

It’s also very time- and energy-consuming. These are hours we should probably spend on getting to know our customers, however, I do not really believe in market research. And even though I do not like many of Steve Jobs’ ideas, I do like one of them. He said that if Apple had thought of their customers’ needs, they would never achieve as much as they did.

So, what you’re saying is that in order to be successful we need to control every stage of creation, production in particular. I wonder whether this turn towards designing processes is only temporary or whether it is serious enough to have a real impact on, for example, mass-production systems.

I have something to confess: I actually don’t believe in mass production. Of course a lot of objects will still be produced on a mass scale. Let’s notice that it’s been only 30 years since we can print a sheet of paper accurately and only 5 years since we can 3D print an object. When we think about the history of industry, it’s nothing. However, in the foreseeable future people will see it as standard; objects produced in series will have to bear some traces of uniqueness. The automotive industry realized that a long time ago, but a car is a huge investment. Consumers who buy new cars think a lot about what they really want. They not only choose a model, but also thousands of other elements such as  interior or electronics. This industry sets standards very high, making other fields customize their productions. At our company we want customization to be something more than a simple change of color.

Do you think that designers will more eagerly engage themselves in creating design processes? I have this impression that, in Poland, there are not many people who think the way you do.

We’ve been working this way for many years but there are a lot of people who doubt us and do not foresee our success. Nevertheless, as a manufacturing company we have as much to say as the automotive, furniture, military and other industries. We go to innovative, technological, military and sports trade fairs to name a few. Some designers simply have to specialize in something, be it chairs, armchairs, tables. Let me put it this way: 1 kg of a piece of furniture is worth “x”, 1kg of a car is worth “x” times 10, 1 kg of a plane is worth “x” times 100, while 1 kg of a spaceship is worth “x” times 1000. Why should we care and specialize in “x” if we can multiply “x” 1000 times? Of course it’s a long process and I do not know how long it will be until people in Poland see in us the technological potential of the future. We want them to give us green light for creating smart designs.

*Oskar Zieta

Oskar Zieta is a graduate of ETH in Zurich, one of the most famous technical schools in the world, where he studied at the department of Computer Aided Architectural Design. He sets an example as the creator of innovative design processes combining design and advanced technologies. One of his inventions is FiDU technology consisting in the stabilization of metal forms by deforming them by means of internal pressure. Oskar runs Zieta Prozessdesign design studio and is the coordinator of Industrial Design program at School of Form in Poznan.

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