Critical Review

Throughout this project their have been a number of key decisions made that have lead to some significant changes in the evolution of the project as a whole. There have also been several challenges that have had to be overcome in order to reach certain goals, all of which have taught me important lessons that I can take forward into future projects. In hindsight, I would say that most of these challenges were caused by a lack of decisiveness although I was not too badly hindered by this since I was  quite thorough in my organisation and planning.

Project Evolution

One of the key decisions made is perhaps the most obvious; deciding on a project. In my eyes, I was quite slow in making this choice but the moment that helped unlock this was when Graham asked me what the common theme of my summer happened to be. At first, this worried me as to be honest, I never spent a whole lot of time thinking about what my project would be; I was heavily focused on my dissertation for the Made In China module, doing research into links between Scotland and China, and carrying out interviews. I then realised that my project could relate to my dissertation research; one particular aspect that interested me was the success the Harris Tweed industry is enjoying in Asia, particularly Japan. I had an idea that I could create a way for Harris Tweed products to be traced back to the weaver who weaved the tweed, reassuring consumers of its authenticity and educating them about how it was made, while giving the weavers more recognition for their role. I decided that I would like to build a chair to demonstrate how this would work, as I have developed an interest in furniture design.

Towards the end of first semester I made the long journey up to the Isle of Lewis where I stayed with my aunt while I carried out research. I arranged to meet as many weavers as I could, as well as the Harris Tweed Authority, in an attempt to establish as many connections as I could that would allow me to create the product/service I had in mind but as I progressed, it seemed more and more ambitious. However, as I explored, I thought a lot about the distinct character and culture of the island and its people. I have to give credit to my aunt for playing a vital role in unlocking my project for me; we talked each evening about my work that day and I came up with ideas which she would challenge – asking questions like why and highlighting flaws. It’s a frustrating thing, being challenged, but in the end it helped me refine my idea into a much more solid concept and allowed me to be more direct in my research on the island. I came up with an idea, inspired by the photography of Ian Lawson, to design a chair, or a range of chairs, inspired by places on the island.

Going into semester 2, I began developing this idea, trying to figure out how to create the connection between the chair and the place. My most promising idea was to upholster the chair in Harris Tweed using colour and patterns that could relate to these places, then using photography in a book to establish that link. At this stage in the project, I really felt like I was struggling – I could see the end product in my head but I couldn’t figure out how to get the different aspects to work together seamlessly. I realised that my project was made up of three main parts – the chair, Harris Tweed and the story behind the chair (the place) and they were all fighting for centre stage. The design of the chair would become irrelevant with the book idea – once the users attention is focused on the book that is what the project becomes about. For that reason, I made the decision to use audio so that people could appreciate the chair without the “story” drawing too much attention. I built a box that played audio clips of sounds that evoked island memories – one example was the sound a loom. This was a key development in the projects evolution as it created a better balance between the three aspects and gave me a clearer direction.

As part of the feedback we received following the mark 1 prototypes, Graham and Chris felt that it was a potentially rich project that could be much deeper. Hearing that made me think right back to the what inspired me to begin with – the distinct character of the island and its people. I began trying to translate this into the project by doing sketches of the island and sketching chair designs to help create something that was inspired by the islands. I also thought carefully about how people I spoke to described the islands – strong, resilient, stoic, yet warm and inviting. Modern and contemporary but holding tradition in its heart. I realised how significant these words were and how evocatively people spoke about the islands. I was inspired to use this in the project which lead to my final idea to have a chair inspired by the island telling stories through the voice of the islands people.

Decision Making

For this project to evolve through its various iterations required me to make several choices along the way – this was perhaps the most stressful aspect for me. I’m not usually bad at making decisions, however I think that the level of thought that went into the project is what lead to my difficulty. With each choice, I often found myself weighing up pros and cons, agonising over questions, usually following ‘what if’. Times where I had to be more decisive include: deciding what project to do; how should the chair look?; should it be one chair or more?; and more latterly, how should the chair be built? CNC or handmade?

Perhaps it was a fear of making the wrong decision that held me back. In future, I will think back to these decisions and remember that most of my questions were answered when I reached the stage where I simply had to make a decision and go ahead with it. I would have been better to make faster decisions, even if they were the wrong decisions. At least I would know and I would know early enough to try another option. To some extent, I did do that: I chose to have a book that related to the chair that would light up when someone sat down. I made prototypes based on that idea and they helped me realise it wasn’t right. A few iterations later and I have a chair with the stories embedded within it – much different to the earlier prototypes. Still, I would like to be more decisive in future to realise what works and what doesn’t at an earlier stage to allow me more time to refine small details. It was quite late on by the time I made my first full scale model and I learned so much from it – if only I had done that sooner.

Conclusion

Now, at the end of the project, I am very happy and proud of what I have made. Of course, there have been difficulties throughout but it has been a learning curve and a great experience. I’ve met many fantastic people along the way and am humbled by their generosity. Jennifer and Kristina at the Harris Tweed Authority were very accommodating and provided me with the Harris Tweed used in my project as part of the Education Trust; Jim at Bentley Fit kindly provided materials and services free of charge to CNC the parts I needed to construct my chair; John at Hilltown Upholstery gave me a masterclass in his craft at no expense and I am thrilled with the results; and all the people who I spoke to and discussed my project with were open and honest, giving me plenty to work with. I hope all these people remain contacts that I can call on in future projects.

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