I have continued to interview this week, and heard back from David “Mecha Zone” White. He gave me very detailed answers on his work process. For this blog post, I am going to do an analysis of his work based on the answers he gave me, and retroactively determine if his practice is passion based or user centric based and if it is authentic in either of those ways.
My first impression of David’s work was how detailed they were for being manufactured just by him. His answers revealed an interesting fact about him. Despite his incredible digital sculpting skills, David is actually not an industrial designer and does not know traditional “CAD” like Solidworks by practice, he is actually majored in illustration from the Columbus College of Art and Design. He learned and acquired all of his 3D printing skills on his own. However, the reason why he knows 3D design software is also really interesting, one of his earlier jobs was working on the video game MechWarrior 4 for PC. David confirmed that he makes his Mechanauts and Predanauts action figures on the side of his regular work, as making all of the figures on his own wasn’t worth the time and expenses for him, however it wasn’t always that way as he spent a couple of years just on his toy lines.
One question I asked was “what are some unexpected challenges you have had to overcome trying to pursue your business?” He brought up that the internet’s negative effect on the publishing industry has been his number one hurdle as it used to be his main source of income. His toy lines are just one of the ways he is trying to make additional money. David also teaches at a university local to him in Massachusetts. Based on his other answers though, I like to think that David enjoys designing his Mechanauts and Predanauts action figures. He has a strong emotional connection to the toy lines of his youth such as Zoids and Micronauts, the influence of them on his his work is very clear to me (even down to the name). However, one comment he said at the end of the interview, which had to do with advice he would give to a young designer wanting to do similar work, was to develop a unique style as “too much work out there is derivative”. At first I thought this would be his statement about being true to his dreams, but he added the following… “My work may be retro and fueled by nostalgia, but at least it doesn’t look just like everything else.” The way he phrased his own work being “fueled by nostalgia” almost seemed like he was being critical of himself for choosing to work within this category. He is showing that his work is different on a market level but maybe he doesn’t feel like his work is all that different personally, it could be more authentic to him. To me, it seems like David wishes he could do more, and I think many independent artists are in his same position. He talked a lot about how he wishes he could spend more time with his social media accounts, learning CAD programs, and just developing his own ideas. This effort to constantly improve is very genuine.
David’s response to “Did you ever intend to solve a researched “design problem” for a user with your product offerings, or are you a bit more informal in identifying a user category?” was that “it was a personal project so there was no specific design problem to be solved”. However, he found my phrasing to be too vague to understand my intent, which was more along the lines of “are you designing products to fit a gap in a market?” like I talked about last week. However, I feel like he is trying to fill a market gap, but maybe its not in a traditional “design problem” stance that I’m used to. The user needs are not as specific or defined in such a niche industry that is relying on personal uniqueness, as David puts it, to stand out. In this case it seems to be having a good design problem, or at least a “well defined” one, does not equal authenticity, rather it is your work ethic and your individuality shining through your craft. Part of the article Royal referenced in the comments for my “Reflecting on Todd’s talk” blog, titled “Fake It Before, During, and After You Make It” (linked here… https://jacobinmag.com/2019/10/the-politician-review-gwyneth-paltrow-authenticity) is that people are starting not to care if their emotions are authentic, and that they use them only as a commodity for their own gain. I intended to see if the designer's problem statement aligned with my assessment of this same designer’s authenticity. I feel now that this is not the best way of coming to the conclusion of authenticity in David’s case because he was pretty clearly trying to be as authentic as he could, but didn’t even use problem statements for his products. Not all products are going to be framed in this way because not all products, especially niche products like David’s are made to solve a problem. David made Mechanauts and Predanauts to help himself more than anything, in just in that virtue, people bought them. Handcrafted and inspired by classic action figures, they are perfect for a toy connoisseur. Why does it need a problem? What more does it need?
You can check out David “Mecha Zone” White on all of his social media channels linked here!
If any of you are designers, do you think you need to solve problems with your designs? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!
Until next time…
As our class moves closer to writing our articles for On Milwaukee, Royal invited Jason McDowell, the creative director of On Milwaukee and a MIAD alum, to come in and talk with us. I found some of his advice to be informative, as this week I started interviewing. Jason talked a lot about the freedom he has in his writing, but is juxtaposed with the fine line between high quality articles and not taking the sites writing too seriously, being a site for entertainment content. It almost seemed contradictory, however, Jason gave us enough credibility to show he understands his audience. He takes research seriously and has diverse interests that give his content unique perspectives. These are the qualities that give him (and the other writers though his editing) a voice and draws people to read On Milwaukee’s content. I had a hard time finding local artists and designers that did the kind of work that I wanted to write about, but keeping my own personal voice in mind, I decided to reach out to some independent designers on Instagram that do the kind of work I want to do, even though they are not based in Milwaukee. I thought they can at least give me a baseline to work off of.
I found interviewing to be a bit difficult at first because the designers I found, being professionals, had other commitments. I reached out to 3 different designers to start, and I have interviews committed for two of them. While they were happy to answer my questions I spent much of the week waiting for the right time to call them or to respond to my questions. I thought the least I could do is analyze the work they have up on social media to give an idea of what I want to write about. These designers are David A White, who has his own business called “Mechazone” in which he 3D prints his own robot action figure designs, and Matt Palmer, who wrote and published his own superhero comic book, “The Immortal Red Fox”, which he promotes with videos and live events performing in the hero Red Fox’s costume, much in the style of “Power Rangers”. Both of them have similar passions and interests as me, so I thought I could gain some insight into what I would need to do to make my own ideas successful if I ever wanted to launch a project independently after graduation. I plan on having a conversation with Matt Palmer over Instagram’s video chat feature, while David wanted to type out the answers to my questions on his own.
What I learned was a bit unexpected at first, but it made more sense after I began to collect my thoughts for this blog. Any independently produced work is really hard, at times it can feel as if you are constantly failing. I know this firsthand just from being a student at MIAD. However, for Matt and David, the main goal of their projects are not being “successful” as in being mainstream or popular, rather their main goal is seeing out their own vision. As simple as that may be, they have stories and dreams they want to share with the world, even if it's just a few of the world’s people. For both of them, they have a small but devoted following of people on social media that understand their vision and support them. They sell their work to them online or at conventions directly to large gatherings of potential supporters. I’ve always known about this kind of business model but for whatever reason I had not put these ideas together: being small is ok, you are probably doing your project on the side anyways. That’s why it's called a passion project. However, (hopefully I don’t contradict myself by saying this) I don’t think either of them are completely ruling out the idea of “being successful”, but to fully explain this will require some more context and examples.
As an industrial designer, I usually think about startups or independently produced ideas the same way I would treat any product, design it around solving a user’s problem. In our Professional Practice class, we were introduced to some MIAD alums that are manufacturing their ideas independently as well such as Dave Joseph who is working on OVIE a smart home food tracking device to prevent waste, and Jeremy Knowpow, who is working on MOTIVO a redesigned and empowering mobility walker for the elderly and disabled. These products clearly are made to solve a user’s problem. The passion and storytelling is much different than Matt and David. Essentially, as an industrial designer we are taught to find issues a user is having with an existing product or method, and justify the purpose of the new product’s existence based on the evidence that there is a user need for it. This is also called looking for “market gaps”. When I put it this way, it appears that the purpose of this kind of design is to be “successful” making money on the product, and not to get across your “vision”. Matt and David are products, while different media, are both essentially what I would call an “entertainment property”. They are being sold directly to a fan or collector market. One of my questions to the both of them is “Do you ever intend to solve a researched “design problem” for a user, or are you a bit more informal?” Which is essentially “are you designing products to fit a gap in a market?”. I hope that when I interview them, their answers are insightful to my own design process, and I can learn more about how the independent collectable market operates, is it all “passion” or is there more “user-centric” design going on.
Do you buy product solely because functionality or does its meaning to you or the person that made it more important? Maybe it’s both? Tell me in the comments!
Until next time…