Design at Riverside
7 Melville Street S, Cambridge, ON
Helen Kerr, Patty Johnson, Diane Bisson, Dianne Croteau, Rachel Dacks, Michelle Ivankovic and Cynthia Hathaway are not household names, but chances are that you have a product they have designed in your home, or office.
If you have taken formal CPR training, you have likely used one of their manikins. There is a significant possibility that their research and creative vision has, or will soon have a direct impact on you.
Industrial Design is one of the last professions to remain a predominantly male domain. Recent statistics site that just under 5% of Canada’s industrial designers are women. The current ratio of women enrolled in industrial design programs across the country is significantly higher and certainly more encouraging for the future.
Industrial design is challenging field of practice. Unlike other design disciplines such as graphic or interior design, the client base is a relatively small manufacturing sector under siege, and the time lapse between the initial design and production can frequently stretch to several years. Hence, to build a substantial portfolio of work for an industrial designer takes years.
To make ends meet, many industrial designers are forced to seek work in other design disciplines, or to leave the profession altogether.
In light of these impediments, the 5% exhibition was created to recognize and celebrate the achievements of seven very talented Canadian women industrial designers, who against the odds, have built thriving and successful international careers.
Helen Kerr leads product and system development with a focus on research and strategic innovation. From the complex realm of healthcare, to relevant sustainability issues, and the intimate study of how we eat, her insights and design direction guide clients to realize business ideas as fully integrated solutions. For more than 20 years, Helen has collaborated with her team to deliver complete brand experiences. She is an Associate Professor in graduate studies at OCADU. She has applied her foresight capabilities to government policy both federally and provincially and is often sought as a lecturer, juror and conference speaker. She has been recognized at the highest level by IDSA and Phaidon Press.
Patty Johnson is a Canadian designer who is interested in the interchange between research and design, and, commerce and culture. She operates worldwide with partners, enterprises, manufacturers, communities, governments, and designers creating new kinds of design programs and product collections. Her mobile studio network looks to combine the strengths of complimentary groups to build new linkages, new cultures and new ideas.
Diane Leclair Bisson was born in 1960 in Montréal, where she lives and works. She has studied design, humanities and social sciences, obtaining an M.Sc. in Anthropology, an M.A. in Museology, and a Ph.D. in History of Design (RCA). In keeping with this multi-disciplinary path, she explores spheres of creation where design and anthropology meet, establishing a research methodology which takes into account the everyday experience of material and social environments. Her work draws attention to the question of sustainability in the broadest sense. Already recognized for her furniture design work in the 90s, since 2000 she has been probing the world of food, more specifically the factors and behaviours that affect our lifestyles. Her work has been the subject of numerous international exhibitions, including the 2005 World Exhibition, Aichi, Japan, where her prototypes for edible containers were presented, her Food Nest project as part of the “Taste, No Waste” collaboration in Milan at the 2011 Salone del Mobile, and in Gwangju, China at the Design Biennale 2011. She has been practicing and teaching design for over 20 years, and is an associate professor at the School of Industrial Design at the University of Montreal, where she founded the Design and Food Lab, and co-founded the research group Design+Society.
Dianne Croteau earned her Masters in Design from Milan’s Domus Academy, and her bachelor degree in Industrial Design from Carleton University, Ottawa. She is a founder of Studio Innova (Toronto) with Richard Brault and remains an active partner. Croteau’s design career has taken her across a wide professional spectrum - from principal designer, to project manager, from design entrepreneur to college faculty. Her interests reach all stages of the design process – and is equally comfortable with the theoretical as the technical.Her experience spans several disciplines and sectors: healthcare, emergency rescue, education, furniture, architecture, community gardens, renewable energy and human powered transportation. Her projects and products have received several patents and awards, her work has been published internationally.Croteau presently divides her time between Studio Innova projects and teaching at the Ontario College of Art and the Institute Without Boundaries (George Brown College). Board positions have included: The Association of Chartered Industrial Designers (Ontario), Evangel Hall, The Alex Wilson Community Garden. Croteau has served on the jury of several design competitions.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, and raised in Toronto,Ontario, Canada, Rachel S Dacks has been immersed in the field of furniture design for almost twenty years. Throughout her career, Rachel has distinguished herself as a visionary thinker withan iconic aesthetic, keen professionalism, and insatiable drive. She was traditionally educated at the School For American Crafts at the Rochester Institute of Technology, receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1996 in Woodworking and Furniture Design, with a minor in Industrial Design. Upon graduation, she embarked upon a career in the contract furnishings market, enabling her to gain a wealth of specialized knowledge, and the opportunity to move 6 times in 7 years. She has been lucky enough to have her work shown widely, with debuts in premier furniture shows such as NeoCon in both Chicago and Los Angeles, Interplan in New York, and Orgatec in Koln, Germany. In 2001, she returned to educational pursuits and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Furniture Design from the Savannah College of Art and Design. She has since added to her list of professional accomplishments with stops along the way in college-level teaching and mentoring, and is now focused on design for mass market retail, honed by her experiences working as a Designer for both Target Corporation and Joseph Mimran’s President’s Choice line of Home products for Loblaws. Her design consultancy’s body of work is primarily characterized by excellency in branded, private label products in the juvenile furnishings industry, as well as lighting, decorative home, andoutdoor goods. Her industrial design-based focus on user-centered research, advanced design methodology and brand development has resulted in fruitful relationships with high profile brands such asCarter’s, Disney, and Summer Infant.
Michelle Ivankovic was born in Toronto, Canada, where she also grew up. In 1998, she graduated at the top of her class from Ontario College of Art and Design's Industrial Design program. Out of design school, she worked as a fine woodworker, making furniture, and then went on to work at Umbra as a creative visionary, responsible for the pioneering art direction and cohesive product language of Umbra's U+ Collection. She currently works out of her studio in Amsterdam. She states "My designs are a reflection through visual communication on the findings of my studies and contemplation of people, society and culture. I strive for social and ecological responsibility. In my creation of forms, ideas, functions and images I aim to understand the end user without judgment."
Cynthia Hathaway is a designer, born in Canada, trained at the Design Academy in Eindhoven and works and teaches in the Netherlands. She states: "I document what people do and how they behave mostly in their daily routine and in what some would consider mundane environments. I mean this in the sense of a 9-5, day-to-day grind… where nothing spectacular seems to happen. Office environments, streets, grocery stores, parking lots, subways, even people’s basements and garages, are terrains I love to be in and learn the focus of people’s attention. Where they play, eat, walk, shop and work; where they spend 99 % of their time. These are not the glitzy or intentionally designed spheres. These are the practical places. The places where things get done. It’s where I find my inspiration, and what feeds my designs."
by Esther E. Shipman, Curator, Design at Riverside.
Industrial design is not a profession for the faint of heart. Realization of a project from concept development through to completion is measured in years, never weeks, or even months. In addition, the traditional manufacturing client base for industrial design has been battered by escalating market pressures over a 20 year period—intense off-shore competition, successive recessions, declining consumer confidence and allegiance. This has led to dramatic shrinkage in several manufacturing sectors and an increasing reticence to risk capitol on prototype fabrication, or tooling up for production. As a result, competition within the profession is stiff.
Against this background, it is worth noting that each of the designers included in the 5% exhibition has experience working within a large scale industry context and that collectively, they have accumulated over 125 years of practical experience in industrial design. They have stayed and even helped to redirect the course. They are recognized experts, award winners, educators, mentors, and designers whose work is produced and sold around the world. In fact, it is highly likely that you own or have used one of their products.
Industrial design is as advertised. Design for industry on a large scale. Well designed products enhance our lives and are intended through economies of scale to be more accessible and affordable than one-off or limited production items. Incorrectly, design is widely considered the simple application of style or trendy decoration. Frequently for the wrong reasons, it has been heralded as the silver bullet, the quick fix, the value added factor that will resolve all financial ills and restore the status quo. But new found success will not be had with simple ruses like fashion forward colours, or recycled packaging. The way forward will require embracing a redesign of many systems and industries, including rigourous research and analysis, and the implementation of long term strategies. Competitive advantage will be tied to true innovation, flexibility, agility, and previously marginalized factors such as social consciousness and meaningful strides in environmental stewardship.
Each of the 5% designers has established an independent practice, or consultancy and over the course of their careers have decided it was time to contribute something back to their community and to utilize their design skills to generate change. Is this the exclusive domain of women industrial designers? No, but women have championed these ideas from early days and worked to move them from the periphery toward the main stream. The career paths and range of projects of these seven designers are diverse, but this undertaking to enact change is a loose thread that can be drawn between them.
Rachel Dacks has chosen to set unequalled safety and durability standards, and to introduce longevity (designs that can be reconfigured for infants to pre-teens) to a furniture sector rife with litigation and company closures over life threatening design flaws and consumer backlash. Diane Bisson has dedicated nearly a dozen years to resolving some of the social and environmental issues surrounding food and nutrition, particularly directed at programs for children at large institutions such as hospitals and schools. Patty Johnson has successfully built two parallel practices, one designing collections for leading design driven manufacturers, the other as a strategic design consultant for developing countries. Dianne Croteau, with partner Richard Brault, speculatively develop game changing, socially conscious products for niche industries; create and build successful new companies to produce them; and usher them into the international marketplace. Cynthia Hathaway frequently infuses humour and whimsy into her work as a means to encourage a re-examination of daily rituals, and the re-use and re-purposing of existing products. Her research explores relevant, contemporary applications of traditional work, technology and domestic practices in homogeneous cultures such as the Inuit and Mennonite communities. In addition to her design consultancy, Michelle Ivankovic is promoting greater awareness of and accessibility to artisans in Europe whose unique traditional skills and livelihood are rapidly disappearing, and to designing products that will provide self generated income for women’s shelters. Lastly, Helen Kerr has reoriented a significant portion of her practice toward research and strategic innovation in product and system design.
The goal is to provide comprehensive sector analysis, brand evaluation and policy development to diverse clients such as government, educational institutions, the healthcare sector, and product/contract furniture manufacturers.
Beyond these initiatives, this group of designers represents Canada on the world stage every day. They have designed thousands of successful products and their work has been included in exhibitions on every continent, published in every form of media and selected for the permanent collections of significant museums. Here at home, they are not really known outside of the design community.
Industrial design has a relatively low profile in Canada. If 5% raises a few eyebrows, ignites conversation about the profession, encourages young women to take heart and consider this branch of design as a viable career, and generates awareness of the fine work of these seven women, it will have achieved a lot.
Will raising the ratio of women in the profession change the face of product design? It’s quite conceivable. Are there more than seven Canadian women industrial designers?
Absolutely. These are seven of the best, most respected, most prolific, visually distinctive, game changers that deserve to be recognized.