Interview with designer Evangeline Marie Pesigan (EP), regarding views on design, and for the award-winning design Tirintas Lounge Chair.

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Interview with Evangeline Marie Pesigan at Thursday 28th of April 2016: DI: What is the main principle, idea and inspiration behind your design?
EP : The Tirintas lounge chair is part of the Banta collection inspired by cultural influences from the Philippines. The idea brought me back to my origins – starting from the existing crafts, the process of basket weaving, their use of pattern and materials, and the way Filipinos make of their environment. The main principle of the design was to elevate craft traditions by showcasing the unique design sensibility of Filipino artisans and the sustainable local materials through collaboration. The project challenges the misconceptions and role of design in elevating Philippine craftsmanship, which is evidently lost in translation in terms of a national identity. Tirintas is an abstraction of the culture in the Philippines that has a story behind and not necessarily the end result of using local materials or techniques. The piece explores a collaborative making approach that combines modern production methods with traditional craftsmanship, helping artisans nurture their design skills to support social sustainability and driving more local economic development. The design is a modern interpretation of traditional form that is versatile, functional, and distinctly Filipino.

DI: What has been your main focus in designing this work? Especially what did you want to achieve?
EP : My main focus has been to consolidate and redefine the direction of handmade production in developing countries, like the Philippines. The conceptual aim is to create a dialogue between my vision and design method and the instinctive approach of Filipino artisans by making it accessible and adaptable to a globalized world. The result is a shared experience, experimentation and knowledge exchange of craft techniques transformed into a new cultural meaning.

DI: What are your future plans for this award winning design?
EP : I trained as an Interior and Furniture Designer so I am always challenging the way we create things and how we see them in relation to the world around us. I have so many ideas all the time and work across multiple disciplines. I’ve learned so much working with people from different backgrounds and artisan communities it would be good to continue production of different pieces that expand opportunities for artisans to be flexible, innovative and produce high quality products. I hope this award creates a benchmark for how creativity and collaboration can overcome barriers and enable people to experience and be intrigued by the stories and imagination of artisan craft culture. My goal is to attract big companies to the project as a means to bridge the gap for handmade production, and to explore projects with other cultures and organizations.

DI: How long did it take you to design this particular concept?
EP : As part of a Masters degree, the project started in September 2013 and was finished in April 2015. I travelled between London and the Philippines for months, sharing ideas with my collaborators, using paper models, drawings and mock-ups. The prototypes were developed in the UK while the final design was completed in the Philippines.

DI: Why did you design this particular concept? Was this design commissioned or did you decide to pursuit an inspiration?
EP : For the Tirintas lounge chair, I wanted to explore how designers might collaborate with artisans to create new opportunities for local craft and artisan communities. Also, to investigate how design might elevate crafts ability to express local and universal identities in a sustainable and commercially viable way. In everything I do, I think about an experience because everyone has a memory of it. But there was a time when I was designing projects with outdated concepts of luxury. I knew where my strengths lay and at the same time I’d realized I wanted to channel it to the ones who need it more than most. I believe design plays a crucial role in raising awareness about social sustainability and in becoming a means to formulate strategies in ethical production, fostering meaningful collaborations that promote progress and innovation while celebrating culture and community. I started reconnecting with my roots and then developing the project in London and the Philippines.

DI: Is your design being produced or used by another company, or do you plan to sell or lease the production rights or do you intent to produce your work yourself?
EP : The design is solely owned by myself. Production is carried out in the Philippines in collaboration with specialized local artisans. I am interested in developing partnerships and potential distribution channels to promote my design. It is important to continue fostering the relationships I’ve built with the artisans at the same time form new relationships and discover new design possibilities.

DI: What made you design this particular type of work?
EP : Today, in an increasingly globalized digitally connected world, we are constantly exchanging ideas and making connections as we give rise to our sense of place and authenticity. In this way, we face the challenges of such development in terms of social and environmental impact and the potential cultural tradition and craft production have on a global platform. So communication and development require genuine interactions that understand unique cultural expressions different from our own. This collaborative project was important to gain a fresh perspective of where we each come from and make sharing experiences more meaningful and valuable through innovation.

DI: Where there any other designs and/or designers that helped the influence the design of your work?
EP : I researched on architects whose works were equally inspired by vernacular approaches and how these were translated to contemporary architecture. Luis Barragan’s work translates Mexican traditional features into Modernist architecture. His design approach uses color as visual play of senses, light as spiritual expressions, and space as planar surfaces of shadows. Tadao Ando’s work is immersed in Japanese tradition that represent universal qualities and influences. At the same time, the research was about listening and seeing, feeling things out. By engaging artisans to contribute to the development process helped influence the design in an organic way as a consequence of a collaborative making process. It helped me to build on their way of doing things with contemporary design, at the same time enabled artisans to adapt local techniques with industrial making and develop new techniques to refine the design.

DI: Who is the target customer for his design?
EP : The target customers are luxury high-end clients in the export market interested in highly skilled, inventive and unique handmade pieces. These include interior designers, galleries, specialty and furniture concept stores and high-end brands. Also, I hope to form more partnerships with artisans around the world and create commissions for clients that have a natural alignment with developing contemporary handmade and commercially viable products.

DI: What sets this design apart from other similar or resembling concepts?
EP : In the design world, cross-cultural collaborations have been a part of the culture of contemporary design for a long time. In Tirintas, the materials, form and design process is driven by the interactions I’ve made during the process of making and hands-on approach with local artisans. The design reflects the interconnections between the idea of simplicity and complexity within the narrative, culture, design and craft. With a particular focus on the relationship and engagement between artisans and myself, it was important to consider the real purpose and innovation to add value and show artisans the possibilities of a wider market. I approached it as a facilitator rather than a creator. By creating a dialogue between my ideas, design method and the more instinctive approach of artisans, the linkages generate new forms of expression in a changing global landscape. I am not sure if this sets my design apart from others, I believe making is a form of thinking that helps shape my practice to understand and create unique results.

DI: How did you come up with the name for this design? What does it mean?
EP : Tirintas means ‘Twist’ in Filipino. The name pertains not only to the way the decorative screen is made but also to the concept of interconnections and fusing tradition and modernism.

DI: Which design tools did you use when you were working on this project?
EP : I began researching the context – concept, purpose, client, and resources, at the same time brainstorming ideas, sketching and making. Then I iterate all my ideas over and over again. Since artisans work different from those trained in design school, I learned how to understand the collective behavior. To effectively communicate my ideas with the artisans, I started creating small-scale models, marking up prototypes, experimenting with different materials and then adapting alternative methods to see which one would work. The design process was based on the findings and feedback, unexpected surprises and continuous problem solving which I feel developed into functional sculpture furniture.

DI: What is the most unique aspect of your design?
EP : The most unique aspect of my design is the collaborative process with the artisans and narrative in generating a new aesthetic. The open structure invites the user to experience the craft and connect with its surroundings, while the decorative screen provides cover and security. It is both decorative and functional, as the seat is slightly tilted at the back and paired with cushions for optimal comfort to provide a relaxing position. The whole design process of getting there provided invaluable knowledge exchange and promoted new skills and ideas reflected in the outcome.

DI: Who did you collaborate with for this design? Did you work with people with technical / specialized skills?
EP : I collaborated with an amazing and talented company with specialized local artisans from the Philippines.

DI: What is the role of technology in this particular design?
EP : The concept explored frame construction and manipulation of materials in the aspect of flexibility and versatility. The design focused on traditional handcraft making and was developed through paper models and collaborative prototyping with artisans. I initially used drawings and digital renderings to help formulate ideas and the Internet to communicate and monitor progress. But it was difficult to design something remotely that the artisans would make given their limited resources and technology. I realized design has a different meaning in the Philippines and is really a manner of doing things. I explored a hands-on approach, where development of the product took place during the process of making. It was important to directly interact, touch the materials, and learn the processes. This allowed me to re-contextualize my findings, utilize artisanal skills, and connect to people versus everything mediated by technology.

DI: Is your design influenced by data or analytical research in any way? What kind of research did you conduct for making this design?
EP : Design research utilized ethnographic fieldwork and documentation to gain familiarity with the craft production setting in the Philippines and hands-on collaboration with artisans and organizations. Networking and interviews were conducted to identify craft skills and experience of artisans willing to engage with the project as logistics, timeframe, resources and values had to be considered. Further researched was conducted on existing crafts, country background, case studies, and cultural elements to understand its meaning in the cultural context. Collaboration with artisans involved drawing and making small-scale models, exploring form and flexibility of materials, followed by a timber carcass to test design feasibility, proportions and comfort at 1:1 scale. The final piece adapted local techniques to create a decorative screen and frame while utilizing sustainable resources.

DI: What are some of the challenges you faced during the design/realization of your concept?
EP : The challenge was learning to collaborate with artisans with different experiences and ways of doing things. It was imperative to establish trust and a genuine connection whilst managing expectation, monitoring progress and communicating effectively due to geographical constraints and time differences as the process was being overseen from UK. During development, the complexity was in the final assembly primarily with the connection of the veneer to the metal frame and the application of the finishes to ensure the aesthetics and comfort of the seat. In anything, the process required exploring design alternatives to support the complex form and ensure business viability. The project was worth going through because the artisans adapted local techniques with industrial materials and developed new techniques with sustainable resources in order to refine the final design.

DI: How did you decide to submit your design to an international design competition?
EP : I was invited to submit my design for award consideration after it was seen in an article of Design Boom.

DI: What did you learn or how did you improve yourself during the designing of this work?
EP : When you collaborate with artisans you encounter interesting challenges, and because their approach is different from yours, their input opens up to different interpretations. On occasion, design changes were implemented without my approval, a tendency where artisans would essentially take matters into their own hands and were not proactively raising potential issues in a timely manner. I have learned to carefully manage the collaborative aspect of the project further to ensure that the artisans were correctly delivering the design proposals. I valued this area of learning as this enabled me to manage expectations better while learning more about the overall capabilities of artisans. However, in light of the management challenges, the collaborative process provided further cross-learning from the contributions of the artisans in support of my initial creative proposals. Their contributions, in terms of providing design alternatives for original proposals that were deemed not feasible, were very beneficial and demonstrated how proposals can be done differently or even better. I feel that this helped increase my design knowledge more and equally exercise good judgment in the implementation of these alternatives and rationalise their application. Working with artisans has enabled me to see how important design can be, to individuals, to communities, to culture as a whole.