Another unusual project: to design Zoetrope: All-Story. At fuseproject, the design studio I direct in San Francisco, such commissions throw us out of a comfort zone. They force us to evolve, to stretch the definition of the product designer, and to find a new way. This is the essential diet of our creative lives. When Michael Ray of All-Story came to see us, the stimuli were immediate: risk and challenge—perfect.
We decided very quickly that straight compositions of our industrial design work were failing to convey sufficient meaning or the strong mental images we sought, and the initial layout looked too much like a brochure. With stories of such dark themes, we struggled to find visuals to match. How do you use industrial design to speak of beheadings in Iraq or the suspicion of pedophilia?
In the end, the design solution is a combination of our work and its process: the drawings, the prototypes, the craftsmen who build them, and the parts and assemblies. fuseproject's physical work space and designers also played a part, as we extracted from the environment everything we found to convey an idea, an image, or a metaphor of the stories. Our wall dividers (sticks drilled into concrete floors) became forests and lakes; our sketches, illustrations of disembodied heads; our sample room, a metaphor of confusion; our experimental prototypes, lost souls searching in the night. We made no distinction between "commercial" projects for large corporations, such as the Tylenol bottles on page 22; exhibition work for museums and galleries, such as the Inner Light on the cover and the Monster sculpture on pages 96–97 and 103; and socially oriented endeavors, such as One Laptop Per Child on pages 36–37.
Two artists made important contributions to this project: Ari Marcopoulos and Tucker Nichols. While we worked on All-Story during the month of October, Ari was on photography shoots in Europe and Australia. Within an hour of landing in San Francisco after a fifteen-hour flight from Sydney, Ari was shooting in our office. He photographed our worktables, opened drawers and found ideas, shot drawings pinned to magnetic boards, and lit our basement prototyping studio for dramatic effects. As always with Ari's work, the images captured the real thing.
In 2005 we commissioned Tucker Nichols to create a sixty-foot mural at fuseproject. He spent one or two days a week listening to our conversations and discussions with clients and observing our creative brainstorms. In his own words, this experience "fulfilled a long-held fantasy of spending all day at the water cooler talking to new coworkers without doing a lick of work." Every time he took his notebook out, we knew he was recording notes in his particular way of listening and interpreting. The mural is complete, and we still find meaning and humor in it every day. That is great work. We used images of the wall to illustrate Robert Olen Butler's story as well as the contents page.
I founded fuseproject with the central idea of design as storytelling; in the product's form, we weave together a fun-damental message. I think this approach stems from my early experience as a costume and stage designer for the theater in Switzerland, and from my even earlier desire to be a writer (a desire then squashed by a discouraging high school teacher). All-Story gave us an opportunity to continue exploring narrative in our work, to continue exploring the possibilities for design to bring stories to life.
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