Author’s Note: When I started this I thought it would have more of a point, some insightful point about industrial design and the history of industrial design but I ended up just talking about myself really. But perhaps in that there is some point.
This is the seventh “history” class I’ve taken since I started college. Two world history classes, two in architectural history, one called “history of rock music”, Art History here at RISD and now, the history of industrial design. I’ve learned countless dates (432BC), I’ve read about countless movements and isms and I’ve written a bunch of essays—my coup de grace being a five page paper relating Nietzsche and architecture. And now, four and a half year after starting school, where have I gone? Where have I ended up? What have I learned? What have I gained?
I hate meeting people now, because there’s also the inevitable question—“what do you do”? What do I do? “I go to RISD”--“What do you study there?” And I say industrial design and some people get that, but often I get a “Like buildings”. And I have to say no, because industrial design is not buildings, “that’s architecture” I explain to them. But as I have studied architecture in the past I feel the need to go into the whole rant about how while I study industrial design now and how it’s not about buildings, I did study architecture which is buildings and if they want to talk about buildings I’m okay with that.
I’ve done a lot. There’s certainly a lot of people out there who have done more than me but at 22, I’ve had a lot of ”life experiences”, as they call them, and I’ve learned from them. Also, as the seven history classes may indicate, I’ve learned a lot in the non life experience way, and most of it was book learned. I’m on my third major (English—Architecture—Industrial Design) and this is the second college (SUNY Buffalo being the first) I’ve attended. And one would think that I have some greater insight about life, about where I want to be, what I want to do, but the fact of the matter is if I met myself from years ago I’d have nothing to say. No “maybe you should think about this more”, or “hey look into this”—I didn’t hear the phrase “industrial design” until spring semester my first year, I didn’t even know RISD existed until my second year.
And now being at RISD, it’s just weird sometimes. I’m glad I came here, I love Providence, LOVE Providence—this is an amazing and beautiful town. And yet, while RISD is not all I hoped for or expected (if I was hoping for or expecting anything at all), I know that I would not have found Providence without RISD, which is also weird. I sometimes wonder if it’s just all the things that came before this moment, would I feel the same way if I had come directly here pout of high school, if I had done the foundation year that most everyone else went through, if I had some better reason to come into industrial design other that it seemed like the logical major to go after architecture (however that may sound, good or bad, that is how I came to be doing industrial design, that and knowing that going back to English would just be dumb). What if this was just my second or third history class instead of my seventh.
And that’s what history is—all the moments before this one. In academics it can be just cold hard dates, movements, dead people who brought us evolution. But it is not just that. The second class of architecture history I had was more architectural theory--dates were nearly nonexistent in this class, and at the time it was going on it was a hard class, about 10-15 people were taking it for the second time. But now that it’s done and over with I can say without a doubt, it was the most memorable, and probably the greatest class I ever took, I still have the class lectures the professor recorded on my iPod.
And I feel that is part of what this larger idea of history is—being able, years later to have something to say about it, knowing how it informed now. Think of the time paradox, if one were to go back in time and kill their grandfather before one of their parents were born, thus eliminating the existence of oneself, how is one able to exist now? We are often focused on now and the future, but at some point we have to look back. This class was certainly different from the other history classes and there are a few reasons why but one that I feel is the most relevant is that we talked a lot about what was going on now. There were some “normal” history lectures. But from the first lecture where we talked about the past, we were shown things that people were doing now with it. At the very least it would’ve been nice to understand how people came to put their dead in boxes. Why? And the lecture about humanitarian design and what we can do? I felt it would’ve been nice to mention what we did. Why the world is the way it is, not just vague bullet points. In architecture I took a few urban planning classes and it was amazing and slightly sickening to see how suburbs developed and to know that as suburbs still develop, that we should’ve stopped at some point (probably in the 70s) and looked at what we had done and gone from there, but we keep going, no stops and its gotten worse.
We talk about being designers and how we can make the world a better place but I haven’t really seen anyone go back and sort through what was going on, where it was going on, why it was going, and make the connections. What made the world become something that needs to be made better? How did the 90% of “designing for the other 90%” get to be that way? Is it free trade? Is it plastic? We talk about changing the world but is there anyone out there who gets it, it’s great to be optimistic about a bad situation you don’t really know about. And one question that I really wish was at least looked at in this class, history of Industrial Design, where there is a constant mention of one material: Where the fuck did plastic come from, and how did it get so popular?
History in and of itself is an interesting idea, the moments before this one. By no means can we constantly look back, we do have to move forward at some point, but part of going forward is going forward from somewhere that we cannot change and that will be behind us forever.
Random idea that didn’t make it into the final edit but still is an interesting idea: Remember that at some point doctors endorsed cigarettes and Coke had coke in it. And now cigarettes in Canada come with pictures of a black lung on them and Coke is still highly addictive but for other reasons.