From maker to researcher, is there only one step? Caroline Grellier, who is setting up her agro-material design agency, la Termatière, discussed the subject with the National institute for agronomical research (Inra) and Sup’Agro Montpellier to capitalize on the added value of the DIY designer.
Talk about design with Indigo d’Oc
October 1st, 2015 is a day to remember. It is not everyday that design has the place of honor in Montpellier! The organization Indigo d’Oc is organizing in the hall of the Opera the first event of an annual cycle of awareness and actions for the promotion of design as a conveyor of economic development in the country, with the object as a thematic.
An exhibition for the general public, preceded by a conference and an afternoon of participative workshops inviting designers, teachers, business leaders, students, to address together the issues of design.
And 8 applications that see the light of day. The effectiveness of design tools! pic.twitter.com/RNgzCpsvX3
— Indigo d’Oc (@Indigo_dOc) 1 Octobre 2015
This is how I found myself in discussion at the table “Design in research”. The idea was to exchange our points of view on the aptitude of design tools to encourage a prospective as well as concrete approach to research, since the designer is primarily concerned with the user in the design of his product. Through its role as a mediator, the designer also has a multidisciplinary activity and puts in place the necessary tools for dialogue, communication between the different actors of the project, before carrying out a creative overview to best address the given problem.
“Design is a dialogue.”
Jasper Morrison, designer
Even though one is starting to recognize the usefulness and the interest of the designer in companies (especially with the 2013 government design mission report), what of the legitimacy of a designer in a research laboratory? What collaborations should be considered between makers and researchers? The issue is tickling me particularly because with La Termatière, business creation project specialized in collaborative R&D in new materials and 100% bio-sourced finished products, I am initiating an unprecedented collaboration between design in its maker approach and research in bio-sourced materials.
Nothing like a canteen rendez-vous at Sup’Agro to get to know more on the opinions of Hélène Fulcrand, research director at the Mixed research unit Sciences for enology, of the National institute for agronomical research (Inra), and Eric Dubreucq, deputy director of the Mixed research unit Engineering of agropolymers and emerging technologies, that will supervise our R&D program. Between two mouthfuls of rice, we talk about our working methods.
“ Each one of us is creative but we do not proceed in the same manner!”
Hélène Fulcrand, researcher at Inra
As for me, I claim to have a very intuitive approach. With very limited material resources, I tinker with materials without really knowing what I’m looking for. When I ask myself a question (“does it burn?” “is it water-resitant?” “does it melt”? “is it recyclable”? “does it bleach”? “does it become hard when it cools down”?), I test.
“We also go with the empirical approach! It is almost vital at moments, we all benefit from exploring in several directions and functioning with intuition too.”
Eric Dubreucq, reasearcher at Inra
This is where tools that are less conventional for a research laboratory, as one imagines it, step in. I was quite amused in fact to see similarities between their lab and mine: microwave, kitchen utensils, ice-cube tray…DIY was as present as at home.
In my way of doing things, empirical, I rarely understand the why, but observe through my designer eyes the result that I comment and that inspires me more or less. I keep a record of everything I make, note down recipe approximations to reproduce the sample, between Post-Its and logbook.
Whereas Hélène and Eric seek to understand why. Almost each experimentation is subject to a presentation of findings in a very serious laboratory textbook, a rigorously maintained directory that gathers graphs, recipes of magic formulas, comments, photos.
“The weather conditions, the order of the recipe stages, the luminosity, each parameter counts. It’s like pastry cooking!”
Hélène Fulcrand (Inra)
And in good pastry chef fashion, the objective is well and truly to result in a cake, tasty and beautiful, that brings out the features of the ingredients. Carrying out research for the sake of reseach is not what interests them. In my approach, I constantly draw a parallel between my maker homemade recipe and a more largescale production process, intended for a foreseen type of application. Since the designer works to serve the user, my work consists in enhancing the features of a material, through its technical and esthetic function in a finished product.
Hélène and Eric identify ideas of relevant applications, but rather in subsitution materials. After all, our collaboration should allow each one of us to move forward. From samples tinkered by me and their knowledge, we have defined together an R&D program with precise application objectives and specifications for the material.
“What interests us is when you ask questions, when you challenge us. We seek to understand why, it’s our work. And by finding answers to your questions, we will better understand the material. So we move forward too!”
Eric Dubreucq (Sup’Agro)
As a designer, I seek to push back the limits of the material. My contribution comes particularly from this external creative perspective that I bring, this abundance of questions, maybe unexpected, and precice constraints focused towards the use of the material that will guide differently the research and development of the material.
The collaboration with my start-up project supported by the incubator of Sup’Agro Montpellier also allows me to lead to rapid commercialization of the research objects which contributes to efficiently reveal the impact of research laboratories.
Researchers, makers, DIYers
I was filled with enthusiasm by a project that clearly illustrates the creativity of the team: the lab invested in a 3D printer to repair ‘unrepairable’ appliances and gain time and money to replace certain parts. And why not print some materials made to measure thanks to the new materials functionning with this technology, such as glass. But it is also the opportunity to have at hand something to experiment leads of bio-sourced filaments! Great ideas are popping up in the canteen. Watch this space…