Design to Connect
As DM/BX launches, Wava Carpenter and Anna Carnick reflect on the storytelling power of design and the resonance of personal narrative
Just a few hundred years ago, the objects that people lived with everyday almost always embodied very local, personal stories. The maker was either yourself or someone you knew; the materials were found in the environment where you lived; and the aesthetics were rooted in a regional heritage that gave a sense of identity and pride. Fast forward to today, and we have a very different relationship with our surroundings. Feeling a strong connection to the things we live with is more elusive—but arguably more desirable than ever.
Many of the most exciting designers today are answering the call for connection by telling their own personal stories through the objects they make. Though this thread is not new—it is in many ways what drew us each to design years ago—our current landscape increasingly nurtures and celebrates this approach: design as autobiography; designers as raconteurs. There are so many strong voices crafting resonant works; we can't help but be optimistic for the future of design.
Read on for a few of our favorite creatives sharing fresh perspectives as they Design to Connect...
Born in Lyon to Nigerian parents, Nifemi Ogunro lived in Colorado, North Carolina, and Georgia before launching her practice in Brooklyn. Through years of moving around, Ogunro has worked to find ways to keep her family close to her heart, even if they lived far away. The collection of “functional sculpture,” as she calls it, that she made during the pandemic comprises tables, stools, and shelves that each correspond to a member of her family.
In a recent interview with She Curates, Ogunro explains more about the role of the personal in her work: “I want to challenge the Eurocentic narrative around design. Design has existed before colonialism and holds deep cultural and religious meanings for many communities that are erased through stolen African artifacts. Through my work, I use photography, performance, and videography to uplift Black bodies (specifically queer/ femmes) and to hold space for reflection around the ways we experience and connect with furniture. It's very intimate. These are objects we are our most vulnerable with. We use furniture to rest.”
Born in Daegu and currently based in Atlanta, Jiha Moon is a painter, printmaker, and ceramic artist who employs traditional Korean techniques and materials to critique contemporary global culture, fixed notions of identity, and the widespread crisis of information-overload today.
“When people first meet, they have preconceived ideas about the other person based mostly on appearances,” Moon says in an interview about the mashup of motifs in her work. “We all read people inaccurately based on appearance. Consequently, people are misunderstood. If I get to know you—who you really are—and know your whole history, then your truth reveals itself. I want my work to do that... Once someone engages with the art and tries to analyze the work, an understanding slowly occurs, like the process of getting to know somebody.”
About the recurring motif of fortune cookies in her work, she adds: “Fortune cookies are one of most widely misunderstood concepts in America as Chinese food. I embrace this misconception [through a] fun and loving object to celebrate what America is today.”
Antonio Aricò was born and raised in Calabria—the toe of Italy’s boot—surrounded by a close-knit family of traditional woodworkers. Like many young people from the rural South, Aricò went to the urban north as he approached adulthood. After graduating from the Politecnico di Milano with a degree in Industrial Design, he took a position in a large design firm in Milan. But he soon realized that industrial-scale, corporate design work isn’t for him.
Some say, you can never go home, but that’s just what Aricò did—and with great success. His eponymous studio’s first furniture collection was produced in collaboration with his grandfather and uncle. While he continues to partner with his family on many projects, he also designs for brands and businesses, most recently the beyond-charming Glance Hotel in Florence, that appreciate the poignant stories of Italy that his work tells.
“As Italians, we have the duty to try to do what our recent ancestors did in the creative fields,” Aricò says. “A deep, joyful, and creative approach to old methods and techniques brings quality and concreteness in a world that’s become pseudo-real and often superficial. I like to close my eyes and dream about things that I have always wanted since I was little.”
Wool is Brazilian artist Inês Schertel’s chosen medium, but she came to it later in life. After studying architecture, she went on to develop a painting and graphic design practice over many years. It was only after she moved to her husband’s sheep farm in São Francisco de Paula, in southern Brazil, that she fell in love with wool. Surrounded by acres of pastoral land, Schertel has embraced a slow design approach, hand-felting wool and dyeing it with vegetable pigments to create furniture and objects that reflect her connection to and love for the natural world.
When asked what gives her the most joy in her work, Schertel tells us: “My raw material and I share the same habitat. I watch and participate in all steps of the process… from obtaining the raw material to creating and finishing the pieces. This allows me to control the environmental aspects of the process. Working with a natural, renewable, biodegradable, and completely sustainable material... gives me the joy to keep moving forward.” ◆
More from the Design to Connect Collection