We had a great time talking to Lisa Etheridge a student at Unitec (New Zealand) studying furniture and product design. Lisa explains some of the positives and negatives being a non-school leaving student at university. Lisa also outlines the current state of New Zealand’s industrial design scene, something that us Australian and international designers don’t hear too much about. Lisa as you might remember famously won an Ipad in a completely random manner on Leo Laporte’s TWIT podcast. Please read on!
Be sure to follow Lisa’s famous Twitter feed ‘Lisa Tickled Pink’ at http://twitter.com/lisatickledpink
How are you finding the product design course at Unitec University? What are the strengths or weaknesses of the course?
I am about to commence my 3rd and final year and I am both excited and nervous at the thought of it. I have found the last 2 years very challenging in nearly all aspects of the course but I have also loved every minute of it. Unlike most of the younger students, I have not commenced this degree with skills in drawing and 3D computer programmes so I always feel that I am on the back foot in this respect. I work hard to get good grades and I am pleased with the return on my efforts. The Unitec Bachelor of Furniture and Product design degree is a very well rounded course. We gain hands on experience in the workshops in addition to theory, drawing, marketing & management and a number of elective courses. I did ceramics last year which I really enjoyed. We also have some amazing tutors which have had an eclectic range of experience designing in the real world and are still very hands on with their own work. Our tutors are energetic and enthusiastic and very supportive of our pursuits. They allow me to push a few boundaries at times and they do it with a sense of humour which can make all the difference when we are under pressure. The course has more strengths than weaknesses, the only downside to this degree is the large cost of materials.
Ahr don’t get me started on material fees, universities love charging you for materials! I know many students who were non-school leavers at my design course and they struggled at times with computers and what not; so good on you for persisting! How did you get into design? Was it something you were always passionate about? What do you enjoy most about designing products?
Ever since I can remember I have had a pencil in my hand designing something, whether it was a Wedding dress when I was 5 or a house when I was 8. I used to sew my own Barbie clothes and when I couldn’t find any pink cushions at the local shops for my room when I was 10, I made my own. I have always been tinkering with something creative and used to redesign my old furniture and reupholster it. Design became an obsession and eventually I was lucky enough to open my own retail store where I designed a small range of contemporary furniture and bedding for what I saw to be a gap in the market. I had no training at this point and just designed by taking sketches to a cabinet maker with dimensions and learning by trial and error. For me the most exciting thing about designing a product is having the ability to create something unique to my own personal vision. Thereafter the joy lies in seeing it come to life from the original sketches to eventuate into a working prototype.The icing on the cake is when you are congratulated by the general public for a successful design.
It’s funny you should say that, just tonight I was watching a documentary called Forger’s Masterclass, and one of the students described creative painting as like giving birth to a child, it’s like having your very own creation. I thought that was a good way to put it. So tell me what type of products have you have designed before?
I have designed drawers, cabinets, coffee tables, ottomans, and other furniture items for my own company but during my degree I have designed prototypes that have included an iPod / iPhone speaker and light dock, a newspaper seedling pot maker, a water vending system as part of a group project, a commercial light constructed from wax dipped lace and a lovers stool for two. Generally furniture is my first love but product design is becoming an equally close contender. I am considering doing a tent and tent system for my final project which I am very excited about. I am a camping fanatic from way back!
A tenting system sounds interesting, their would be heaps of opportunities in that market. Whats the design scene like around New Zealand? Is it big or small? Shrinking or growing? Big in some cities more than others?
From the knowledge I have, the design scene in New Zealand is pretty small scale and in the current economic climate shrinking by the minute. Our manufacturing base is relatively tiny so opportunities for industrial designers can be limited. One of my tutors Dr Cris De Groot is also of the opinion that because of the small size of the majority of NZ Companies that most designers need to be multi skilled and have experience in other creative and communication based roles. I would think that Wellington and Auckland would be on a pretty equal footing when it comes to their respective design scenes.
As we all know you were fortunate enough to win Leo’s Ipad from a tweet you did “I hate technology”. Was this tweet true or a bit of fun? And do you find technology whether it be computers, drawing/modelling materials important in the design process?
Oh not a truer word has ever been uttered from my mouth! I have absolutely no natural ability or instinct when it comes to anything technical! I learn things by rote and even then retaining any information when it comes to technology is touch and go. I have been forced to learn with with my degree and with the fast moving technological climate in general. Most of my Twitter followers shared my pain when it came to my 3D Solidworks project last year. I spent so many hours in the computer lab, losing all my files, having computer breakdowns and programme dramas and I learnt the hard way about the importance of backing up regularly! I was thrilled to eventually achieve an A for all my trials and tribulations. Of course I had the help of all my Technically savvy Twitter followers who deserve a lot of the credit. It goes without saying that technology and the design process go hand in hand. To be able to render a 3D model on a computer that can then be sent to a manufacturer to produce is just magic. As a designer we need to have a full understanding of materials in relation to technology to enable us to produce successful and relevant designs.
Solidworks is one of the most stressful computer programs I have every learnt before! Just the way you manage files has made me pull my hair out multiple times. My advice to anyone using Solidworks, try not to rename or move your files…no matter how tempting it is haha. Have you enjoyed using the Ipad so far? Do you ever use it in any way to assist your design process like sketching, colouring or communication apps for example?
I have named my iPad my “Pink Precious” and it is very much an important member of my family. I have to be honest and admit to not getting the use out of it that I should. I have limited applications downloaded and find it generally a great tool for traveling rather than a replacement for my Laptop. I imagine it is a personal preference but I would hate to be without my “Precious”. I am grateful for the turn of events that led to being able to own one. I do have a Sketch application on it but generally I use it for word documents, diary and list making and access to the internet. It is also a great way to meet people in the airport and entertain grumpy children!
Angry Birds will always wipe a tear from a crying or angry child. As you know I am a huge fan of Leo and the TWIT network. These days do you ever get the chance to listen to any of the podcasts on the network?
I love Leo’s shows. He is such a natural entertainer and his wit, humour and humbleness are all very attractive as a listener. In saying that, I only listen very irregularly due to being so busy with Uni (Probably best you don’t tell him….)It is one of my New Years Resolutions to tune in on a regular basis to redeem myself and no doubt learn some more Tech tools.
There are just so many shows on TWIT, it’s so hard to keep track of them all, I like you try and listen when I can, but life gets very busy. What are your plans or dreams once you finish university? Are there many job opportunities in New Zealand for design? Do you hear about many designers coming to Australia to try and find work?
I have many dreams and plans but ideally I will be running and designing for my own small boutique design firm. I can see myself designing a large array of items from furniture to luggage and small novelty items. At this point in time I just want to be able to get through this grueling final year alive! If anything I have too many ideas, so stay tuned. I think we can make our own opportunities for employment if we are driven enough and disciplined. We do lose some of our graduates and designers to the Australian market but just as many return to our shores and bring with them their experience which ultimately is a positive.
Lisa do you have any final thoughts for the Embody 3D readers?
Design is such a many faceted genre that there is enough room for all designers to be true to their own passions and beliefs. My advice to the younger designers would be to stick to their guns and donʼt be scared to design outside the box if they are passionate about what they are doing. I am lucky enough as a “mature” (o.k, old) student to be bolshy enough to back myself at Unitec when I am not conforming to the status quo and I see the younger students being a bit fearful in this respect. My advice, for what little itʼs worth is to believe in yourself, be true to your goals, be passionate and learn to love Technology! I am still a work in progress.
Thanks Lisa for giving us the opportunity to talk to you!
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