Student Perspective: Product & Form

First year CoID student Anurag Sarda shares his experience in Product & Form

Anurag is a first year CoID student who was taking Simo Puintila‘s course, Product & Form, at the time of this interview. Product & Form is a joint CoID & CoDe (Contemporary Design) course spanning two periods. Read on to see what he thinks of this course!

I’m interested in industrial design, the more tangible stuff – physical, real products rather than services. In that way, CoID caters to so many people. We will all be doing completely different courses from each other, but graduating with the same degree. 

We were briefed that the idea of this course is not actually solving a design problem, but looking at design aesthetics and details. How idea scale prototypes are built. Of course, there has to be a strong story behind what you are doing. The main focus of the course is doing the details and getting the story out. It was very clearly mentioned from the beginning and I can see that throughout the course. I expected to learn, and I wanted to learn more about design details, how they are carved out in real life as compared to in CAD. This class is completely hands-on. The workshop is like an open world for you. All kinds of materials are possible, whether it is glass, ceramic, wood, metal, anything. 

The practical and the theoretical were very well connected. The first period is for conceptualization, where you actually think about the story behind your concept. It’s not that material, there are some lectures and excursions that happen for inspiration. There is a lot of time for independent study and work. It sets you up for the mindset to ideate. Then you work on the brief and start detailing your concept. After that you make the renders. It is quite practical in that way and not just theory. 

The second period is similar, it’s just that we have tutoring sessions with the course faculty. That works great, we discuss things when we are stuck and get feedback. This phase does not require lectures because you want to build your product. You don’t want more inspiration to come your way, you want to focus on what you already have. It works that way. The first six weeks were actually quite a lot of time for inspiration. 

Working with Iittala has been good. They give very straightforward feedback from a company’s perspective, but I felt it could have been more critical in terms of what they expect us to do now. We presented the concepts and they said, “This is something that we would want to do or this is something that we would not want to do”. But there was no feedback like, “Maybe if you changed something like this, we would be more interested”. We weren’t very sure about how to go forward, but still they were very straightforward. As in, “As a company we don’t think we would ever get into products like these. But you as a student, if you want to do it, do it and we will support you.” It could have been more about how to align the product with their goals.

I think the reason why they didn’t do that is because they know that we have six weeks to complete the product and if we would have to start completely over, it would change the whole story. I actually feel that the feedback could have been done a little earlier in the ideation phase. We could get the feedback, revise, and then actually start production. But they have been very supportive.

For me, I was stuck in the first three weeks of the first period. The moment I got the coffee idea though, I was trying to connect my story to the product. I was very sure I didn’t want to make a coffee machine, but to focus on the experience of coffee. In that way, my story is very clear and strong. Once I was clear with that, I was very happy and I went on detailing the concept. I never felt the need to change it because I was going in the direction I wanted. 

By the end of period one, I already had quite detailed concepts that I could start prototyping. There was no point in changing anything at that point, I felt really solid about it. The changes that were happening were very constant. I would go to Simo and talk to him. Everytime I would go with the new designs, he would tell me something and things would change. It kept on happening until the last week itself and that really worked because I was very sure about what I was going to do next. Initially I thought about certain kinds of finishes and certain kinds of forms. But the idea to simplify things went on and it just worked. I was always really happy with the critical feedback from Simo, that helped me develop my concept. 

I would say that for the course, one period is a decent amount of time to build. In some cases, people were uncomfortable. In my mind, six weeks is a good amount of time, but it really depends on the amount of work you want to do. I was told to maybe not make all the products, I have eight products to make, so the time crunch is there. I have to stay until 11pm most of the time. In that way it can get challenging and I’m not sure I will be able to finish in time, but my target is to do it and so far I’ve been going at a good pace. I think that six weeks is really good if you want to focus on one or two products and go really deep into the process. You’ve already done a lot of ideation and detailing in the previous period. 

The product I’m working on, I’m calling it “Coffee Kit”. The idea is to have the experience of coffee right from the beginning; from storing the coffee beans, to grinding them, pouring the water to having coffee in your cup. There are seven to eight steps involved. The reason why I chose to build them as a complete kit is that on the market there are so many products for coffee. They are all well designed, but they’re not a complete family that go together.

People here really enjoy coffee a lot. They have this attachment to their cup that they drink it from, usually a favorite Iittala cup. I thought, maybe I can extend that experience right to the beginning so that they feel more connected to the process. That’s the idea behind the kit. 

It’s a very famous principle of less is more. I have tried to reduce as much as possible and declutter everything. That’s how my design language was formed. In fact, with the materials as well, initially I was thinking about having a black matte coat finish and tinted glass. Then I realized that if I keep things in their natural form, it would speak more. It doesn’t really need a language which is force fitted, overall if you see it, it works.

We will have a presentation at Iittala when we are done with prototyping. Three months after the course ends, Iittala will make a decision on if they want to go forward with some of the products. Until then we can’t really share the designs. 

I think the conceptualization part of the course will really stick with me. The faculty really tried to stop me at the right point and ask me “why do you need this detail?”. I’ve always followed that in my work, but this has been a very different take. I always felt that I should follow a language, but I feel now that you don’t need to follow a language so much as just minimize and that will be the language. I think that critical feedback has been very, very good for me and is what I would like to carry forward into my other work. 

With making, I’ve realized that a lot of details are not possible for prototyping, but can be done later in manufacturing. That kind of balance you have to see. From CAD to what you are doing now, there is a lot of change that happens. You have to have a lot of tolerance for things to fit in. In CAD, everything just goes in, it’s for the render after all. Here even half a millimeter would change things. That calculation that understanding is really important. 

I feel blessed to be here at Aalto. The kind of machinery and tools that we have access to is amazing. Compared to my previous experience, the accuracy of the machines is really high so if you’re trying to achieve something, you’ll get exactly that. Some of the workshop masters here are so, so good. They will explain each and every detail to each and every student each and every time. They are incredible.

If you want to do industrial design, this is the course. If you are interested in building, this course provides you enough time for that. A lot of times the courses are for one period, but this is for two periods. You actually get one whole period for building, which is great. 

Check out Anurag’s work on his site, here.

Illustration by Anna Tolonen