Cranbrook 3D Design is the leading program in America for emerging intellectual and artistic voices in design. The department is an experimental laboratory to explore human needs as expressed in the furniture and products we live with. As the field of post-industrial design evolves, there is increasing recognition that human needs are multi-dimensional – they can be practical, emotional, intellectual, psychological, social, real or imagined. Experimental design ideas are finding new audiences as our discourse overlaps with the crafts, fine arts, architecture, and social sciences. As design’s audience expands, the central question of human needs remains, but with a wide lens on the aesthetic and critical potentials for a new kind of authorship that is no longer tethered to the constraints of “mass” design. Ultimately, it is designers and artists themselves who will position their work within this changing landscape of ideas, audiences, and industries. It is imperative, then, that they understand their cultural context, their methods, and the intentions of their work.
Private Rocker, 2012, Maple, bent ply, Maharam wool felt
Accordingly, Cranbrook 3D is committed to the idea of design authorship - where good design comes from an informed designer with a mature vision. Like an author of literature, a designer must clearly understand her subject and let a strong concept drive the form of her work – carefully aligning form and concept to give the work a human voice. This approach recognizes that today’s products should express a strong point of view and tell a meaningful story. More broadly, it also views culture as a system of linguistic, visual, and behavioral codes that designers use to mix, mutate, and re-imagine our shared objects, spaces and stories.
Our program is especially suited to designers who wish to develop an architectural and spatial awareness in their work, so there is an emphasis on objects for the interior, including furniture, lighting, and electronic products. The program is best suited to hands-on makers who have already demonstrated some facility in crafting materials. This focus builds on Cranbrook’s legacy of teaching design - from Charles Eames in the 1930’s to Michael and Katherine McCoy in the 1980’s - but also fully updates the discussion to reflect the complexities of today’s context. Our group is a deliberate mixture of industrial designers, architects, craftspeople and sculptors so that a diverse set of critical perspectives can inform the discourse. Our conversations draw on theories and strategies from related disciplines including literary theory, psychology, philosophy, and the social sciences – all fields that provide essential tools for expanding the parameters of design thinking. Through a process of questioning, making and discussing, our graduates develop a broad critical framework for evaluating design, and the cultural maturity and creative vision required to lead the emerging design professions.
Sae Jung Oh
Savage Chair, 2011, Jute and mundane objects
Photo R H Hensleigh and Tim Thayer
Alcove Chair, 2012, Powder coated steel, upholstery
The program is free of the formal course structure typical of most art schools and universities. Instead the studio environment is the core of the curriculum with emphasis on developing an individual body of work. The highly motivated group of students that comprise each year’s class provides a vital network of resources with which to engage in dialogue and critique. Because of this open course structure, students are strongly motivated to enter the department with a purposefulness that fuels the pursuit of independent growth. A highly charged studio environment allows individuals to work in the spirit of an ongoing experiment, with the focus on rigorous interaction among fellow designers and other Academy students.
Weekly critiques and discussion groups form the core of the department’s activities with periodic all-faculty, Academy-wide reviews. The department head consults with students to build individual programs based on their specialized goals and interests. In response to student needs, faculty coordinate projects that vary in duration and conduct reading and discussion groups with students. Additionally, designers and critics of national and international stature visit the department to conduct critiques and occasionally assign short-term projects.
PVC Series: Plugged, PVC water main, sizes vary
The work undertaken by design students over the course of their two years of study is a combination of self-initiated research, grant-funded, team and collaborative projects, faculty assignments and commissions from clients. In addition students develop an independent reading and writing program that requires the critical analysis and creative synthesis of ideas.
As part of the only school devoted exclusively to graduate art education in the U.S., the department places great emphasis on the work undertaken by graduate students with the objective of adding significant contributions to the creative and intellectual bodies of design knowledge. Ending a two year period of study, outgoing students mount a museum installation of their thesis work for faculty review, and subsequently enter all areas of design with the critical skills necessary for generating meaningful contributions to our complex social and material culture.
Sang Hoon Kim
Phenomena - Room Divider, 2009, Wood, 6' 4" high x 12' Wide
All students are assigned studio spaces with 24-hour access in a community atmosphere with a central presentation and critique room. Studio spaces are hardwired with network ports to the Academy’s T3 data line and wireless access is available.
The department’s computer facilities include several Dell workstations with an array of peripheral devices including several laser writers, a slide scanner, and a flatbed scanner. Rhino 3D modeling and rendering software is supported on our machines. The department’s computer resources are augmented by the Academy’s Central Media Lab with its large format plotters, color output devices, a stereo-lithography 3D printer, and a flatbed laser cutter. Major technological resources in the Detroit metropolitan area provide other rapid prototyping services and opportunities for outsourcing.
The shop facilities include an industrial-size spray booth for finishing large-scale work and a model shop. Students also have access to equipment in other departments at the Academy, with a wide range of woodworking, metalworking, ceramics, printmaking and photography facilities.
Microstages, 2010, Maple and instruments
Photo R H Hensleigh and Tim Thayer
Integrated Workstation, 2012, Maple veneer, powder coated steel, upholstery, electrical hookup
The Familiar, 2013, Hand-dyed felt, ash, dimensions variable