Conor Clarke on design summer school Design West

Conor Clarke of design studio Design Factory, on his new endeavor design summer school Design West. Design West a 14-day summer course of “Design Unplugged” on the Wild Atlantic Way in the West of Ireland.

Can you tell us something about your background?

Yes, I am a co-founder and director of Design Factory, a design studio based in Dublin, Ireland. Established in 1985, the company specialises in Visual Identity and Communications Design.

My work has been featured in international publications and exhibitions. In 2002 my book ‘Oranje & Green’, Holland - Ireland Design Connections 1951-2002, was published by BIS Publishers and the monograph Design Factory: On the Edge of Europe was also published by BIS Publishers in 2009.

I have served as both Board Member and Awards Jury Chairman of ICAD (The Institute of Creative Advertising and Design) and the IDI (Institute of Designers in Ireland). I was a member of the International Design Jury at the ADC Awards in New York in March 2016.

From 2013 until 2016 I was the Acting Head of the Department of Visual Communication at the National College of Art & Design (NCAD) in Dublin. Currently I am Regional President for Ireland on the Asia Designer Communication Platform, and founder and course leader of Design West, Ireland’s first International Design Summer School.

What led up to organizing Design West Summer School?

The idea for an International Design Summer School started forming during my time as Acting Head of Visual Communication at NCAD. I was always interested in taking design education beyond the college walls and connecting with the wider community.

One of my colleagues at NCAD suggested I read The Experimenters: Chance and Design at Black Mountain College — Shortly after World War II, Black Mountain College, an unaccredited school in rural Appalachia in the USA, became a vital hub of cultural innovation. Practically every major artistic figure of the mid-twentieth century taught there: Josef and Anni Albers, Walter Gropius, John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, Alan Ginsberg… the list goes on.

The Black Mountain College concept fascinated me and I got hooked on the idea of getting a group of critically acclaimed international designers and students together in a remote Irish location. After a lot of searching and a series of happy coincidences I ended up in the village of Letterfrack in Connemara. A beautiful, remote location, that just happened to have brilliant studio and workshop facilities. Perfect. It even had its own mountain, Diamond Hill, overlooking the stunning GMIT campus, which is the National Centre of Excellence for Furniture Design and Wood Technology, designed by O’Donnell + Tuomey Architects.

Over the last 18 months — in collaboration with Dermot O'Donovan, Head of Department at GMIT Letterfrack — I have carefully formulated a distinctive offer — “Design Unplugged” on the Wild Atlantic Way in the West of Ireland.

Where there other events that inspired you to organize your own?

Yes, last year I was invited to create a visual identity for ‘Building 98’ in Marfa, a project of the International Woman's Foundation, which has operated an artist-in-residency programme since 2002. Marfa is a small desert city in west Texas, USA which is known as an arts hub. Again it is an example of a vibrant creative community in a remote location. The Chinati Foundation, founded by artist Donald Judd (1928 - 1994), displays his huge indoor and outdoor installations there. It’s a very cool place and it’s very remote. They have a saying ‘Marfa. Tough to get there. Tougher to explain. But once you get there, you get it.’ I feel the same way about the Connemara landscape where we are holding the Design West Summer School. You’ve got to go there to really understand what an amazing landscape it is.

During the same period, I read The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald which got me interested in the idea of ‘walking as research’. It deals with themes that interest me — time, memory, identity — and was a big influence on the concepts and ideas behind Design West.

Is this the first time event you organise?

No, in the sense that I have always been an advocate for design in my community. When working in Amsterdam in the mid-80s, for several years I organised a series of events called ‘Dubbel Dutch’ which annually brought together two design groups from the Netherlands to speak and exhibit in Dublin. For example, we had Thonik and UNA Amsterdam Designers, Koeweiden Postma and Kesselskramer, Anton Beeke and …,staat. I also brought ’The Foreign Affairs of Dutch Design’ exhibition to Dublin. Later I opened my own design gallery ‘The Factory Space’ with my business partner Stephen Kavanagh hosting exhibitions by designers like Reza Abedini (Iran) and Verena Gerlach (Germany). So yes, I guess I’ve always been into organising design related things.

What is the story behind the Summer School name?

We came up with the Design West name in a Dublin Hotel one evening. I was having a coffee with two of my colleagues from NCAD, Kate Brangan, and Noelle Cooper and the name just ‘arrived’. Simple really. Design in the West of Ireland. I was also conscious of Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture school in the Arizona desert. Another big influence.

What’s the concept behind the Design West branding?

A big mountain known as ‘Diamond Hill’ overlooks the GMIT campus in Letterfrack where we are holding the summer school. I was brainstorming ideas for the identity with Noelle Cooper and Colin Farmer of Dublin studio Unthink. Noelle sketched the mountain from memory and I loved it immediately. Unthink have been fantastic, collaborating from the very early stages of the project. They have done a super job on the website.

Yes, the landscape is beautiful, how did you find it?

After a lot of searching and a series of happy coincidences I ended up in the village of Letterfrack in Connemara. A beautiful, remote location, that just happened to have brilliant studio and workshop facilities. Perfect. It even had its own mountain, Diamond Hill, overlooking the stunning GMIT campus, which is the National Centre of Excellence for Furniture Design and Wood Technology, designed by O’Donnell + Tuomey Architects. GMIT Letterfrack offers superb facilities, wi-fi connectivity etc…however, beyond the campus, connectivity is weaker, and the landscape spectacular, providing an opportunity for participants to “unplug” from the busy world of design and gain new perspectives. It’s an opportunity for students and professionals to “escape from the tyranny of the everyday” and spend time working with and learning from amazing designers.

How did you curate the program?

Basically through a lot of discussion with my colleagues and peers. The course content has developed a lot over the last 18 months. Once we finalised the location for Design West, we began to identify designers who produced great work in both 2D and 3D, because of our access to the superb workshops on campus. Design West is based on the GMIT campus in Letterfrack, which is The National Centre for Excellence in Furniture Design & Technology. Facilities include CAD, CNC technology, laser equipment, robotics and digital manufacturing. Design West facilitates both individual and collaborative approaches to the making of 2D and 3D design expressions, including visual communication, installations, abstract and environmental design.

design-west-website
Design West Website
connemara road-1200x800
Landscape around Connemara road

How did you select the tutors?

Tutors were selected on the basis of their international reputation and their ability to work in both 2 and 3 dimensions. The key ingredient we were looking for was a passion for design and making. We also wanted to see how they responded to the beautiful landscape and remote setting of Design West. Everybody loved the idea of working in the Connemara landscape, which is so different to the urban environments they practice in every day. The Design West environment is perfect for getting away from the grind of ‘the everyday’ and for reflecting upon one’s role and purpose as a designer, away from the noise of the city and the pressures of deadlines.

Who are the tutors?

We are privileged to have a fantastic team of tutors and instructors on board — Lizá Defossez Ramalho and Artur Rebelo of R2 Design in Porto, celebrated Spanish illustrator and graphic designer Isidro Ferrer, Ken Deegan, Associate Partner at Pentagram (NYC), Noelle Cooper and Colin Farmer from Unthink (Dublin) and Susan Rogers (GMIT Letterfrack).

Instructors will include Letterpress Printer Sean Sills (National Print Museum), designers and Riso printing enthusiasts Kate Brangan and Jo Little from Or Studio (Dublin) and the team of technicians at the GMIT campus.

What are you most excited about if you look at the complete program?

First of all I can’t wait to see how participants — tutors and students — react to the location, it is quite stunning. And then I want to see how this environment impacts on their work and see how the experience will affect their design practice in the future. Perhaps this little place will develop an international reputation for design, that’s a nice prospect.

Why should I attend the Design West Summer School? What do I have to do to get accepted?

Design West offers superb facilities, wi-fi connectivity etc…however, beyond the campus, connectivity is weaker, and the landscape spectacular, providing an opportunity for participants to “unplug” from the busy world of design and gain new perspectives. It’s an opportunity for students and professionals to “escape from the tyranny of the everyday” and spend time working with and learning from amazing designers. It will be a unique experience. Design Conferences are great, but audiences only get to see one hour presentations or on-stage interviews. This is a unique opportunity to really engage and spend time with leading international designers and learn from them. Yes, participants will see presentations, but will also take part in workshops and discussions. They will work with, talk with, walk with and socialise with this great group of designers — and all of this will take place in the amazing landscape of Connemara.

A portfolio is required for application. It is important for us to see examples of your work to help us make our final selection. In the application form please provide a link to your website or a pdf of your work which we can review.

This course is an ECTS accredited programme at Level 9 on the Irish National Framework of Qualifications and those attending will receive credits on successful completion of the course. Included in the assessment strategy will be the submission of a portfolio, precedent research and reflective writing on learning experiences. We are currently accepting applications. The final deadline for applications is Friday 20 April, 2018.

Design West

23 June - 6 July 2018
GMIT Letterfrack campus, Ireland
Price: €1800 — The fee includes accommodation (individual room, shared living space, kitchen, bathroom), tuition, lectures, walking tours, workshops, opening & closing ceremony meals. It does not include travel (flights) to and from the course or daily meals.

Apply (deadline Friday 20 April, 2018)

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