Vanessa Harden: Eco Conscious Art & Design Interests

An Interview with the Artist & Designer

Bio–degradable Tent by Vanessa Harden

Vanessa Harden thinks deeply about the social and environmental concerns that plague our lives every day. Her designs, often merging the perceived distinction between art and science, try to resolve those issues on a physical plane.

Some of the creative design solutions of Vanessa Harden include seed pills for increased greenery in a city, biodegradable tents and dynamic street lights to reduce energy consumption. Her creative endeavours are proof of her sensitivity towards planet earth.

A master’s degree holder in Design Interactions from Royal College of Art, UK, 2009 Vanessa received many an accolade for her works in installation and concept design including the iF Concept Award in 2010.

Is there any element or design philosophy that pervades all your designs and installations notwithstanding the fact that the nature of execution would surely change from one project to another? How the many media you explored through your works have been a contributing factor in your artistic makeup?

My work is very process driven. I always start by developing a concept before thinking about the materials or technologies that will be used. I believe the initial concept informs the materials and overall aesthetics of the design. I also always allow a certain amount of flexibility when working on visuals for a final design, encouraging the materials and fabrication processes to lead the design once the concept has been decided. The materials and methods of fabrication must be appropriate to the overall ‘feel’ and ‘look’ of the design.

You expanded from studies in jewellery designing to myriad fields of activities in a pretty short period of time. How creatively satisfying has this metamorphosis been?

Starting off in metalsmithing and jewellery allowed me to understand the steps involved in designing and most importantly making an object − but not every concept was suited to being craft in metal or as a piece of jewellery. The more ideas that came to mind, the more I needed to expand my understanding of materials. I became obsessed with understanding how everything was made.

Many of your projects revolve around ecological consciousness. What prompted you to explore and imbibe this theme into your work?

There are many factors that lead me to work with concepts that revolved around ecology and sustainability. Firstly, as a maker, there are various methods and techniques that can be used to achieve the same result. Some of these methods are much more detrimental to the environment than others. This realisation made me much more aware of how I designed and manufactured my products. Eventually, ecology became a theme that I was interested in exploring during the conceptual phase. This led me to projects designing tools for guerrilla gardening, creating biodegradable tents for music festivals and design collaborations with honey bees.

Guerilla Gardening by Vanessa Harden
Guerilla Gardening

You have involved the community and even school children such as Thorpedene Junior School for the Seedpill Project. How has been the level of awareness of the ones who got involved in the workshops and even beyond the periphery of the active involvement?

Conducting workshops in schools, for companies and in museums has been an important part of my design process. The user-testing phase of a design allows the creator to get feedback from the user, and adjust the design accordingly. When working with the public, especially with a project like the speed pills, participants are initially very excited about the potential of this new design. After the workshop, some participants contact me to learn more about guerrilla gardening or sustainable design.

Tell us of your experience in planning and implementing the ‘Games and Toys Creations’ curriculum. How do you see these initiatives aiding the formal education in bringing forth the talent lying within each child for ‘education is the manifestation of perfection already in man’?

The students that I was working with had no idea what design was let alone the process involved in designing a product. I broke the design process down into steps ensuring that the students understood that good design means following a process. The students were asked to develop one design over the period of 8 weeks which allowed them to truly understand the importance of each step (from Brainstorming straight through to prototyping and manufacturing). Ultimately, the workshop taught students that the right idea takes a long process of iterations − more ‘mistakes’ lead to more iterations which in the end leads to a better design.

Your projects also require active collaboration with community and even with your fellow creatives from different fields. How do you communicate your ideas to your audience who might not be an expert and also your fellow design assistants and collaborators so that you receive buy-ins from both the parties for the project to be successful? How in this sort of environment where collaboration is a necessary element, one may ensure that creative independence could be maintained among the participants?

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my design career thus far is that you can’t be the best at everything. Knowing what you’re good at and collaborating with people who can fill in the gaps will ensure high-quality design work. Of course, finding the right people to collaborate with not only means finding someone with the skills that are required to do the job, but also someone who you connect with creatively. Building a reliable network of individuals who you like to collaborate with and share similar design processes with is invaluable in the design industry. You can never do it alone.

You have utilised both sophisticated technology for your works and also managed to give back something to the community and environmental causes. What would be your suggestion to young designers incorporate the same in their area of expertise?

I design based on what excites me and what I’m passionate about. Everyone has a responsibility to society and if you can design in a responsible manner while satisfying your design interests and continuing to explore new technologies, then you’re ahead of the game!

Portrait of Vanessa Harden

Vanessa Harden enjoys…

Vanessa loves spending her holidays in Istanbul or Bali. And when it comes to unwinding nothing beats listening to the music of Industrial Rock, Metal, Grunge (NIN, Tool, Nirvana, Foo Fighters), watching Lost Highway or reading her favourite book, Fahrenheit 451. And speaking of favourite food she simply cannot resist whole steamed artichokes dipped in lemon and olive oil vinaigrette.

Find more of her work at her website.

Image Courtesy: Vanessa Harden