Q&A with Innovation Designer Moses Rowen
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN ISSUE THREE: MAKERS IN MARCH 2018
Dublin 8 hosts some of the city’s most handsome red brick houses. Although narrow at the front, behind each of these Dublin doors is an elongated interior. This narrowness causes each passerby to wonder what sprawling lifestyles lie within. It is inside one of these curious terraces that Moses Rowen, an Irish Innovation Designer, resides and operates his workshop, set-up quirkily in his transformed front room. Gloriously lived-in, there is debris in the kitchen and dining lounge from a homecoming feast the night before, prepared by Moses himself, an ardent cook and kitchen dweller. Although based in Dublin, Moses spends a portion of his time travelling with work, and we thankfully managed to catch him on a hop home from London.
What is ‘innovation design’, and more importantly, what does it mean to you?
Ideally I’d just call myself a designer, but these days people are so obsessed with the classification of careers. There’s a real taxonomy to what you do. In my case innovation design is simply a hybrid of industrial design and mechanical engineering, but for me it’s really about designing things that don’t exist yet, often through a transdisciplinary approach.
What was your career path into your current profession?
I graduated from the Dublin Institute of Technology with a degree in mechanical engineering. I worked in the industry briefly before realising the formulaic nature of the job wasn’t for me, so I returned to university to study industrial design. That said, I wouldn’t agree that the college route works anymore, not with so much information available to budding designers. Just getting out there and starting to practice is the best way to get into design, start by sketching and then try to get access to a workshop or hackspace.
After college I started to work for the architecture firm West 8 in Rotterdam as an industrial designer. The volume of work there was intense, but I loved it because there was a real appreciation of designers and although you may have been working a hundred hour week, you felt valued. It was a real trial by fire.
Later in my career I started entering competitions, and I guess my big break came in 2015 when I entered and won the NASA Bio-Inspired Advanced Exercise Concepts Challenge for my Bio-Inspired Micro Gravity Exercise Concept, an ultra-lightweight, compact workout machine designed to offset the osteoporosis and muscular atrophy associated with long-term space travel.
Would you advise upcoming designers to get involved in competitions?
On one hand you would rather be doing solely your own projects and not the spec design that often comes with competitions, but sometimes they really do pay off and help kickstart your career. The NASA competition afforded me the resources I needed to set up my workshop and invest in my own projects. Even if the competition doesn’t work out, I’m a firm believer in Beckett’s ‘fail better’ thinking.
What is your design process? Does it lean more towards physical or digital?
It’s about 50-50, but I always start with sketching. I’m not a great sketcher, but I can apply my mechanical insight afterwards. I’ll then transfer the project onto CAD if needs be. But for my more traditional industrial design projects like the Coco chair, I don’t need to use digital design tools at all. Its refreshing to just get stuck into making sometimes."
What do you think of the current design industry in Ireland?
For the most part I think the companies who hire or commission designers don’t understand how best to use them. Often designers will find themselves facing business people who are very good at their jobs and will push the designer to do what they think is right, instead of trusting the designer’s counsel. It’s this misunderstanding that leads to a lack of value of designers. I think designers have a responsibility to explain to clients or employers how the process can work to benefit both parties.
Where do you pull inspiration?
I’m strongly inspired by architecture, specifically minimalist architects. I admire Tadao Ando, a famous Japanese architect and the late Louis Kahn, both of which are regarded as masters of concrete. Bauhaus makers and their fetishsiation of technology are also a huge influence for me.
My friends always scoff at me for my fandom of minimalist design while I create some very intricate designs that are complex by their nature. Aeronautical and systems engineer Kelly Johnson is also a massive inspiration for me. The way he could look at a system and know if something was incorrect just by looking at it. Today we’re reliant on computers and CAD and fluid dynamics and it would be so rare to have such an innate sense of what you do.
Sustainability is incredibly important to you, but not in the conventional sense. Tell us more about that.
Similar to how I admire minimalism aesthetically, I feel like our environment could be improved greatly if people applied the concept of minimalism to their lives and reduced the sheer amount of ‘stuff’ they buy and throw out.
I want to do more work in sustainability, but from a different perspective. I think it’s important that we address people’s addiction to consumption. We need to look beyond just using organic materials that can compost and get to the source of the problem of incessant buying behaviour. Design has a huge part to play in this because it’s basically applied psychology and economics, if we can identify the core motivations we can build new systems around them and deal with the greenwashing crisis.
Has this focus on sustainability led to any interesting projects?
Yea, a few. I have a number of fashion and air quality assignments in the pipeline, but one project I’m really excited about is my own design series called Only. It’s a collection of high quality everyday objects. The first product in the series is a stainless steel pencil sharpener that comes with a sharpening stone and is designed to be the, ‘only sharpener you’ll ever need’, due to its durable yet simple design. By encouraging consumers to attach a sentimentality and value to it I’m hoping it’ll reduce careless waste habits.
How do you maintain your creativity and look after yourself?
I find switching off quite hard, but I don’t tend to get creative block because when I hit a wall with one project, I can just move onto another. I love being outdoors. I do trail running and mountain hiking and just generally enjoy being outside. When you run it’s like a rhythm, you can’t stop and you don’t have time to worry about anything.
What can we expect from Moses Rowen this year?
Aside from the sustainability projects (which is pretty much everything I’ll be working on!), I have a diverse pipeline that ranges from fashion to motorbikes to urban systems. I’ll also be offering creative direction counsel to the blockchain company INOX. Hopefully we can remind people that blockchain can actually be used for good".
Finally what’s your advice to other designers and makers?
Work more, because that’s the only way you get better.
Annie Atkins is a Graphic Designer for film. Between projects, she leads workshops in her Dublin studio and travels the world to speak about her work.
Saint Sister, formed in November 2014, is the ongoing project of Morgan MacIntyre and Gemma Doherty. Their music draws from early Celtic harp traditions, 60s folk and electronic pop to create 'atmosfolk'.