I have a fondness for quilting.
My own experiments in crazy-quilting and then sashiko quilting had me going blind doing fancy-stitching with wild and crazy colors and patterns as well as tactile combinations of bumps and lumps that were a heck of a lot of fun for me and for the heart-friends to whom I gifted these bits of silliness.
That may be why this YouTube video, “Constellation Quilt,” (published in 2013 by Public Record) showing work by designer Emily Fischer and her design studio Haptic Lab caught my eye.
The idea, expressed in the video, of wrapping yourself up in stars and time caught at the strings of my imagination.
Then I saw another YouTube video, “Flying Martha Ornithopter.” This one was published in 2017 by Made Me Look. It, too, was about an object designed by Emily Fischer and Haptic Lab.
Like Fischer, I understand that kites, winged things and even flapping flags can help us humans explore the movements and flow of the invisible forces of wind. They can help us tap into the tactile joys of flight.
KINDRED SPIRIT FOUND
It seems to me that I have found another person for whom tactile and sensory design – how a thing feels in your hand and on your skin – is as important as what the thing looks like.
Even more importantly (for me anyway), here is a person for whom objects are repositories for the stories we tell ourselves about our lives.
Among the objects Haptic Lab produces are extraordinarily detailed street maps that they call SoftMaps that can be customized and personalized for individual customers to show where their stories have taken place.
It seems to me that designers like that are a rarity.
BEGINNINGS OF A COMPANY WITH A HUMAN TOUCH
Emily Fischer grew up in rural Wisconsin where she learned how to make such things as quilts and kites as a youngster. Even as an architect-wannabe, her crafty beginnings continued to find expression.
As an undergraduate student at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan in 2002, one of her projects was her first quilted map that she designed as a way-finding tool for the visually impaired.
The inspiration for the project was her mother Peggy who had begun to lose her eyesight through complications from glaucoma.
For these quilts, Emily combined her skill with computer-aided design and manufacture (CAD/CAM) rapid prototyping tools, and open-source mapping software as well as her grounding in the old-school, painstaking craft traditions of quilting and needlework with her explorations of haptics (the way humans perceive objects and sensations through touch).
For years, she continued to make these quilts as side-projects while pursuing her career as an architect in New York City.
In 2009, during the extreme depths of the recession, Fischer was laid off from her job at a commercial architectural firm.
One of the first things she did was build a simple website with images of her experimental personal work that included objects exploring her interests in cartography and early flight.
About that time she says: “Almost immediately, design blogs like Cool Hunting started publishing images of my handmade quilts and kites. I was commissioned to construct a kite for an Opening Ceremony video directed by Matt Wolf. I got a message from ID Magazine (RIP). Then the Los Angeles Times. Then the New York Times. Suddenly everyone wanted to buy the quilted maps I was making. So within three weeks of losing my job, I accidentally started my own company.”
And so it began.
Fischer operates her accidental company, Haptics Lab, out of a Brooklyn studio with a small, close-knit team. The company is grounded in values that emphasize fair trade and sustainability.
FINAL FISCHER THOUGHTS
This YouTube “How the Founder of Haptic Lab Uses Design to Drive Positive Change” was created by Skiftx contents studio in 2017.
Here’s a poem:
AT THE CROSSROADS
Do I go straight ahead?
Do I turn left?
Do I turn right?
Do I go back?
Standing flatfooted in the middle
Keep standing there and
You’re likely to get run over
By some unheeding vehicle
That keeps on trundling along.
The roads in front spread outward
Leading to who-knows-where.
They stretch on to infinity, you know.
And “back” just means more same-old.
And here I am,
With my raw and bleeding heart
Pulling me towards
The one road that is so bright and shiny
That it takes my breath away.
The caution signs posted
Along that road are intimidating.
They jump up and down, even.
Loss and devastation, they declaim.
Doom-and-gloom, they promise.
Desperation and despair.
Aw, the heck with it, babe!
by Netta Kanoho
Header Photo credit: “Touching the World” by Joe Szilagyi via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
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