Producers of Shoddy Work: Beware! / 14ymedio, Katia Tabares

Wooden toys (14ymedio)

Wooden toys (14ymedio)

  • The 2014 ONDI Awards to outstanding Cuban designers cause us to reflect on the limitations suffered by these professionals.
  • Several winners from years past no longer live in Cuba – they have moved on in search of new professional horizons.

14ymedio, Katia Tabares, Havana, 27 May 2014 — Within the first minutes of conversation with a designer, one realizes that caution is in order. Just as if, while facing a dentist friend, we might smile on just one side of our face so that our cavities wouldn’t show, when we find ourselves around these design professionals, it is best to watch ourselves. Their trained eyes will spot the poorly-lettered sign we’ve hung on the door, the kitschy centerpiece on the table, and the cut of our shirt that binds our arms. Then will we have fallen under the “dictatorship” of visual, functional and decorative quality. May Design have mercy on us!

This is how I felt this past weekend while viewing winners of the 2014 ONDI Awards, given every two years by the National Office of Industrial Design. Exhibited in the gallery of La Rampa cinema, in the capital neighborhood of El Vedado, these images represent a wide variety of conceptual and esthetic solutions. The first prize went to Luis Manuel Ramirez who developed a lighting system and other objects for the home, featuring quality, good taste and potential adaptability to multiple circumstances.

If we attend the exhibition accompanied by the smallest members of the household, they might remain attached to the toys designed by Adriana Horta Ramos and Eduardo Velazco Alvarez, who won the prize in the student category. Using wood as their primary material, these novelties for children ages 3 to 6 are a major cut above the plastic and tacky products that populate the display windows of our stores.

There is much to admire, as the laurels were distributed among various categories, such as Visual Communication Design, Industrial, Furniture and Apparel, in addition to a Design Project Award. From simple pieces for daily living such as Ernesto Iglesias Diaz’s functional spice containers that won Honorable Mention, to the interior design of the New Varadero International Hotel by Carla Oraa Calzadilla, recognized for its optimum use of space, lighting and furniture selection.

One of the honors went to the project to update the interface of the Infomed digital portal, used by Public Health professionals. It is accessible from the so-called “intranet”, for those users who possess an email connection and nationwide navigation capability. For years this portal has been crying out for an upgrade to its disheveled appearance and is now on its way to achieving it. Yondainer Gutierrez Fernandez and Yelene Bequer Crespo have taken on this task, although the actual carrying-out of their proposal remains to be done.

Cuban design is trapped between two contrary forces: the quality of its professionals and the few opportunities for these professionals to make their ideas reality.

Cuban design is trapped between two contrary forces: the quality of its professionals and the few opportunities for these professionals to make their ideas reality. The exodus of a good portion of the graduates of the Institute of Industrial Design (ISDI) points to the dearth of possibilities for the professionals of this field in our country. If right now there were a celebration in the works to bring together previous years’ winners of the ONDI Awards, we would have to await their arrival from all latitudes of the planet where most of them reside.

The material restrictions, the devaluing of good design in projects ranging from a cafeteria interior to a school uniform, make it so the graduates of this specialization see little hope of gaining true recognition for their work, beyond prizes and awards that hardly make good living room decorations. At certain levels, our society underappreciates the detailed work of these adepts in typography, color schemes and drafting. Bureaucrats and high-level officials don’t seem willing to bend toward the “exquisiteness” of good taste. They inhabit the realm of shoddiness, improvisation and arbitrary form.

Our streets are filled with political billboards that look like they came out of a word processor equipped solely with Times New Roman font, bold, red only, and exclamation points galore. Coarse writing, overused symbols, out-of-date visual cues that don’t even work on children, continue to permeate televised ideological propaganda and the design of many public places. Timid official discourse is accompanied by an equally moth-eaten esthetic.

However, a breath of hope traverses these days on 23rd Street in the area around La Rampa cinema. If at least half of the design projects exhibited within these walls were carried out, we would no longer be ashamed to stand before a designer and smile, show off our shirt, the home decoration, the recently painted sign. We would have gained at least a few centimeters on that bad taste that extends in so many directions.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison