On Loop

A space to fail

Creating spaces for testing and learning at A/D/O, a design and co-working space in Brooklyn, founded by MINI

"The proposal that Universal presented really aligned closely with our overall mission at A/D/O by MINI, to explore the future of design through research that very often includes trial and error." —Nate Pinsley, Managing Director A/D/O

‘On Loop’ was a participatory public installation that we designed in 2019 for MINI’s A/D/O space in New York. Featuring a creative workspace, gallery, restaurant and design store, A/D/O was located within a converted warehouse in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The aim of the space was to explore the boundaries and the future of design. Built for professional designers to invigorate their creative practices, it was open to everyone who sought to be inspired. With this in mind, our installation explored collective, iterative design processes and the idea of trial and error as a creative tool. Building on the notion that evolution is nature’s very own trial-and-error design method, we wanted to examine the role of ‘failure' in the creative process.

‘On Loop’ was an evolution of our 2017 London Design Festival pavilion, ‘On Repeat’, whereby both projects used design as a vehicle for exploration and engagement - a practice-based approach to design research that is a cornerstone of our studio’s methodology. These projects are an opportunity to explore the theoretical concept right through from the installation’s design and graphics to activities.

In The Evolution of Useful Things — a 1994 book by American engineer Henry Petroski — he argues that artefacts “do not spring fully formed from the mind of some maker but, rather, become shaped and reshaped through the (principally negative) experiences of their users”. In his hypothesis, devices — such as forks and paper clips — evolve the way they do because of dissatisfaction of the user in the way the current system works. In short, form follows failure, not function. We wanted to take this observation and translate it into a device for experimentation—a purpose-built apparatus that facilitates circular trials and records their findings.

The device took the form of a lazy Susan mechanism set with acrylic panels for storing paper. Placed at the centre of a table, the rotating apparatus allowed for objects to be easily passed between the seated participants, who were invited to take part in a continuous series of iterative and looping drawing exercises. These contributed to an evolving portfolio of designs. As the designs progressed, the rules of engagement altered in response to the process of trial and error, exploring the balance between absolute instruction and free will, and the interplay between the individual and a collective. At key points over the 31-day installation, collections of completed designs were showcased within the space on a shelving unit that curved around the table.

Highlights included workshops from Bklyn Clay, a state-of-the-art local ceramics studio who collectively designed a series of vases; food artist Laila Gohar, who hosted a unique eating experience specially designed for ‘On Loop’; Charlotte McCurdy, a designer and researcher who blends science and design to reframe existential threats; Emilie Baltz, a food technologist, designer and multimedia artist who creates multi-sensory experiences; Juan Miguel Marin, a Brooklyn-based Ecuadorian multidisciplinary artist whose work is an exploration of the relationship between memory, sound, and emotion; and IBM Research, a team from IBM who got together to co-programme a mini robot.

Built by MINI as a home for the design community to explore new frontiers. A/D/O reflected MINI's fundamental belief that designers hold the keys to progress and that meaningful design cannot happen in isolation, it needs exchange.