Designing a Better World
The Way We See The World just might be Brooklyn’s brightest new creative brain trust. The four-woman collective of recent Parsons grads take product design to a whole new level, injecting mundane objects like hand blenders and laptop cases with humor and social awareness.
Though TWWSTW only opened its Williamsburg workspace this past June, its members–Ingrid Zweifel, 30, Monica Bhatia, 23, Leigh Ann Tucker, 22, and Chelsea Briganti, 27–have been collaborating since meeting in a product design class at Parsons in early 2009. Their first project, What The Hella, was inspired by an exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in which artist Hella Jongerius tried and ultimately failed to find an industrial use for chicle, a rubbery substance commonly found in chewing gum. TWWSTW took up where Hella left off, creating a line of beauty products from soap to bikini wax that uses chicle as its main ingredient. And like all of TWWSTW’s endeavors, this one also had a humanitarian slant: helping to support and sustain communities in the Yucatan Peninsula that subsist on income from harvesting and selling chicle.
Elements of social activism and sustainability are present in all of TTWSTW’s products, and nowhere is this more obvious than in their recent invention, a line of candy-colored and flavored Jelloware cups (pictured above) fashioned out of agar-agar that can be eaten or thrown in the grass after use to help nourish the soil. But the ladies are loath to exploit eco-consciousness purely for market value. “We avoid using ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ [in our pitches] because there’s so much green-washing nowadays,” says Zweifel. “But it’s an integral part of everything we do. It’s a given. It’s just who we are to the core.”
Though the members of TTWSTW come from diverse backgrounds–Zweifel was a professional ballerina for the Houston Ballet, Briganti was a jewelry designer, Tucker is a self-described foodie and Bhatia has a fine arts pedigree–they’re careful to make sure that the division of labor is different for every single product. “From the beginning, we didn’t want to make one person the boss or the project manager or the graphics person, so we came up with a system where everyone gets to be project manager of their own project,” says Bhatia. “That way we don’t get bored doing CAD or Illustrator all the time.”
Consulting and design jobs for high-profile clients like L’Oreal allow TTWSTW to devote time to creating items like the Phonekerchief, a napkin made from smart material that blocks cell phone signals and emblazoned with the phrase “My Phone Is Off For You.” In some cases, they even dabble in scientific innovation, as with the Mademoicell, a women’s hygiene product that repurposes menstrual blood for stem cell research. But as wildly clever as their prototypes are, and as important as their real-world applications may be, you won’t see TTWSTW’s products on store shelves yet. Finding companies that can manufacture and market their designs takes time. Their earliest release date is for Jelloware, and that’s not until next summer. (You can drop them a line if you’re interested in buying any of their products sooner.)
Still, if you happened to be in Prospect Park a few weeks ago, you got to sample their goods and services in the guise of the Rent-A-Picnic, a hobo-style bindle-cum-picnic blanket (pictured above) filled with healthy food that outdoor revelers could borrow and return for a mere $10. Low-cost, low-waste and reusable, the Rent-A-Picnic is just another inspired idea whose playfulness belies deeper messages: respectful use of NYC’s green space. “We don’t just want to make hot stuff look cool and shiny and new,” says Zweifel. “We want to change the world.”
Text by Lauren Gitlin, sent by Annaliese. Photos courtesy of The Way We See The World.