Book review: The ECAL Manual of Style – How To Best Teach Design Today?

A comprehensive, first-time revelation of the famous Swiss design institution’s teaching methodology.

Published by Phaidon, The ECAL Manual of Style explores the pedagogical approach in product design over the past 20 years at the esteemed Swiss design school ECAL (École cantonale d’art de Lausanne). Currently under the directorship of designer Alexis Georgacopoulos (co-author of this publication along with American designer and writer Jonathan Olivares), ECAL has established itself as a leader in design education through an open-ended process that generates a diversity of innovative solutions. An expansive roster of seasoned practitioners brought in as workshop tutors ensures adherence to no single design agenda or philosophy.

Quotes and contributions from prominent designers such as Patricia Urquiola, Jaime Hayon, Konstantin Grcic, and British design critic and author Alice Rawsthorn respond to the question of “How to best teach design today?”—providing a foundation for the introduction of a selection of ECAL projects drawn from the past two decades. Historically, many of ECAL’s design projects have focused on food. Georgacopoulos himself led a studio called the Bread Workshop, in which the improbable medium of bread was explored in a plethora of ways, its material properties manifest in objects as varied as birdhouse, egg cup, basket, tile and brick—among others.

Critical and timely issues such as the environmental cost of excessive meat consumption were considered in The Sausage of the Future, a research and design project that proposed a meaningful solution to reducing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Through extensive enquiry and collaboration with culinary experts, studio tutor Carolien Niebling and students proposed the artisanal design and production of sausages, where fruits, vegetables and insects comprise the meat-alternative ingredients of mortadella, salami, boudin and pâté.

Associations with industry are a fundamental part of ECAL’s success; links between education and practice are seen in studios such as ECAL x Alessi, an Elric Petit-led project that brought together students with Italian housewares company Alessi to develop a new product category focused on the office and home study. The results were exhibited in Milan during the high-profile Salone del Mobile in 2011. Similarly, the work of students in the Bachelor in Industrial Design program was shown at Galerie kreo in Paris in 2015, curated by French furniture designer and ECAL instructor Ronan Bourollec. Alliances such as these establish new standards for the quality of work a school and its students can produce, and have become an integral element of ECAL’s pedagogical methodology.

Leslie Jen is the former Associate Editor of Canadian Architect and an architecture and design journalist based in Toronto. Her new book Canadian Architecture: Evolving a Cultural Identity is now available.