Now an in-house designer at French equipment manufacturer Courant, Thomas Buisson attained his degree in design in November 2010 after completing the Responsible Innovation Master’s curriculum. He answers a few questions about his final degree project and about this sustainable development and eco-design-oriented course...
1 – Your final degree project was carried out as part of the Responsible Innovation Master’s program. How is the responsible innovation factor infused in your project?
To me there are 2 types of design. First there is edition design, which breathes new life into already existing items (a chair, a lamp...) and enables users to see these products in a new light by revisiting them. Then there is design applied to other, mass consumption products. These 2 types of design are different and necessary, but I really wanted to focus on the latter form. As a designer I wanted my work to be as useful as could be to as many people as possible ; I conceive my work as an effort to bring solutions to social issues. At the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (pyramid listing fundamental human needs) are listed the human basic physiological needs such as: eating, drinking, sleeping, breathing... Then come the safety needs: of body, employment, resources, morality... Addressing issues related to fundamental human needs seemed essential to me. Working alongside firemen contributes to improving their work conditions, thereby increasing the number of lives saved.
2 – Could you describe Fire Line and how it works, with a focus on the radio wave color-code? Could you give examples to help readers visualize?
Fire Line features several parts. The first part is made of a carrying bag and a luminescent life line, the second part is a device for communicating with the outside world. The carrying bag and the luminescent lifeline are 2 functional and material elements: they can be seen as a palpable and reliable link between firemen and the outside world. The carrying bag is made of Kermel© and the lifeline is covered in "PX" (flame retardant yarn) and translucent silicon, a light-emitting tube that gives firemen more visibility during their intervention.
The communication system features a box that emits and receives radio waves and transfers them to a tablet PC – that also receives and emits waves. This system works exactly as a radio. Except it does not convey the same type of information: I chose color-coding instead of voice because it simplifies and optimizes exchanges. All actions potentially mentioned by firemen fighting a hostile fire and their off-site peers can be "pre-classified." This way firemen can go straight to the point.
3 – Who did you work with on this project?
I worked mainly with the firemen of the Fire Service Department in Carquefou (in the vicinity of Nantes) and especially with the Head of the station, captain Jean-Baptiste Floch. Had it not been for his precious help, I would never have gone so far in achieving my project. Participating in the firemen’s drills and training sessions helped me point out relevant needs. I also worked in close collaboration with Matthieu Le Moing who is in charge of purchase at the local Fire Service Department. Both of them patiently advised me and made me step into an unknown environment.
I also worked with several fellow designers at L’École de design! Sharing my field experience and improving my project thanks to their comments proved to be very fruitful! Towards the completion phase, I worked a lot with my sponsoring company, who supported me financially and technically.
4 – Why firemen, why not policemen for instance?
Why not! I’m sure there are plenty of problems that need solving in the police too! Just as I did with my current project, I would start with a field study. To me it is a compulsory pre-requisite. A year ago, when I launched my project I simply had more connections with the fire-fighting environment.
5 – As a designer, what do you think is your responsibility towards society?
Today there are as many definitions of design as there are people. To me design is a time-grounded creative process. It is also an effective way of evolving consumer habits, regular habits and overcoming prejudices. It is above all a way to make life more beautiful. Designers must know current uses, codes and technologies, they must also converse with all types of professionals from all branches, they must have the necessary creative skills to meet end-user needs. Designers must be driven by the desire to improve people’s lives.