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Workshop : the Chinese sell sardines

Workshop : the Chinese sell sardines

From the 22nd to the 29th of June, L’École de design Nantes Atlantique ran a workshop for a group of students from the College of Fine Arts of the University of Shanghai. 29 students and four members of staff came to Nantes with Marc Rambaud, General Secretary of China Campus. David Balkwill, Course Leader for the Vocational Training in Product Design, tells us about this weeklong creative workshop.

David Balkwill, on the right

The workshop was led by myself, David Balkwill, together with Arnaud Balduc, and since both of us are new to L’École de design, this was a great excuse to get to know each other and to build bridges between Nantes and China. These are students whose backgrounds are in the Fine Arts and in Graphic Design, so we started with a combination of three introductory lectures on Product Design, Communication Values and Eco Design, interspersed with a first task on how to build a User Scenario through detailed observed drawings of all the gestures of the use of a product, and a second challenge to build the tallest tower possible in twenty minutes. Their teachers joined in for this and finished in third place.

We spent part of one morning drawing in the market at Talensac. The students were amazed by the colours, smells and tastes of a French market. The stallholders were delightful, and spent time explaining their work, and demonstrating their skills.

For the main part of the workshop, we had decided to work around a theme of local culture with potential for these new recruits. We looked for a very local activity, and chose the « Vente du Soir de Sardines ». This is a long-standing tradition in Nantes, but has dwindled away to leave only the Gaborieau family setting up their stalls in the City centre every afternoon.

Bad weather at sea meant that the students did not meet the sardine sellers until the Tuesday afternoon, and official receptions at the Hôtel de la Région and the Hôtel de Ville left us with only two days for this design project. The students were remarkably un-phased by this pressure, and settled into efficient working sessions following the steps we set up for them. By Friday lunchtime, they had put up an exhibition of their work, with many illustrations of their design concepts and some delightful models of their ideas.

We ended the week with refreshments and grilled sardines and exchanges of gifts. All the students left with a personalised tin of sardines with the message "Amitiés et Souvenirs, à Nos Amis de Shanghai".

Something special often happens in these short and intense workshops, and this time we were left with a strong impression of these enthusiastic and energetic students – so keen to please and so willing to get on with the job. While many of them seemed incredibly young and naive, they were remarkably able to adapt to our working methods, and to produce some exciting design ideas in very little time they were here.

David Balkwill
Course Leader for the Vocational Training in Product Design