Taeheon Kim is a recent Product Design graduate from Central Saint Martins, whose final year project was a set of makeup brushes designed for men. Titled Croono, the set was born out of his interest in how limiting stereotypes of gender can be. The brushes come in an oak box, with one handle and four brush-heads; two large with a hexagonal shape and two smaller squared brushes. The different brushes fit into either end of the handle and when not in use, each has its own inbuilt lid to protect the bristles. We spoke to Taeheon to find out more about his time at CSM and his inspiration behind Croono.
Why did you choose to study at CSM?
Before I came to the UK, I studied architecture in the United States. I found architectural design enjoyable but wanted to create something more real in terms of its scale and practicality, which led me to decide to switch to Industrial/Product Design. Since I have always admired British Product Design, I looked for UK universities that can offer the best product design courses. I then heard of CSM Product Design and figured that their location and recognition would help me during and after my studies. Also, some of my friends who are also UAL graduates shared that the courses focus on the value of the design process as well as its outcome. I started my studies in the UK on the CSM Foundation course to get an idea about what a UK art school education is like and then proceeded to the BA Product Design course with the help of the tutors.
What was your favourite thing about studying at CSM, and in London?
With my interest in language and culture, I made friends from all around the world during my time at CSM. My interactions with them encouraged me to improve my design communication skills and broaden my perspective so that I can develop my design more than I could do on my own.
Also, the tutors are highly experienced in the industry and led me to grow not only design skills but also design approach. I sometimes found it difficult when the tutors didn’t provide a specific way of thinking (or approach) but I am sure that helped me to develop/articulate my own ideas and become independent.
Your final project was a set of make-up brushes for men. What was your inspiration behind Croono?
I was inspired by the idea that gender barriers can only be broken down by expanding the idea of what they encompass to the point at which they become no longer exclusive. I know that there has been a lot of work done to combat gender stereotypes in packaging design but I wanted to go deeper.
While designing Croono, I analysed the experiential design language of products that we associate stereotypically with men or women, not both; for instance, a DIY toolbox versus a sewing kit. I found a trend in the experiential side. Often stereotypically “feminine” products that men are not supposed to use are associated with certain social roles and those products are typically devoid of the interfaces we see in stereotypically “male” products associate with male social roles. With drills and screwdrivers, we see modality and simplicity. With sewing kits and makeup brushes, we see high levels of variation and specificity at the same time as little modality and simplicity. For a male consumer then, walking into a makeup store is difficult and disorienting. He doesn’t know what to buy, is used to simple modal solutions, and has to forage for various multiple brushes or applications for specific uses. Often, he will leave the store or never enter because he doesn’t know what to do. It’s this interaction with products, the experience of how we use them that I wanted to address in Croono. I wanted to play with it, see if I could make a new combination. I wanted to see if changing the design of how the user experiences a product could introduce new actions, new options, and new choices to a person that was formerly denied access to that product.
Why was it important for you to do this project?
I created Croono as the outcome of a self-identified project. It’s an attempt at breaking down gender barriers forced on us through everyday objects. Men’s interest in and demand for grooming, skin care, and makeup is increasing as standards of beauty shift. Yet, I believe the products that are available are gendered in ways that prevent men from participating in this new space.
For my graduation project, I wanted to create something with a message I want to deliver to the world. Looking back on my early years, I often used to be told to be a man or act like a man. I didn’t always understand why I should fit into other people’s definition of a man is when I didn’t even choose to be born, let at lone born into their predetermined definition of a “man”.
We now see new trends in the changing habits of male consumers, such as their growing interest in ‘female-identified’ cosmetic products. This is occurring despite the socio-cultural expectations and pressures of masculinity that still remain in our society. My research showed that these pressures are reflected in objects in our everyday environment and I wanted to argue this puts those of the male sex into old-fashioned definitions of being a man. As a product designer, I wanted to get involved in product design language. I then wrote my dissertation about how objects designed with gender stereotypes put pressure on men to be “masculine”.
When I started off my design project, it didn’t go as easy as I had expected. Since gender is such an intangible and subjective topic to represent through a physical object, there were challenges in almost every design aspect: the shape, colours and also the user experience.
My design process/outcome was to create an object for the male user that encourages him to transcend orthodox masculinity and expand his own subjective sense of his gender.
What is next for you?
I’d love to have the opportunity to learn more about product design by working with accomplished designers or global design consultancies in London or Tokyo.
Since I did this Croono project as social design, I also want to find a way to contribute to society through my designs more in the future.
Croono is currently on show as part of the Creative Unions exhibition at the Lethaby Gallery, Granary Square. The exhibition showcases the work of this year’s CSM graduates whose practice addresses our current socio-political climate and is on until the 27 October.