Đậm Đà is a nesting set that provides a unit of measurement and serving
People often associate happy memories with food, such as enjoying delicious meals with their family or feeling cared for by a family member through the food they prepared
Ann T. Dinh is a young design studio based in Philadelphia (USA), that focuses on comprehensive multimedia projects at various scales. This year, the studio won the 2023 DesignWanted Award with the Đậm Đà project (see all winners here), a ceramic nesting set that provides a unit of measurement and serving.
Ann’s design philosophy is that products should consider the surrounding context and culture and should be designed for a particular group of people.
“I wanted to develop a means to record recipes that did not solely require language because of the language barrier found between generations, especially within immigrant communities, and factor in how language and units of measurement change throughout time.“
Đậm Đà will be featured at the ‘Innovation for Living’ exhibition, co-hosted by DesignWanted, Designtech, and Isola Design. This exhibition will be held during Milan Design Week from April 17-23 at La Cattedrale in the Certosa district, and it presents an opportunity to closely examine her work.
What is Ann Dinh? How did your design journey begin?
“Ann T. Dinh is an emerging design studio focusing on comprehensive multimedia projects at various scales. Though the work can range from the widely speculative to the practical, the common thread is the approach – there is always a consideration for the perspective of the user – from their history, their current identities, to their perceived future. It is a combination of intense analytical thought with an artistic technique.
I always knew I wanted to work in the design profession, even if I didn’t know the name of it.
From a grade school time capsule, I found a handwritten note stating I wanted to grow up to be an “artict.” I was and still am terrible at spelling, but it’s a combination of artist and architect.
My design journey began with my father – through both making and through his work. Throughout my childhood, my father was a freelance photographer – capturing important moments in people’s lives – mainly big weddings. He was one of the first people to show me to see the world critically.
One of my fondest memories of connecting with him was making a replica NASA Apollo rocket together. We would sit in an open garage, squatting on the ground, gluing the homemade parts, usually leftover cardstock, electrical tape, and markers. We made trips to the local library, checking out reference books to get the details and proportions.
This childhood activity seems trivial, but it was the start of my design education. The use of analytical thought with resourceful creativity, coupled with an understanding of materiality and form, is tied together by collaboration with my ba.
This informal education from my family led to my undergraduate degree in architecture. In architecture school, I was taught the language of design – the process of iteration, the craft in making, to think critically about decisions. This architecture education was the foundation of my understanding of a broader design industry – leading me towards industrial design.”
Why Ann Dinh design studio, why focusing on industrial design, architecture and visual design all in one?
“These points of focus reflect both my educational background and academic background, along with capturing the range of scales within the design profession.
All three focuses are connected.
- Visual design is how information and concepts are communicated to the public.
- Industrial design is the physical objects and the digital systems that are used in the everyday.
- Architecture is designing occupiable spaces – from a single room to a whole neighborhood of buildings.”
You won the DesignWanted Award with Đậm Đà, a nesting set that provides a unit of measurement and serving. How did you come up with the idea?
“I am a child of immigrants, parents who fled their homeland with what they could quickly grab. My parents are my strongest connection to my heritage, but as they age, I feel this connection wavering. In interviewing others in a similar situation – first and second-generation adults – a common thread was how food connected people to their past.
The happy memories associated with food – the delicious meals shared among family or how food was the way a family member showed they cared. Many tried to recreate dishes to reconnect with their heritage but ran into issues – mainly in getting some semblance of a measurement.
I wanted to develop a means to record recipes that did not solely require language because of the language barrier found between generations, especially within immigrant communities, and factor in how language and units of measurement change throughout time.
The project also plays with how the use of an object can be embedded in its materiality and form – a kind of all-in-one thing to make a particular dish. The nesting factor reflects the layering of ingredients and flavor complexity in a seemingly simple dish.
Đậm Đà is a ceramic set that is something special that can be passed down to the next generation, a new keepsake for those who came to a new country with very little.”
How would you describe your design philosophy? What are the aspects that you focus on the most when developing new products?
“Products should consider the culture it exists within the surrounding context. Designing for everyone usually ends up excluding someone. With how quickly we can develop and create products, I think products can be designed for a particular group of people. Context and culture can be embedded in a product’s form and through its materiality.”
From an industrial design perspective, which are your vital tools, resources, and methods for you during the design process?
“I work both physically and digitally; I usually have multiple sketchbooks going at the same time, most of the time to scribble down a thread of a thought or a quick and dirty sketch, with post-it notes scattered throughout for even more fleeting ideas or tasks. The Post-it notes sometimes end up as paper cranes at the end of its life span.
I am a little particular with my writing utensil because of being left-handed and very prone to smudging. My current favorite is Muji Cap gel pens in 0.38mm. I always have my laptop with remote access to my more powerful desktop, loaded with Adobe Creative software and some 3D modeling software, typically with Autodesk or Rhino.
My resources are two-fold – I have a slight phone addiction and the need to be connected to the internet, but I also collect printed books and carry a camera (one separate from my phone camera) for considered observations of my everyday life. My work is typically referential, building on my perspective and curated references.
My method during the design process depends on the project and concept. It could utilize free writing and large broad sketches to scheduled interviews and workshops; no matter the start, there is usually a rapid physical prototype.”
What do you believe are the main trends & future directions within product design and what do you think of them?
“Product design is trending towards a more digital world, but we will always exist in the physical world. How do we balance between the digital and physical? I believe there needs to be a healthy understanding of both. One will inform the other.
The biggest trending tool is artificial intelligence; it has exploded in popularity recently. I think is a useful system, and I see myself using it in the further development of Đậm Đà to develop variations on the form depending on different dishes. However, I think it should be used cautiously.
There needs to be an understanding of the original source material. It should not be a direct one-to-one – input something and use the direct output – one must understand the inherent biases, credit and source the original artists and consider edits to the outputs. It favors the majority and often excludes the minority.”
What is the next step for Ann Dinh?
“Personally, I am trying to balance my teaching practice with my growing professional practice. The straddling both is important to me because I know how vital my design education was to my development, and I am learning from this next generation and how these students view the world. It is refreshing.
I want to encourage the experimentation found in the university setting, that freedom to express experimentation, and the possibility to further the profession. It is in professional practice is where this experimentation is further developed, deployed, and implemented.”