Designer Ezri Tarazi’s Bountiful Harvest

Why does big business need designers and where do farmers come into it? Ezri Tarazi explains in his new book.

In 1990, when he was a fourth-year student in the industrial design department at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, Ezri Tarazi discovered he had miscalculated his credit points and he was one credit short of completing his degree. After consulting with one of his lecturers, he decided to publish a one-time design magazine called D-Zayyin – capital D and the Hebrew letter zayin, which when spoken aloud sound like the English word “design.”

Twenty-three years later, after having established his status in the local design world, Tarazi decided to go back to that journal. This time he has published a book of 300 pages that bears the same title, which was released this week and launched Monday night at Hangar 2 in the Jaffa Port.

If at that time the title was perceived as an amusing gimmick, now it is already closely connected to the contents of the book, as indicated in its subtitle: “Innovation through design thinking.” The bulk of the book consists of seven chapters describing a reasoned methodology for design thinking, which draws inspiration from the world of agriculture: plowing, sowing, sprouting, budding, blossoming, ripening and harvesting.

“I was fascinated by the agricultural thing because it is planted deeply in Hebrew culture,” says Tarazi of the inspiration he drew from that world. “The bible was based on a farming culture and contains many terms connected to the area: wheat harvest, grape vintage, and specific words for the harvests of olives, dates, figs and more. Just as the Eskimos have many words for different kinds of snow, our language is rich in these terms.

“In addition, nature has an intelligence for picking the right elements. For example, there are masses of seeds and a lot of them sprout, but in the end one tree grows. This is the natural process. Someone who comes from the business world usually wants one process, one concept, one product – and when designers want to propose 20 concepts, they are often told there is no time for so many concepts. This is ignoring the security strategy nature has built for itself, so something will grow afterwards.”

The work on the book took two years. A large part of it was funded by the Ministry of Economy and it has been published by Penza Perception Lab Ltd., which is active worldwide in the area of consulting in innovation processes. Even before the book came out in Israel, it was already translated into Spanish and English. In addition to definitions of relevant terms and an elucidation of companies and people in the field, most of the examples are taken from Prof. Tarazi’s own experience as an academic and professional designer.

Tarazi was born 51 years ago in Jerusalem and currently lives with his family in Shoham. He has been a lecturer in the industrial design department at Bezalel since 1992 and headed it from 1996 to 2004. After establishing the master’s degree program in industrial design at Bezalel in 2003, he ran the department until last year.

After completing his studies he worked for six years at Bezalel Research and Development, a company that developed life-support products like atomic-biological-chemical masks, cooling alternatives for the Merkava tank and more. In 1996 he established the Tarazi Studio, which specialized in strategic consultation for companies, design thinking and development of products like air conditioners for Electra and a new Amcor refrigerator, as well as a partnership in the Zenith solar energy initiative. He was a founder of the Israeli branch of the design and consulting firm Ideo, which closed in 2001. In 2005 he was a founder of d-Vision, the Keter company’s design internship program.

His works have been shown at some of the most important museums, fairs and galleries in the world, such as the Rossana Orlandi Gallery in Milan, the Moss Gallery in New York, the Istanbul Design Biennial and the Design Miami/Basel fair. The solar disc he designed in 2010 was shown at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, where he also showed the installation “Living Forest” in the 2009 exhibition “Design for a Living World.”

In the “Safe Design” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2002, Tarazi showed a turtleneck sweater he developed that has filters against disease-causing viruses. He has also shown in Israel at a number of museums and galleries.

Tarazi attributes his decision to publish a book to a sense of mission. “Without any cynicism, as a person who hitched his fate to the design world at an early age, I felt a need to create a document capable of explaining this world to people who don’t belong to the design world. The aim wasn’t to appeal to designers or students of design but rather, I wanted to explain the conceptual world of design thinking to the general public and especially to people who work or want to work with designers in every area – high tech, application design, product design, organizational systems design.

“As time passes, the easier it is to see that designers’ way of thinking and their methods of working are preferable to other methods and have a tremendous advantage over them,” he adds. “This is manifested in a lot of places in the world when a designer – who in the past would have been in sixth, seventh or tenth place on the management food chain of companies and organizations – moves up to the front line. A company that doesn’t have a person practiced in design thinking at the heart of its discourse and thinking – its fate is in doubt.”

How do you answer people who say to you: “I want to be like Apple?”

“One of the things I talk about in the book is authenticity. The products of the process you create in a company have to express what you as an organization really believe, heart and soul. Apple was born around the figure of Steve Jobs, who was a design freak and a person who took in his spiritual culture from Zen Buddhism. He was one of the first for whom design was on the ground floor – not engineering and not money. It is possible to learn from him but it is impossible to copy from him. Design has to be original and each time it is necessary to suit the values of the company or corporation and identify it.”

The tensions between the aspiration to originality, market forces and the desire to integrate into the job market are often at the basis of the encounter between the academic world and industry. One of the common criticisms of academia that has been heard in recent years, and not only in the area of industrial design, is that the design schools train graduates don’t know how to work and want to become instant stars. Tarazi, predictably, rejects the criticism and instead criticizes local industry.

“As I see it, the subject of design is an intellectual act,” he says. “In the bachelor’s degree we shape the students’ minds to challenge the reality. This isn’t an institute for professional training and it isn’t going to be one. We make a very difficult demand of the students: Don’t quote all the important people in the field but rather come and propose something new to the world. And then, a table that protects schoolchildren from earthquakes is submitted as a final project and gets accepted to the MOMA [the Museum of Modern Art in New York]. We are not prepared to have them propose anything less than that to the world. This challenge isn’t suited to local industry here, especially not an industry that copies. If the furniture industry mostly copies, then our graduates aren’t suited to this industry, and that is a good thing.”

But most of the products don’t get accepted to MOMA.

“Still, the aim of academia is to stretch the limits, to look where it’s dangerous. The connection to industry can come in the master’s degree. In the past we tried to introduce a marketing course for designers into the bachelor’s degree but they weren’t ready and open to listening to it.”

Uri Gershuni
Ezri Tarazi
Ezri Tarazi