17 November 2014

BIA in Barcelona: Our Interview with 2014 Student Winner, Queena Le

Now safely returned from her whirlwind visit to Barcelona and her internship with world leaders in bathroom product design and manufacture, Roca, we sat down with 2014 BIA student winner Queena Le to find out about her experience.

Can you give us a brief summary of your time in Spain with Roca?

My main contact with Roca was Jordi Corral who was the manager of the Innovations Lab. He gave me a tour around the design studio, model making facilities, science lab, testing department, mock up gallery, kiln rooms - basically every department in the company! The whole idea was to give me an insight into the process of bathroom design so I could further develop my Reece vanity unit into a product that could be manufactured. I had the opportunity to present my work to Josep Congost (Roca's design director) and managers from the testing and materials departments, so they could review my work and steer me in the right direction.

What was the highlight of your time at Roca?

Model making is something I enjoy immensely, so seeing the painting and hand modelling team at Roca was easily the highlight of my visit. There is a lot more manual work in bathroom product design than someone outside of industry would ever imagine. The process normally starts with computer modelling, but throughout the process and especially in the end, there are adjustments that machines just cannot do. The workshop had people hand sculpting, painting, carving, casting and sanding the products until they met company standards. I am so passionate about true craftsmanship and being hands on, so seeing this was so inspirational to me.

[Model making workshop]

A tour of Roca’s model making workshop was a highlight for Queena

What most surprised you about Roca during your time there?

The amount of testing they did on their products was super impressive. Absolutely every component and function of each product is tested hundreds of thousands of times. I never knew that the direction, flow and pressure of water of a toilet flush was so important and is so controlled. There's also a whole science to faucet design. The shape and material will effect how loudly your neighbours can hear your water system! Everything is tested to ensure the highest quality, effectiveness and durability of their products.

[Roca’s testing facilities]

Queena visited Roca’s testing facility during her internship

Has the experience changed your perspective to design in general and bathroom design in particular?

Yes, definitely. I am now learning to appreciate all different types of design because it is a lot more complex than it may seem to people who are not within industry.

Does European design differ from Australia? If so, how?

I think the design process is quite similar, but the end product will always differ from one another because of cultural context. For example, a lot of European bathroom products seemed to be more compact due to smaller apartments and houses than in Australia. I also felt that in Spanish design in general was a lot more quirky than Australian design (e.g. Gaudi)

What were the biggest lessons you gained from your internship?

Even in a time where technology is so advanced, there are some things machines just can't do. True craftsmanship is still an essential part of product design and I just don't see machine completely replacing man any time soon. Product design is also always more complex than it seems to someone who isn't in industry or even just not working on the specific project.

Most importantly - you are always learning. Very talented designers can still learn from more experienced professionals. And interns, anyone who might not have much experience or even a product design background, will always provide fresh ideas and new perspectives to the team.

What did you most enjoy about the city of Barcelona?

I love how relaxed and unrestricted the Barcelonean vibe is. From food to architecture, it feels like anything goes at whatever time and place!

[Queena’s Barcelona photos]

[Queena’s Barcelona photos]

[Queena’s Barcelona photos]

[Queena’s Barcelona photos]

Barcelona’s design ‘must-see’s – Guadi’s Park Guell and Mies Van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion

After the BIA win and the trip to Barcelona, what are the next steps for you in terms of your design career?

I think most designers' dreams are to open up their own studio. It's always been mine too but now I also feel my insight at Roca made me realise how much more I have and want to learn. I would love some more time in a renowned studio and to learn specific processes (such as design and model making) more in depth. But ultimately these are all stepping stones leading to working for myself and having my own studio.

We wish you the best of luck on the design journey ahead Queena. Stay tuned for more news soon on the 2015 competition.

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