HAN ROH: MAKING THE TESSEL
Revolutions aren’t always loud. Heads don’t roll, there’s no yellow jackets. Sometimes they’re quiet — unnoticeable, even. To you or I, the DITA Tessel probably looks like just another pair of glasses. Minimal, sleek, refined — a really, really nice frame. But that’s about it.
You or I probably wouldn’t notice the discrete mechanics of the nose bridge used here, we might not question why they sit so well on one’s face. Or even, that it was strange that one frame could sit so well on so many faces. It might not even occur to us that there’s an inherent dissonance in this — a frame that could sit on the bridge of so many noses of so many variable shapes.
Han Roh would though. Born in Seoul, Korea, the designer came to the U.S. twelve years ago and is now a key member of DITA’s experimental think tank-like team of eyewear experts. And like many of DITA’s designers, it was automobiles, not eyewear, which was the starting point for Roh’s body of work — applying his skills to eyewear instead of engines.
The Tessel is Roh and DITA’s quiet revolution. Based on their extensive knowledge of eyewear design history, the team believes that this is something that has not been done before — a frame with an ergonomic nose bridge, that allows it to balance almost-perfectly on the wearer’s face. And yet, it’s something that Roh is surprised has not been widely used before now. You could say it was staring them in the face all along: “I realized that since the beginning of eyewear — like a hundred years ago — we've been using the same construction over and over again,” he says, over telephone. “As a designer, I understood that I needed to solve this problem. The core idea was very simple: create a new nose pad that has better function and styling.THE DITA TESSEL NOSE DETAIL
“The nose pad on the Tessel has two main components. Basically, the standard bridge was introduced to the eyewear market a very long time ago, so people consider this bridge as a vintage component.” But the problem is that this bridge is constructed in a way that only fits a certain shape of nose. For all the shapes and sizes of frames you can get — from the teeny-weeny frames so en vogue right now to the maximalist classics, this part has remained rigid and unchanged. The solution was what Roh calls a “swing-arm component.”
The way it's designed creates a natural, adjustable tension. So, depending on your nasal-height, you can bend the arm and then it spreads the weight of the frame across the top and the side of the nose.
Compared to a conventional eyewear product without an adjustable arm, the Tessel can provide better fit and comfort.
Type “Design is problem solving” into Google and you will find a litany of contradictory opinion pieces on this premise. Some argue, “Yes! Good design is about identifying problems and fixing them.” And there’s a historical precedent that underpins this line of thinking: In the early 1900s, mechanical engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor sought to productivity by creating tools for workers which were tailored to their body shapes, creating a very elemental form of ergonomic design. But this simple label, of a “problem solver” only describes part of what Roh, and many others in different design fields, do. To others, this applying this framework may narrow the range of outcomes a designer is capable of achieving.
Roh’s role, at a brand that straddles the worlds of both industrial design and luxury fashion, somewhat oscillates between the two; of meticulous functionality and exuberant free spirit. Often, the final design meets somewhere in the middle — thanks to a sort of distillation process, between DITA’s design team, and later the master-craftsmen at their factory in Japan. “When you actually look at some of the only ideas of our frames, sometimes it almost looks like a spaceship from another the universe,” says Roh. “We have to bring the design down to earth to make them more feasible. The Tessel was the same.” That process took twelve months, starting from art deco inspiration to sketches through to its final form.
What has changed radically about Roh’s mode of design, however, is that he now possess the ability of print frames in 3D. Before it would take weeks, sometimes months, of waiting for an early prototype to return from the factory to see if an idea was worth pursuing further. Now, it takes hours. “It's pretty much a new design process. We can 3D print the product within a day, and then we can evaluate the design by looking at it.
It's very different each time. Sometimes I draw cars, and then from there I get the inspiration. Sometimes I draw the eyewear like a conceptual eyewear sketch.
[But] I still believe in the power of the human hands, so I always start from hand sketch and then based on that I move onto the computer.
The fact that an idea had over breakfast can be brought to life by that evening is not only a novel one, but something which is empowering, Roh says. Mistakes are less costly, risks are easier to take. A whole world of possibilities — a new “freedom” — has opened up to him and his peers.
“Everything happens spontaneously,” he says of the starting point for each frame. There’s an acute understanding of the market and general trends happening within eyewear, but it doesn’t often inform their designs, which likely won’t appear in stores for close to two years. This near-glacial process of design sees them run through tens, or even hundreds, of 3D printed prototypes and factory samples, each subtly adjusted from the last, creating a sort of mesmerizing time-lapse of design.
“Within a month or two, we get the first prototype from the manufacturer where I always get excited to open the box — it's like opening a Christmas present. If the prototype is as good as we imagined, then we give them the green light. However, most of the time, the first prototype doesn't satisfy us. So we go back to our design and drawing boards and keep repeating the process back and forth. That's how we create our DITA products.THE DITA TESSEL
Is this a time-consuming form of creation? Sure.
We are perfectionists and try to create perfect eyewear. So that's why we spend a lot of time developing the prototype.
Perfection, of course, is merely something to strive for, the byproduct being beautifully designed and functional frames. As he knows, there’s always something that can be improved on. Nuances and minutiae can be quietly revolutionized.
Words: Calum Gordon
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