Design something, not DEZEEN something.
I was always under the impression that design was a discipline in which you began with a human event or issue (say the problem of sitting down to rest or needing somewhere in which to record your thoughts). You then turned this idea over and over in your mind with much frustration and mental pain until you figured out a solution that satisfied all the aspects of the problem as neatly as possible. Through this process, came the understanding of a problem, the understanding of the human and ultimately a hint at what perfection and beauty could be. Furthermore In the higher echelons of design, an unknown need or desire of the human is brought to our attention and then has an elegant solution swiftly provided that brings a feeling of serenity to us.
Unfortunately this noble notion of what true design seems to have been corrupted in society today. Have we lost this definition?
It seems cliché to start by examining the dictionary definition of design but it fairly well demonstrates (If I am allowed to state) how we have defined it wrong:
v. de·signed, de·sign·ing, de·signs
1. a. To conceive or fashion in the mind; invent
Straight away the idea of design is tied intrinsically with the notion of temporary fashion and styles that are ‘conceived’ and invented from thin air. In fact it’s not until the 8th definition of the term design is any sort of mention of a focus on an actual problem of any solidarity:
“…8. a coherent or purposeful pattern, as opposed to chaos…”
Finally after a lot of hot air about fashion, style, creation, blue skies and sketching, a definition is hinted at that suggests design actually needs a purpose to exist. Learning this pedagogy is the first step that enables you to think of yourself as a designer and not a style jockey who sets out to give people the very things they don’t need. It is a travesty that the real definition of design is utterly disregarded by the general population, if we can’t change this notion then all future potential “Designers” will start their careers in a way that will doom our profession to a series of fickle flights of fancy with no meaningful legacy to last and to help the world along.
One of the biggest perpetrators of this myth is the “design” blog Dezeen. It’s been set as my homepage for the last two years, so I know it well. I have been a disciple of the fallacies and fancies that it helps paint around the web. Page after page of objects created to look good in a photograph on a blog next to some unintelligible text telling us how their design is saving us time and bringing us happiness. Please stop designing new chairs- we’ve pretty much nailed that one. No more watches with immensely complicated clockwork to make hands move back to front and inside out thanks. And for god’s sake forget this obsession with naked light bulbs hanging from a minimal wire, their brightness is hard on the eyes and I've just smashed one in an edgey coffee shop. These are all just to inspire a little jealousy from a friend, spark a little interest and then within the year find their way into our garages, hidden draws and attics. All these items will stay there a few years as we kid ourselves that we can’t throw away such valuable investments before finally being discarded. Before this time of dispatchment, the item has been replaced many times over by the latest new kitsch item created by our design industry.
So what is to be done? What is meaningful design and who are the real designers? Coco Chanel liberated the female form in the twenties with her provocative dresses; Levi Strauss brought us jeans that could probably outlast nuclear fallout; Rogers and Piano have given us structures that display their function on the outside for all of us to learn from. Maynard Keynes designed economic systems that allow us to live together; Virginia Woolf designed a way of writing (Conscious Stream) that taught our journalists how to write like we think.
So next time your eyes are confronted by a blank page in your sketchbook at the beginning of your design process, don’t do anything until you’ve established the fullness of the problem, the needs we have in culture, the knowledge and help we all lack. Use your abilities to help us in body and mind, not just through the eye.
Design comes from latin meaning “to designate” which is perhaps truer to the actual definition of what design really means.
tr.v. des·ig·nat·ed, des·ig·nat·ing, des·ig·nates
1. To indicate or specify; point out
Designing is the practice of creating an object that points out a new issue or problem and then has an answer.