small and big design?

Hi all, while in bed, I was thinking about art and design, and while brainstorming by myself I started to ask questions to myself. so here I am, out of bed, trying to recall what went on in my head and recording it. They may be very disorganized… so sorry about that

Sometime around the beginning of the school year, Tim brown came to my school for a talk session with bruce nussbaum(am I spelling it right?). It was right around the time tim brown had his new book, change by design. I attended the presentation, and not surprisingly, many others came too.

The presentation itself in the beginning, seemed pretty similar to his most recent TED talk at that time.

At one point of the talk he mentioned something like “these days, design is small.” (this is what I recall)

He was talking about how many designers are too concerned about prettiness, rather than substance.(something like that. May be wrong). And the word “small” seemed very demeaning of romantic/subjective prettiness.

I wanted to ask during the Q&A, but I didn’t have the nerve to speak out in such a massive older students/adult crowd.

Really? is an aesthetically pleasing, simple product less meaningful than a sustainable water storage unit designed for africa?
Of course aesthetics are applied to highly functional objects. But I guess the problem was, what I kind of got from his words were; if a product does not contribute to the advancement/benefit/necessity of mankind, it is not a good design.

So for an example, a high end designer furniture does not really solve any problems. The technology for sitting down is already here. But they are unique and possibly more aesthetically pleasing than many other furniture in the market.

So would this high end designer furniture be less “valuable” or “meaningful” than a chair that is sturdy and lightweight and pollution free and affordable because it does not serve a better, so called, “purpose?”

The high end furniture would be serving an emotional desire or need for a few people - Is that not as important as necessity?

emotional desire could also be said as indulgence - is that not a necessity for everybody? (not only talking about LV bags or fast cars, but the concept.)

I know a lot of people strictly divide between art & design, but a lot of the leading schools in industrial design are art schools that require a portfolio consisting of few, if not all, fine art pieces. why is that so? If design really should be about developing something tangible, shouldn’t design schools require more science and math?

It seems like a lot of people seem to have an negative attitude towards design with more subject than object. I don’t understand this.

I guess I have these thoughts because I think design as art. I define art as “an autonomy of ideas or emotions expressed through a physical medium, that does not have a direct relationship to ones survival (instinct).”

so an ipod would still be art/design to me, since it does not have a direct relationship to our biological survival (seems like it is these days though)

but once design plays a role in…lets say… literally saving the world - that would be more engineering/science/design. not art.

Since some time, everybody is like “sustainability, sustainability, sustainability, more green, green…” I know that it is a critical issue, but I cant help but feel like the designers got punched in the face in a boxing match, and they’re so busy picking up the broken teeth, they forgot about the fight.


I believe that a good product is a product that connects with the user at an emotional level, which can be achieved by many factors more or less. I also believe that the majority of those connections are made through aesthetics.


at this point I don’t even know what Im talking about. haha…got it out of my system though…

Im a young student, so please enlighten me if I sound stupid, or ask to clarify certain things if needed.

Thank you for those who read. :smiley:

I really believe you have some good points and questions.

In general I think design can be small. I say this because the majority of designers (in all areas of design) are working for companies that only care about making money. In order to do this you have to pump out new and pretty designs every so often in order to keep the public’s attention and keep adding to their wallets. This pays the bills and drives our economy. I could be wrong but there seems to be little financial reward for designing the “big” items that helps to solve the problems of people in a country with no money to pay for your product. I realize there are probably some non-profit companies that pay for these designs but in general it seems to go against the capitalist ideas we have here in the US and most of the other developed countries.

I will try to take on the furniture issue here since I like designing the stuff.

For the most part people “need” furniture to help fulfill some of the basics of life (storage, working and relaxing). This furniture really doesn’t have to look great as long as it serves it’s purpose, however it’s always a positive if it looks nice.

When I say they “need” the furniture, most people really don’t. For the basics in life I think most people could get by perfectly fine without furniture including chairs and such. There are many arguments that can be made for furniture causing more harm to society than it has helped out. We feel the need to buy stuff which in turn leads to needing a place to store stuff, with in turns leads to the creation of stuff which we simply do not need. The cycle just keeps going and going. Chairs are probably one of the worst things we have came up with. They encourage you to become sedentary, locking you in a fixed position. Chairs also help to limit flexibility since we no longer sit how our bodies evolved to sit. Many physical problems we face today can directly be related to the use of chairs. In the past chairs were a sign of power as they helped raise kings above their followers. Because of this, chairs started to become a coveted item and worked their way into the fabric of society even though they were not needed. I’ll try and stop now before I go on too long about this. I realize that furniture is here to stay and that our bodies will eventually evolve and cope with it.

Because of the culture/history of chairs most architects and a lot of industrial designers feel the need to design one. Speaking from the architect’s point of view… the chair you design can embody your whole design ethos. Most of the time you will only design one, maybe two chairs in your career. So you better make it right.

On that note, if you are going to design something, why not do your best to make it attractive? While making something pretty is not inherently a bad idea, there has to be a basic level of substance to it. With a chair, you better hit the basic ergonomic features of it, otherwise you are wasting yours and everyone’s time.

Just hitting the basics of the ergonomics may be the basic features needed for a chair, but with our knowledge we should no longer just use whatever materials we want without regard to the environment. Environmental responsibility should be ingrained in every designers head, it’s no longer a choice. I could go on and on but I will stop for fear of sounding like the unabomber thinking we have become a virus on this planet :laughing:

With that little rant, I really do feel that furniture as well as the whole designed environment can have an emotional impact for the good.

With furniture there seems to be 3 schools of thought. The first is to mass produce crap to make money with designing for the lowest common denominator. The second is to design high end furniture that serves a purpose and has a more targeted market. The third is to design furniture for art’s sake, this includes a lot of the studio furniture that is produced. typically these are one off pieces that can function as furniture or merely look like furniture to make some sort of statement.

With furniture it really all depends on what your market is. While I love looking at the designs of Ross Lovegrove, Zaha Hadid, etc… the furniture they make does no good for the community as a whole. When you start doing that, the furniture becomes more of an art piece that should only be shown in a museum somewhere.

With furniture it would be great if there were more pieces out there that had style + substance. Unfortunately in the US most people buy furniture based on price alone with little regards to substance and style.

All in all I feel the art and design are one. you have some good designs and some bad designs. sometimes the art of design changes from art with a lowercase “a” to Art with a capital “A”.

Hopefully I made sense :wink:

You might want to check out Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if you aren’t already familiar with it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs

Basically, it sets up a scale of “need” on which all products fall. There are those that substantiate a more basic need (ie. food, shleter, safety) and those that hit a higher need (ie. security, friendship, or self-esteem). All, in my mind are valid. The basic premise is that you can’t look to higher needs unless you have those more basic needs taken care of. That is, a person won’t care about self-actualization (morality, creativity, etc.) if they don’t have the more base needs taken care of (if you have no food, or shelter, you won’t care where it comes from or if morality to get it is in place).

All that being said, I believe that design can and does function in all these areas. Big, small or otherwise are only relative.

Knowing where your design/product fits on this scale is important to know the key drivers. I once (sorry, no data/links) read a report on how mobile phones are linked to security and safety, a second level need, and pretty base. This was despite the gadgets appearance as a status or trivial object.

Sometimes, tracing the key “need” is important to understand the user and where design plays a role.

R