why we design? opinions, thoughts, etc

Hi all,

I am doing a presentation tomorrow (wed) morning based on a quote my old lecturer said when I graduated from college a few years back -

After drinking too much beer, and eating to many mussels he stood up and gave his big end of term speak:

“does a world need so many tables and chairs?” he spoke in a slurred mumble, and then fell over.

From his point of view in meant " why do we design?".

So, what I want to ask is why do you design?

I recently went through a ‘design is fickle’ stage and wanted to give up go into primary teaching, but I think I’ve realised that it’s just another thing we do.

What drives design now? Do we have everything we need, and if so what drives us for more?

Chair A was designed in the 50’s and is still as comfortable and usable today. Chair B is designed in the 90’s, it does the exact same as Chair A but is made from the latest materials. Chair B is three times the price of Chair A.

So why buy chair A?

So, honest opinions please.


Paul K

Many trees have died for the hundreds of books written on your topic, some of which you should have read by now.

When blessed with such gifts, people create first out of an inner visceral instinct for self-gratification; secondly, because they hope to earn a living from what they do best and, third only, because they are willing to improve the lot of fellow humans.

In short:

  1. egotism
  2. pragmatism
  3. altruism

If these weren’t true in the order above you wouldn’t see most design books and magazines suffocated by chairs, lamps, shelving units and the assorted tired domestic parapharnelia the flaky design media just loves. Popular media sells its own severely retarded view of the design scene and is, aside from the antiquated ID schools today, the biggest single damage inflicted on the tenure of this profession. Call that tabloid design.

How close is popular portrayal of ID work to daily studio reality is the matter of some debate but chances are good that less glamorous, complex problem-solving design never makes the pages of glossy publications.

Amen to egg…
The best designs are those that go unnoticed…why?

Why is it when a truly innovative design hit the market if it gets any press it is “Wow what a marvel of engineering”. But if a big name designer changes the style lines on a coffee maker “Wow that is the most innovative design to date”. Then people wonder why ID is becoming increasingly thought of as simply product restyling.

Self degradation at its most obvious!

Egg, are you happy?

Unless you start questioning something, then usually there’s no need to delve into the why’s and where’s, which usually means reading or researching.

I started questioning a week ago, so give me time! I have the perfect book awaiting me at the library, but it’s unlikely I’ll have it by 2morrow.

For to often have my only means of research been in books. For this short-project I am scrapping that idea, and seeing what people on my level (students) think. It will hopefully lead to my small group thinking and understanding what we do and why we do it a little more.

I do like you reply though. One of my thoughts was “is design selfish?” to which I think the answer is that, most of the time it can be.

But, egotism isn’t the same as self-gratification. Self gratification can be the simplist inner warmth you feelin knowing that what you’ve done is contenting. It’s very much an emotion. Now, when that leads to seeking the same reception from others, then I believe that when an ego develops.

So why can’t we all be altrusimatic? (selfless). Is it because we all have a the pressure of paying bills, food, etc forced all on us? For me at least helping out our fellow humans is extremally gratifying.

So, my next question would be - what drives design?(I know it’s be somewhat answered). Is it designers forcing there work on the world, or the desiner responding to the consumer? (or a mixture).

It would seem to me that we’re now in a cycle, or rather stuck on a track of producing things because ‘we can’, rather than ‘we need to’

I appreciate your help…there’s two distinct paths appearing on why we design.

I agree with mostof replys above but here are my two cents.
First modern days design is considerd as marketing tool also.Consider Product providing same functionality at same price on what basis customer is going to differentiate ? and here comes design aspect such as styling and ergonomics. Although this is not the reason Design exsists there can be more to it as in your chair example if somebody comes with better design for seating arrengement which totally removes concept of chair itself it will be great design. Also another important point is environment in which prouct is designed changes constantly. for example Chair designed for theaters may not be suitable for chair used by call centre people seating 8 hours continuously. But somwhow it is misconception I think ID is all about styling and ergonomics which is not the case…

there wouldn’t be nearly the amount of design work that there is without Consumerism.

Ultimately we are not curing cancer inventing the internet or solving a major moral dillema

what we are doing is creating more appealing items that will result in higher sales and more profits for the client

individually, we do what we do because we think we can do a better job than the “other guy”

now, what you should be questioning, is how we justify the fact that for all our pretention and soapbox speeches we really are doing nothing more than propagating capitalism.

1 Like

To answer your question, VERY. But I enjoy a good fight, or argument as it may be. Keeps the blood flowing, you know.

Modern, i.e. 20th-century, industrial-design is a by-product of the Industrial Revolution and Ford’s assembly line, among other similar forms of progress to have hit our species. Truth of the matter is designers were originally hired by industry strictly as stylists in an effort to essentially “do like the craftsmen” on a large scale, that is mass-production. This original function hasn’t really evolved since, the major difference today being that industry demands much more of designers (as with everyone) than two centuries ago, while still considering them errant artists on the shop floor. There’s also an enormous amount of discipline crossover now with engineering, production, management, sales, graphics, packaging and so on that designers are held accountable for, that wasn’t the case years back.

We all know how consumer society and corporate share value work. ID is simply another commodity (and a minor one at that) being kicked around. Can’t blame pop media for drooling over primary-colored thin-walled plastic carcasses and cartoonish plastic kitchen gadgets Alessi-style. It’s too tempting, too easy not to label THAT good design. What do you expect the reporters to do - take an engineering course to enlighten the gullible public on Mazda’s RX-8 rotary (Wankel) engine? Skin sells, we know that much. And design skin, for better or for worse, has gone Hollywood. That for the working world.

On an individual creative basis, one can argue anything for or against his/her chosen career path given that anyone can tackle design and join the club on a whim. One thing though remains certain - without industrial mass-production, the INDUSTRIAL type of designer does not exist. I don’t know how you can talk of an activity wholly economically-based as design as something done even marginally out of personal altruism. Those pretending to do are hypocrites or seriously deluded.

Designers are executants in the world of business, never in charge of writing the agenda. I’ll let others tell you why.

I was hoping that would get Egg to reply again. Very insightful. I’m not really going to toss my opinion in on the matter, as I don’t think I have yet the experience to develope my own conclusions (only 4 years exp.)

Egg, you should write a book or something. Your writing skills are excellent. Wish more people on these forums would write well and not be asking “how I be design?”

Good discussion, interesting points :smiley:

So, if we as employed (nearly!) designers are being carried along by the demands of society, are we being irresponsible for continuing to produce products that aren’t a need but greed on the consumers part?

I agree with the whole consumerism drive, but what about things we design as an excercise rather than because they are required.

I got back to my chair. There are a lot of hi-tech chairs on the market, though many do nothing more than the same job a nice steam bent chair does(not the best example, but please go with it). Are we designing new products because we can?, and if so is that when the product becomes self gratifying rather than consumer lead? (i think mi’ve answered my won question there)

I know there is a lot of talk about eco and sustainable design, but maybe cutting down on the products we produce (argh, job losses!) is the way to go? Being more sensible with what we produce? I so, then as egg pointed out we would then be selfless, but would the world be a happier place? Maybe, just maybe there should be four facets to surviving as human - food, shelter, warmth and change.

So what is the drive of consumerism? (dam, I wish I had more time to look into all this!). Why is there a need to buy and and buy and buy?

Dictionary says this about consumerism:

  1. The theory that a progressively greater consumption of goods is economically beneficial.

  2. Attachment to materialistic values or possessions

You it be fair to say consumerism happened because of the industrial revolution?

And finally, does this all matter? If if not, why?!

To understand where I’m coming from, I went through a rough last year and I started to question why I design what are, in essence bits of plastic. Although, I may be making things easier for people, and feeding their wants surelly that and the effects of pollution etc far out weigh me designing?

Then I thought what else I can do and enjoy…and decided to stick with design.

Do I make sense?

I’d also add in agreeance with 6ix, that ‘egg’ you write well. I had to disappear to dictionary.com a few times.

To add some more thoughts as discussion moving to next level. Here are some thoughts from
Gert Selle’s article – Untimely Opinions :- An Attempt to Reflect on Design (Idea of
“When the profound insecurities concealed behind the usual esthetic hurly-burly are considered,
the current preoccupation with design can be regarded as merely a part of the monstrous
machinery of repression, which has discovered the esthetic as the last exploitable raw material.
The esthetic pushes itself through every fissure, spreads out, fills the consciousness, cushions
us against the pressures of modernization and is at the service of every expectation for
compensation. Esthetic experience is uncoupled from authentic experience and knowledge,
leaving only uncommitted play behind.”
The implications are that design is not solving problems of ecological degradation or improving
man’s quality of life proactively. It’s just adding to the problems of consumerism and stress. It
raises the question of “authentic experience and knowledge”.
It is the point of “authentic experience and knowledge” along with “uncommitted play” that I want
to explore further. My question is, “Can new product paradigms create a sense of authentic
experience and knowledge?” I feel no great sense of love for my washing machine inspite of the
ad showing me a woman who kisses it. Like this ad claiming a feel of rush – I wonder? My mixie
or car don’t create sense of knowledge and engage me to play. I must add here that I need my
washing machine, it’s just that I feel no sense of authentic experience and knowledge or
committed play. The need of washed clothes is addressed. I wonder if the need to have a
washed mind can happen next.
Let’s look at the whole picture of human need –
That brings me to my second scenario – the East West model proposed.
This model has evolved from the Maslowian Model of Hierarchy of needs. The basic model
outlines the needs as physiological needs, safety needs, belonging-ness, esteem and selfactualization.
“A wise person who has a strong will to climb up the hierarchy towards self-actualization will
impose upon his needs, a “threshold limit” for satisfaction. Further he will set this threshold limit
as close as possible to the point of separation between his justifiable “appetite” and greedy
desire for each of the need levels. While intrinsic motivation will thrust upwards as soon as
one’s appetite needs are satisfied, the effect of extrinsic motivation will be to increase threshold
limits and draw energies towards the satisfaction of desires.”
Given such a psychology of change, the pertinent question for a product designer is, “Can a
product pro-actively assist in lowering this threshold?” It’s like imagining a whole section of
human beings wanting less, and nobody actually forcing them to do so!! Utopian? I guess, but I
feel that if a whole lot of people can be seduced to want more, then there must be strategy to
reverse the process !!
In Service Management parlance, Customer focussed companies talk of any interaction with a
customer as the “Moment of Truth”. To use this analogy with products, I have observed that the
actual engagement with products like White Goods ends at the time when a product is bought.
All the work that the retail stores, the marketing department and the product designers really do
is really geared to get the “guy” to buy."

Also this discussion provoked some more questons to me.
If Industrial design is all about mass manufacturing?
can Inventor in some scenarios considered as product designer(may not be industrial designer).For example Edison invented light bulb.Can he be considered as IDer.Somebody may argue he used sceintific and technical skills for that but before that he came to some concept of Light bulb which is definately all IDers think they are good at.
any thoughts?

industrial design for me means industrially produced rather than mass-manuactured.

ID in the UK is classed as more technical, whereas product design is more aesthetic, user orientated.

however they’re all under the same umbrella.

There a few threads that run through the entirety of this topic: why is there so much furniture design and what is the cause of the popular design (Alesis). I have yet to see a historical, class or production constraints based response to these questions.

To begin, furniture is large and often heavy, therefore it is difficult to ship. Even Ikea often produces things like sofas in many different countries close to their destination market because of this. There are also many small companies that serve local furniture markets.

Moreover, with regards to furniture, I see a historical element to its current place in the world. Furniture was traditionally made by local artisans and some of that has continued with artists producing designed, high priced furniture. Alesis also continues this tradition, just in a new product category. Alesis produces their designed products similarly to how painters used to have patrons.

Which brings me to class. Design taste runs clear across economic boundaries, but it has to be said that most high design is bought (or paid to be created) by rich people. It is no different to those crazy haut couture clothes that you see on the run ways when you watch a fashion show. These are artistic creations paid for by the bourgeoisie and are in the media because it too is owned by the bourgeoisie (in fact golf, a bourgeoisie sport, pre-empted more popular sports on the networks because the media owners were golf fans).