marcus westbury

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Designers, what do you reckon?

August 24th, 2009 by marcus

My Age column next week is on “Intelligent design” (couldn’t resist the pun) or how design is metamorphasing from function or a skill to a crucial connection point between most other creative fields.

I’m wondering if any designers have any observations or comments about the changing role and perception of design? Particularly interested in the critical culture around design — which in some ways i find more grounded and diverse than that around art at times. I’m generally interested to hear from designers who have any strong views about the ethics, sustainability and role of their profession.

Designers, what do you reckon?

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pete Ottery Aug 24, 2009 at 9:41 am

    dunno if i’m circling neatly around your topic idea – but a bunch of thoughts that come to mind…

    1) on sustainability of the profession… never before has it been this easy for joe public to wake up and google “134 ways to make your text look like chrome” and find an article on the topic which collects examples, tutorials, downloadable brushes (!) and links to someone that’ll do it for you for $2.35 if you still cant. i find this equal parts SCARY and AMAZING. SCARY because if it really makes it easier, will that reduce my value as a designer – cause now everyone can “do it”. AMAZING because that doesnt seem to be the case so far. the internet just keeps growing and people seem to be still having trouble finding design talent.

    2) on the perception of design… 15 year olds know that the ipod has been the most successful mp3 player because it has the best “UI”. that must be a major jump in awareness.

    3) on communication between designers… as a web designer, a lot of us are actually doing work while we’re *inside* (like, in, the computer! 😉 the communication conduit. twitter is open next to our photoshop layers. this can result in explosions of design treatments that spread like swine flu. quite professional, well thought out wordpress templates are only a click away. does this mean everything ends up looking the same, or does it mean the very best design is always about pushing just that little bit further and uncovering something new.

    as i said – not sure if any of that fits yr oine of thought neatly – but theyre some things that sprung to mind.

    cheers,
    pete

  • 2 Ian McArthur Aug 24, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Hi Marcus,

    Here’s a pertinent paragraph from a recent paper I published related to my research into cross-cultural design practice and education…email me if you want to chat more on this…it’s a big topic.

    Ian McArthur

    The role of designers has transformed into a multidisciplinary hybrid unforeseen even a decade ago. Networked digital processes have permeated industry so as to appear ubiquitous. Strong disciplinary skills are taken as given and problem solving abilities, communication skills, collaborative strengths, creative and innovative thinking have become mandatory within information economies . Individuals able to coordinate the synchronisation of parallel processing while dealing with complex, unstructured problems are increasingly in demand (McArthur, McIntyre, Watson, 2007). Appropriate transnational pedagogic models facilitated by digital communication channels are needed if design graduates are to compete in this increasingly globalised economic landscape. To date educationalists have been slow to respond (DiPaola, Dorosh and Brandt, 2004).

  • 3 Matt Kiem Aug 28, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Changing roles and perceptions, critical culture, ethics and sustainability are all vital issues for design. On the whole though I think that in that these things are poorly understood, ineffectual or harmful.

    Design and sustainability generally leads to eco-design. Long critique cut short – eco-design replaces the deck chairs on the Titanic with ones made of locally sourced plantation timber and fabric composed of recycled plastic. The design world continues to dance to a symphony of fetishised images and objects and whole macabre event is proudly sponsored by Bombay Sapphire and IKEA.

    The problem is that through culture, schooling and media, designers are actively discouraged from seeing their profession as fundamental to establishing and reproducing unsustainability. Unsustainability becomes a technical issue that involves refining attributes of products. They don’t see unsustainability as a historical, structurally supported, cultural phenomenon that makes us extremely comfortable in harmful ways of living. They don’t see how designed things interact with other design things, with systems, and with human behaviours to create a condition more complex than LCAs could possibly show. Not seeing this, designers are unable to redirect, by design, a condition put in place by design.

    There are two senses of ‘critical’ that are important – being able to evaluate work in relation to historical/social/material contexts, and being able to design in ways that address critical issues. To this there is effectively no critical culture around design. In fact becoming a designer is a process of induction into an incredibly uncritical culture. It would be a mistake to think that general musings over style, function, creativity, genius, icons, communication, innovation and technology amounts to anything remotely critical. The political has been sucked out of design discourse in favour of instrumental service (even of politics) and the ‘creative subject’. Design is not seen as having a problematic agency that is contestable by design. Until designers gain a critical perspective on design there is little chance they will engage in critical design.

    Effectively no criticism doesn’t mean none, and most of these ideas are stolen from good design theorists like Tony Fry and Anne-Marie Willis.

    I’ve already said too much here, but more ranting of this sort can be found at http://www.trespassmag.com/?p=5365 and amongst much better writings at http://designphilosophypolitics.informatics.indiana.edu/

  • 4 Matthew Kiem Aug 29, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    Changing roles and perceptions, critical culture, ethics and sustainability are all vital issues for design. On the whole though I think that in that these things are poorly understood, ineffectual or harmful.

    Design and sustainability generally leads to eco-design. Long critique cut short – eco-design replaces the deck chairs on the Titanic with ones made of locally sourced plantation timber and fabric composed of recycled plastic. The design world continues to dance to a symphony of fetishised images and objects and whole macabre event is proudly sponsored by Bombay Sapphire and IKEA.

    The problem is that through culture, schooling and media, designers are actively discouraged from seeing their profession as fundamental to establishing and reproducing unsustainability. Unsustainability becomes a technical issue that involves refining attributes of products. They don’t see unsustainability as a historical, structurally supported, cultural phenomenon that makes us extremely comfortable in harmful ways of living. They don’t see how designed things interact with other design things, with systems, and with human behaviours to create a condition more complex than LCAs could possibly show. Not seeing this, designers are unable to redirect, by design, a condition put in place by design.

    There are two senses of ‘critical’ that are important – being able to evaluate work in relation to historical/social/material contexts, and being able to design in ways that address critical issues. To this there is effectively no critical culture around design. In fact becoming a designer is a process of induction into an incredibly uncritical culture. It would be a mistake to think that general musings over style, function, creativity, genius, icons, communication, innovation and technology amounts to anything remotely critical. The political has been sucked out of design discourse in favour of instrumental service (even of politics) and the ‘creative subject’. Design is not seen as having a problematic agency that is contestable by design. Until designers gain a critical perspective on design there is little chance they will engage in critical design.

    Effectively no criticism doesn’t mean none, and most of these ideas are stolen from good design theorists like Tony Fry and Anne-Marie Willis.

    I’ve already said too much here, but more of my ranting can be found at http://www.trespassmag.com/?p=5365 and amongst much better writings at http://designphilosophypolitics.informatics.indiana.edu/

  • 5 Dan Hill Aug 30, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Not sure if this is late (if it is, I apologise, but you know what I’ve been up to!) … Anyway, some of the comments here still seem to suggest design in the old sense, as the end of the development process, which is really styling (and no great loss to the internet) … One of the more interesting developments in design has been its strategic role, in terms of devising products, services and strategy development from the get-go, and being the ball-carrier all the way through that process. IDEO have led on this, amongst many others, and have articulated some of their approach to ‘design thinking’ (as it is sometimes called) in an article for the Harvard Business Review (http://www.ideo.com/images/uploads/news/pdfs/IDEO_HBR_Design_Thinking.pdf). A contrary approach might be ‘critical design’, via Dunne and Raby, which employs design to open up and frame questions rather than ‘simply’ problem-solve. There are a couple of leads. There’s loads in this topic, of course, and it’s increasingly difficult to define what design is and isn’t (which is a good thing). I can think of no more important role than designer, to be honest, but then I’m a designer.