The Problem with Articulating Design

When trying to articulate the scope of Design Studies, one realizes that language as the bridge between the objects made and the concepts arrived to, often is inadequate. A ‘Designer’ translates needs and desires into objects and ‘Design Studies’ does a translation of the objects to its larger social and cultural constructions, yet this is where language becomes difficult to describe this translation. Especially when, as my seminar last Wednesday discovered, Design covers a scope that cannot be confined or bracketed. We often like nice, neat definitions the same way we are drawn to symmetry because they fit with routinization and progression, however, if we can learn to live with complexity better I think we can learn to live with the fact that the scope of Design Thinking is quite broad.

Design is never one thing, as we have discovered through conversations in our seminar, design is many things and often all at once. As the seminar broke into groups, my group addressed specifically: What is the scope of design? and Do you agree that design is a discipline based on utopian ideals? As I’ve said Design we discovered is not ONE thing, rather it is negotiation, mediation, a method of collaboration, translation of capabilities, imagination, all of which can be applied to many things whether it be graphic design, furniture design, system design, or a business design. In a way it is understanding the choices and conditions that go into a thing. As Clive eloquently put it, the “visual emblemization of configuration”. Of course this vagueness and inclusiveness poses many questions for further study: Is a wide scope an opportunity or a problem? Is it Design if it doesn’t have value?

I think the fact that Design has no laws is a good thing. Yes, we can talk about issues such as quality control (can anyone be a designer?). But truthfully, I think yes if you have the ability to put forth an analysis of objects, systems, things, and be able to be both critical and praising of the art of making, your ideas have the potential to add to those things in a productive way. Also the fact that there are no laws, affords us moments of utopia in the realization that Utopia might not ever be met. In the condition of hyper-capitalism, speed, globalization, and post post-modernism, the idea of a Utopia seems archaic and even fantastical. What would the Utopia even be in the 21c? However, through experiences of objects or systems that make sense, feel right, have some type of intuitive quality, or as Clive describes it is a ‘gift’, we can actually feel and know utopia. The beauty in the freedom allowed in Design, is that rather than capitulating to a constructed reality made for you (that is often made with the aims of homogenization, a reliance on commodity culture, and a desire for objectification), one can defend the right to a way of being configured by the individual herself. This is a value that every individual should cherish. If the discipline of Design in practice  and academia change its myopic view of Design to one that is derived from different contexts, than Design would also more closely resemble 21C culture. Even if that means that Design be accepted as a chaotic study that can include the intangible, incorporeal, and virtual then it would be allowed to change as our culture has. I don’t think this is the easiest thing to do, especially when part of us wants to hold onto ideals of the 20C, perhaps we aren’t quite ready to be the same way the things we have made are being. Maybe its fear, maybe we like tradition, or maybe as discussed before we aren’t quite ready to let go of nature, whatever the reason we are still trying to figure out being modern, which is certainly why Design is unsure of itself.

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