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Rick Poynor

Fear and Loathing at the Design Museum


The Design Museum in London, one of the few museums dedicated to contemporary design, is reeling after a difficult month. At the end of September, James Dyson, design entrepreneur and inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, accused the museum of "ruining its reputation" and "neglecting its purpose" and resigned as chairman of the board of trustees. He claimed the place was "no longer true to its original vision" and lambasted it for becoming a "style showcase". His company website spells out his own engineering-led conception of the design process in no uncertain terms: "'design' means how something works, not how it looks - the design should evolve from the function."

In the firing line is the museum's director, Alice Rawsthorn, a former Financial Times journalist appointed in 2001. Rawsthorn has mounted exhibitions by ultra-fashionable shoe designer Manolo Blahnik, hatmaker Philip Treacy, and trendy 3D designers such as Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Hella Jongerius and Marc Newson (now showing). None of this sat well with Dyson, who initiated an exhibition about heroic Victorian engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, in 2000, but it was the current exhibition about mid-century society flower arranger Constance Spry that proved the final straw.

Adding to the controversy, the museum's founder and benefactor, Terence Conran, one of British design's most prominent figures, made no secret of sharing Dyson's views. "I cannot be involved if it goes on like this," he told The Observer. In a letter to The Guardian, he drove home the point: "James Dyson and I are confused by the 'high-society mimsiness' of Constance Spry and its suitability for the Design Museum . . . which was set up to explore the industrial design of quantity-produced products. We both understand the importance of style, but at the moment there is very little content at the museum and we want to see the balance redressed."

The British newspapers, not usually quick to give design much serious consideration, swooped on the story, and even The Washington Post took notice. The focus, inevitably, has been less on the design issues raised by the dispute, and more on the three strong-willed personalities involved, with Rawsthorn, in particular, subject to some less than fair criticism. Her reaction has been to preserve a diplomatic silence.

For many bemused onlookers inside the design world, though, Dyson's complaints were not only mistimed, but curiously out of touch with evolving public perceptions of design. Editorials in support of Rawsthorn appeared in Creative Review, Grafik and Blueprint. Under her dedicated leadership, which no one questions, the museum's exhibitions programme was in better shape than it had been in for years, especially to anyone with an interest in visual communication.

In 1990, the year after it opened, the museum presented the masterly "Graphic Design in America" conceived by the Walker Art Center; exhibitions about the Dutch post office and Czech avant-garde with a strong graphic component; and shows devoted to the British designers Abram Games and Hans Schleger. It seemed to promise great things, but under director Paul Thompson (1991-2001), now director of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York, the museum appeared to lose interest in graphic design and there were no exhibitions about the subject of comparable ambition and significance during his time. From 1996 to 1998, funding difficulties meant the entire exhibition programme had to be scaled back.

Attendances dropped during the recession and tourism slump that followed 9/11, but since March 2001 visitors have increased by 20 per cent. Rawsthorn has put the museum back in the public eye and graphic design is finally receiving the attention it deserves as part of the mix. Last year's widely reviewed Peter Saville retrospective drew 59,816 visitors. The Saul Bass exhibition, which has just closed, drew 65,550. (Brunel, by comparison, attracted 31,299.) Next year, Rawsthorn plans a long-overdue exhibition about influential American graphic designer Robert Brownjohn, who worked in London during the 1960s. Her initiatives, such as the Designer of the Year prize, have helped to make the museum an essential place to visit despite its slightly awkward location.

Conran has done as much as anyone to make the British style-conscious - with his Habitat stores, Conran shops, string of restaurants, and frequent invocations of the pleasures of the good life - so it was ironic, to say the least, to see him become agitated about a floral designer who likewise focused on beautifying the home. Dyson's first cleaner, one might also note, was a costly cult item in fashion-conscious Japan before it took off in Britain and around the world. Stylish looks, quite as much as cyclonic technology, was the thing that set his brightly coloured product line apart in the shops.

Both Conran and Dyson have contributed to a cultural climate in which style is a priority. Design Museum visitors understand that appearances have become vital transmitters of meaning, as well as a way of adding commercial value. While the uses of style should be rigorously examined and where necessary critiqued, it's entirely appropriate for a museum focusing on design to acknowledge and investigate the inextricable relationship of form and content, style and purpose, in contemporary life.

More than one observer has noted the whiff of misogyny that seemed to emanate from this middle-aged, masculine emphasis on engineering and against-the-odds invention versus such supposed fripperies as shoes, hats and - so it appeared - graphic communication. Perhaps some of the areas addressed by the museum's exhibitions do appeal more to its many women visitors, but so what? The boys can make a beeline for an exhibition about the evolution of the E-type Jaguar, showing on the same floor as Spry.

With any luck, this storm in a teacup will now blow over and Rawsthorn and her team will be allowed to get on with the task of developing one of Europe's most valuable design institutions. After a meeting of the trustees on 28 October, the museum announced that Conran had been invited to become "Life President and Life Trustee . . . in recognition of his unique contribution as its founder" - a signal that he has decided to stick around, after all. The search for a replacement chairman is under way.


Posted in: Design History, Museums, Product Design

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Comments [33]
The search for a replacement chairman is under way.
And how, pray tell, would you be addressing this new appointee if she is to be of the feminine gender?
Shahla
10.29.04
07:20

"For centuries, it has been he, when he or she was meant; must we now, in the name of fairness, ostentatiously alternate the usage or use both and thereby give brevity a shot in the teeth? Must 'everybody should watch his language' now become 'everybody should watch his or her language,' or worse, 'their language'?
"Etymologists know that the word man, going back to the Sanskrit manus, means 'human being' and is sexless. Although man and woman are differentiated in English, the universal meaning of man to encompass both sexes remains. Why accept a fiat from anti-sexism headquarters to change it now?
"Cool it, humankind; let the language change in its own time, not to fit the schedule of any -ism. Resist the linguistic importunings of those who say, 'Get with it, man.'"

William Safire, Fumblerules - A Lighthearted Guide to Grammar and Good Usage (New York, 1990) page 66.

-----

I only fall back on Mr Safire because I would hate to see Mr Poynor's insightful article buried under a pile of responses on the subject of language versus political correctness. I'm sure that Mr Poynor was thinking about the replacement chair------ as a human being of any sex.
chester
10.29.04
08:17

This bias towards industrial design is not limited to the Design Museum. Articles about "design" in the popular press or in business publications are almost always illustrated with pictures of objects, and often the Usual Suspects: Oxo Good Grips kitchen tools, Apple electronic hardware, and, yes, the Dyson vacuum cleaner.

Human insecurities about the vagueness of aesthetics and taste -- Aren't they just a matter of opinion? How do you write about them? Are they serious issues? -- seem to be assuaged by the tough specificity of engineering, ergonomics and commerce. You get the first two with a vacuum cleaner but not a poster.

As for commerce, okay, graphic designers make things that help sell other things. But product designers actually make things that are themselves sold. In the rough hierarchy of capitalism, that's one notch higher on the ladder. Aren't Conran and Dyson simply following the money?
Michael Bierut
10.29.04
11:55

Thanks for stepping in there, Chester. "Chairman" was the word used in the Design Museum press statement sent to me by a female press contact. English English is a bit more relaxed about these matters where the PC alternative (chair? chairperson?) feels clumsy, but of course Dyson's replacement, like the director, could be a woman.

Michael is absolutely right about the enduring cultural bias towards industrial design, especially in the media. There are so many examples. In Britain, The Independent Magazine (a supplement to the paper) recently published a design special, with Conran as none-too-surprising cover story. They did manage to nod towards record covers in a side bar, but design was overwhelmingly presented as an object-designing activity. Meanwhile, in the Independent on Sunday's Sunday Review magazine, a "100 Designs We Love & Hate" cover story in September failed to mention a single example of graphic design - unless accounts books qualify - and not one of the 50 participants interviewed came from the graphic design world. (Someone did hate Dyson's cleaners, though.)

Alice Rawsthorn's personal interests probably do incline more towards 3D design and fashion, but she has the vision to see that graphic communication calls out for the same curatorial attention. It's from initiatives such as hers that a more all-embracing media and public understanding of design may eventually emerge.
Rick Poynor
10.30.04
05:33

My understanding was that the main push for the design museum was due because there was a feeling in the late 80s that Britian was behind other nations like Germany and Japan in terms of industrial design - i.e. product design.

But this narrow mindset always overlooked the importance of graphic design, and the larger realm of communication arts (which also includes film, music and yes even flower arranging).

Graphic design is about ideas, which are as important as the commerce of trinkets, chachkies, and doohickies. An electric broom huckster has no devine right to tell us what design is and isn't. I wouldn't question Dyson's expertise on lint picking, but one needs to have a bit more of an open mind.

Michael Pinto
10.30.04
06:36

In the surface-obsessed world of the general press (as opposed to writings on design specialism), graphic design may be seen as something an epitome of style over substance in the design world - after all, whilst it is the practical function of an industrial product that deems its design suitability, it is the aesthaetic considerations that are held up as the quintessence of the style debate. Therefore, since, to the lay/every[person], graphic design is deemed less practical function and more surface aesthetic - bearing no practical role beyond amplifying the 'actual' service/product/issue in focus, or the advertising of its own mere existence - it does perhaps incur wrath as a stylistic-driven discipline. Beyond any debates of gender, if exhibitions commissioned under Alice Rawsthorn's helm redressed this (Saville, Bass, etc), it could only be a good thing.
Ashley May
10.30.04
06:45

I have noticed that pieces concerning design in the mainstream press are usually (not-so-)thinly-veiled shopping lists, from Wired's "Fetish" section to the Financial Times' "How To Spend It" supplements to Wallpaper magazine in its entirety. (The travel sections of these last two publications offer readers lists of sites one has to see, restaurants one has to eat at, and stores one has to shop at.)

Except for the odd book - such as Taschen's GOAT - or vintage Saul Bass movie poster, graphic designs simply don't have the price tag or bling factor to warrant the attention in our acquisitive and consumerist societies. An Eames chair, a Boontje chandelier, or a Dyson vacuum cleaner do have suitably impressive price tags and bling factor. And they're beautiful, useful, and very very designed.

I would never claim any more than basic knowledge of Marxism or Post-Industrial Revolution History, but it seems to me that the more one has, the more one feels one needs to get. And get it one can. And get it one needs to, since the old agrarian days of self-sufficiency are long gone; we are amped-up traders. We now - for the most part - earn our bread through the specialist pursuit of a single specialist vocation; or rather, we earn the money that we can then spend on bread, or on fancy vacuum cleaners.

Shows at design musea are viewed very differently by their attendees than shows at art musea. At an art museum we are presented with a collection of one-of-a-kind works; we go to admire them in their singularity, to spend some time in the same physical space as a work of genius. At a design museum we are presented with a collection of (usually) mass-produced objects which we may have in our homes, or could do if we go out shopping later. Some musea oblige us with a well-stocked shop at street level. (Is it rude of me to suggest that the MoMA Stores - the SoHo branch is 55 blocks south of the museum! - loaded as they are with objects "from the permanent collection of MoMA", are doing a disservice to the objects in question?)

I'm not accusing design museum curators of pandering to our consumerist ways; it just seems to me that many designed objects succeed as designs because people want to own them, and a vacuum cleaner is simply more covetable than a poster or a way-finding system or a typeface.
chester
10.30.04
10:06

It's true. I am sure he was thinking of the new chair being of any sex. And it is a good article. So the better question would be, given that this shake-up is also a little bit about the 'Venus and Mars' idea of communicating styles differing between the sexes, who are the female candidates in Britain today who could take this new position?

A jokey aside: Saturday Night Live's piece on Dyson was pretty funny.
Shahla
10.30.04
04:54

One of the reasons i chose to dive into the turbulent world of design was the belief that the only boundries i will have in my career would be the one created by myself. For me it is simple, everything is connected we may practice design in different forms but the philosophy of design and its purpose should be universal regardless of if you are designing a poster or a vaccum cleaner.

Recently i had a discussion with a friend of my who asked me to design a poster for him for an adaptation of "Tempest" he was acting in. The reason being the theatre company putting up the production had produced a awful awful version of their own which only made the light of day because the director of the play sees hardly any connection between the design of the poster and the content of the play to him the poster is secondary and only needed to let people know about the event.

Needless to say i think ALL of it is important. We can't possibly make long term progress in design(EVERYTHING,EVERYTHING) if we do not allow ourselves to open our eyes.
Aashim Tyagi
10.31.04
02:49

I found Dyson's comments quite ignorant towards the decorative arts in general. The magazine or book or poster does not need to be re-designed in format for it to count as functioning design.

Dyson It strikes me is ignorant of the 2d world of functioning spaces and graphic 'machinery'. His anger related to a flower arranging exhibition, but I have no doubt that flower arranging could indeed be elevated to high design status. Why not? If the Vacuum cleaner or table as a household object is worthy of out design adulation why not flower arrangements. Is William Morris not venerated for his wallpaper designs?

Logo's, posters, magazines, books - these are all functioning designs. And don't let Dyson forget it.

dave
11.01.04
05:11

"'design' means how something works, not how it looks..."

Is design not the marriage of form and function? And—unless you dwell completely at either end of the spectrum of pure art or pure industry (if there is such a thing as either)—is design not the commercial middle ground?

Is Dyson's vaccuum considered good design because it is well engineered? Surely, there are more interesting or compelling examples of engineering. Would it have achieved cult status were it not for aesthetics? Would this discussion even be taking place if commerce was not involved?

Something works. Something looks good. Something sells. I don't think these statements are mutually exclusive, and their level of importance is surely a matter of perspective.
Andrew Montgomery
11.01.04
11:08

We're defending flower arranging exhibits by ridiculing the 'bias' towards industrial design?

Dyson is right. Design is how something works. How something works is very much defined by aesthetics as well. Yes design is a marriage of form and function but let's not forget that good design only comes from form following function. Otherwise, it's just flower arranging. Looks nice, but doesn't serve any real purpose.

I don't think Dyson is anti-graphic design. He's anti-'flower arranging'.
Darrel
11.01.04
12:31

Since this discussion has become one about Design with a big D, I offer this definition from Victor Papanek:

"All men are designers. All that we do, almost all the time, is design, for design is basic to all human activity. The planning and patterning of any act towards a desired, foreseeable end constitutes the design process. Any attempt to separate design, to make it a thing-by-itself, works counter to the inherent value of design as the primary underlying matrix of life. Design is composing an epic poem, executing a mural, painting a masterpiece, writing a concerto. But design is also cleaning and reorganizing a desk drawer, pulling an impacted tooth, baking an apple pie, choosing sides for a back-lot baseball game, and educating a child."
- Papanek, Victor. Design for the Real World. Pantheon Books: New York, 1971, page 3.

Or arranging flowers. Or engineering a vacuum cleaner. While it may make "Professional Graphic Designers" feel good about ourselves and confident in our useful place in the world, we need to get over ourselves. Graphic designers can make very useful contributions to individual lives and society as a whole, in the same way that a flower-arranger does, or a sandwich-maker, or rubbish-collector.

If the Design Museum's stated purview is design on the whole - industrial, fashion, furniture, graphic, etc - then they should give time and space to those many disciplines. But if their purview is specifically industrial design, we should be grateful to Ms Rawsthorn and the curators at the musem for their wide angle design worldview.
chester
11.01.04
01:27

Everyone loves to get down on decorative arts, as if informing a cultural aesthetic is somehow shallow or baseless work. Because it has no 'function'? The aesthetic is the function. I've seen some wallpapers and ceiling moldings that have blown my mind.

Sure, I thought that flower arranging exhibit was crap, but that judgement is based on the work itself: ugly flowers arranged in generic, obvious ways (however meticulously).
Ahrum Hong
11.01.04
01:32

"then they should give time and space to those many disciplines."

But flower arranging isn't design. It's art. ;o)

Does it server a purpose? Absolutely, but perhaps not in a design museum.
Darrel
11.01.04
02:07

I have not seen the Constance Spry exhibition, and have no knowledge of the woman or her work. It may be beautiful and revolutionary, or it may not. But the curators at the Design Museum thought that there was a show there, and they set about making it. I defend the curators' decision to stage an exhibition of "floral design" because it broadens the scope of what is viewed as design, and that can't be a bad thing. I know that my Papnek-influenced inclusionism may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it seems to me that musea and other publically-funded institutions have a duty to reach and represent the greatest number of people.

To Mr Austin I say this: It's ridiculous and counterproductive to try to compartmentalise everything, to put flower arranging in the box marked "art" does it little service. Are Renaissance frescoes "art", or are they "decoration" or perhaps "iconography"? It doesn't change the frescoes if you change your label for them. If they served a purpose, does that make them less artful and less worthy of attention?

Why shouldn't flower arranging be displayed and discussed in a design museum? Under your rules, no design would be displayed in art museums. And the recent exhibition of motorcycles at the Guggenheim in New York? That obviously wouldn't pass muster.
chester
11.01.04
02:43

I defend the curators' decision to stage an exhibition of "floral design" because it broadens the scope of what is viewed as design, and that can't be a bad thing.

But I think that's exactly Dyson's point...it can be a bad thing. It can let decoration trump substance. I think you have a good point, but I find you can easily argue the opposite: that it narrows the scope of what is viewed as design.

If they served a purpose, does that make them less artful and less worthy of attention?

We're *not* talking about an art museum. It's a design museum. As such, I think noting the differences between art and design highly appropriate.

Why shouldn't flower arranging be displayed and discussed in a design museum?

Because it's art. It's subjective. It doesn't solve a real problem other than making things prettier.

Under your rules, no design would be displayed in art museums.

I'm not making any rules for any museum. I'm just saying I can see where Dyson is coming from. The museum was established for a particular purpose...design.
Darrel
11.01.04
04:09

Mr Austin, I'm merely arguing that differentiating between art and design is completely subjective. I say that flower arranging is design and art — and craft and horticulture and perfumery and... — whereas you say that it is art because it doesn't solve a real problem. You're saying that anything "useless" is art, and anything "useful" is design, and I'm arguing that the border between art and design is so wonderfully blurred that it's pointless to try to delineate that border.
chester
11.01.04
04:41

". . . we want to see the balance redressed."

Can we see a woman 'directing' the board? Who are the possible candidates?

I'm puzzled over Rick's silence. Unless his titling of 'Fear and loathing' refers to Thompson's 'motorcycle' writings more than the 'political', I expect a bit more about the battle-of-the-sexes aspect of Dyson's resignation. It seems to me the likelihood of a deserving woman being appointed could now be less than if he had resigned quietly.
Shahla
11.01.04
05:00

James Dyson came to my school (Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design) last week after Michael Bierut posted in Observed IX about this subject.

With the controversy in mind, I asked Dyson if he felt that design programs (industrial, graphic, or otherwise) were mismatched with the typical art school setting. He replied by saying that what I should be learning in school is not so much how to design, but rather, how to think. He noted that when he got out of school, he didn't know anything about vacuums, but he did know how to think, and that led him to creating successful solutions. The process of effectively thinking about a problem will bring about an appropriate and effective solution - let the design follow a path defined by the problem.

Dyson's vacuum cleaners intentionally use engineering features as visual design elements. The conic shape of the eight small cyclones around the top of each vacuum creates a dramatic shape, but they are in place to serve a purpose first. During his lecture, Dyson was asked about this issue and said, "I believe that function is beautiful."

I come from Denver, where the vast majority of "design solutions" are visual in nature almost exclusively. Few problems get solved here. Malls get torn down every 15 years. Virtually nothing is permanent. We don't create anything that lasts because designers here refuse to actually solve problems. Many "creatives" here create problems rather than actually trying to solve them. I hope that's not what they mean by "creative." I don't feel that these types of things are design because they have no purpose - they are just decorative, temporary, visual garbage.

While I don't necessarily think design museums should shun exhibits about fashion and flowers, they should give equal time to vacuums and airport signage. It would be pretty neat if the design museum held two simultaneous exhibitions of opposing ideas about what design means. Maybe that should be the role of a design museum - to stimulate conversation about the meaning of the word.
Ryan Nee
11.01.04
05:33

Hear! Hear! (Thumps desk.)
chester
11.01.04
05:39

I'm merely arguing that differentiating between art and design is completely subjective.

While there are subjective differences, there are also very concrete differences between the two...especially when narrowing the focus down to 'design'.

As Shahla mentions, Dyson, like myself, agree that good design can only be judged if there is a concrete problem to solve. You need to compare the solution and see how it fits into the original problem's definition.

Art CAN fit into that same description, but often does and is much more abstract than that.

It's important to see the differences between art and design...even if the line in between them is blurry. I think Dyson wanted this museum to show that difference.

You're saying that anything "useless" is art, and anything "useful" is design

No, I'm not.

I'm saying that a good design solution has a comprehensive design brief that outlines the specifics of the problem that needed solving. Art does not need this to be a succesful piece of art. Art/Decoration can stand on aesthetics alone. Good design can't.
Darrel
11.01.04
05:49

I think we're merely debating if there should be separate Art Museums and Design Museums, or if Art and Design should always be lumped together in museum settings. People can certainly disagree on this.

Darrel
11.01.04
05:52

"I come from Denver, where the vast majority of 'design solutions' are visual in nature almost exclusively [...] We don't create anything that lasts because designers here refuse to actually solve problems."

I wonder if your references are more towards architectural/urban planning solutions, in which case, I'm in full agreement with your post. I take exception with the same arguement against graphic design.

The functional problems that need to be addressed with a logo or a poster are pretty insignificant compared to the considerations one needs to keep to design a building or a vacuum cleaner. Of course, a map that fails to help people wayfind is a failure by definition, but how many of our projects are even that logistically complex? The problems that need to be addressed by graphic designers are, as our title would seem to indicate, very much visual. Visually wedding the culture you live in with the content's purpose, furthering the aesthetic sophistication of your audience -- these are not small problems that are "beneath" us. We are essentially our city's decorators whether we like it or not (I do).
Ahrum Hong
11.01.04
10:17

Shahla, sexual politics is certainly one aspect of this story and anyone is free to pursue this side of the discussion. I don't know what purpose it would serve for me to list high-flying women in design who might replace Dyson. I'd be no more inclined to propose a list of men. Any ambitious, knowledgeable, diplomatic, well-connected woman could presumably do it. I omitted to mention that Rawsthorn was a Design Museum trustee before she became director.

A day after writing this post, I found myself passing by some Dyson cleaners in a department store. I already own a Dyson cylinder cleaner bought a few years ago for its mixture of visual and technological allure. But, comparing it to the design of the current product line, it now looks almost restrained. The outer form of these newer cleaners may reflect the shape of their interior components, but the styling - and it is styling - goes much further than is necessary in strictly functional terms (one of them is even called De Stijl.) The colour combinations are extraordinary - yellow/purple, red/purple, lime/purple - and colour is used fetishistically to highlight even the smallest design details, such as a suction release trigger picked out in yellow against the silver hose. The dual cyclone and root cyclone plastic mouldings, which curve and bulge enticingly with a sense of pent-up suction energy, are always emphasised and celebrated with a burst of radiant colour.

Dyson cleaners present themselves as futuristic weapon systems for waging war on dirt. They offer domestic combatants high-velocity airflow tools, motorised brushes, quick-release wands with telescopic reach, removable tool holsters. The filth itself is fetishised. Having vanquished it, we can admire the results of our handiwork and examine all that neutralised dust and detritus trapped inside the transparent drum - another not entirely necessary design decision. Dyson may imagine that the success of his cleaners is solely down to their technological innovations, but someone at his company has a brilliant mastery of product semiotics and the cleaners are superbly programmed as visual objects to press consumers' buttons.
Rick Poynor
11.02.04
07:36

The functional problems that need to be addressed with a logo or a poster are pretty insignificant compared to the considerations one needs to keep to design a building or a vacuum cleaner.

I agree in the sense that a badly designed poster isn't going to make anyone horribly uncomfortable or injure them. But it could do them a disservice.

The graphic design in Denver example that came to mind was the identity for the Denver Public Library. Somebody designed it in the 80's and made a gigantic graphic standards manual and had it all down to extreme specifics about how the system was to be used and not abused. The designers failed to take into account that librarians -- not designers -- create and print short runs of almost all of the library's brochures and publications. The entire identity system, according to the head librarian, "broke almost immediately." They spent all of this money on a solution that didn't work for the organization, and now the lack of coherence and consistency in the entire system confuses users.

I believe that it's hard to build a graphic system that works well, looks great, and is easy to use. Look at Apple for example: all of their solutions look amazing, but they also work extremely well, and they are always consistent with each other -- whether the solution is graphic, architectural, industrial, or personal. And isn't that why people love Dyson's vacuum cleaners -- because they work well, look great, and are easy to use?

Maybe good design solutions don't necessarily need to have longevity (a poster may only be up for a day), but they at least need to take into account some kind of user or business needs. Sometimes designers seem to fail to ask themselves, "What am I trying to do? What am I trying to say? What problem am I trying to solve? How can that be best solved?"

Is a trip to a flower arranging exhibition going to make me a better designer? Maybe. But an exhibit on vacuums, as I found out a week ago, can be inspiring.
Ryan Nee
11.02.04
01:15

Well made points, Ryan. I never intended that usability/legibility/clarity should be tossed in favor of some more esoteric aesthetic goal. Allow me to clarify: I find that many designers decide that they are 'good enough' with visuals and spend all their time thinking about the concept (and even the thinking part is usually done poorly, but that's another discussion). This results in a lot of branding and ads that are sort-of-clever, but which display horribly derivative and obvious sensibilities towards texture, color, depth, etc. (I'm thinking mainly of Apple's iPod ad campaign here, and they are hardly the worst culprit).

Being a 'visual person,' as so many people in this discipline claim, does not mean you stop growing visually once you've learned a color wheel and have looked at a few nice typesettings from the mid-20th Century. And it certainly doesn't mean that you use hot pink because it stands for 'retro and wild.' It requires active vigilence in creating an image that is honest with the audience and true to the content -- and it's a lot harder than most designers I've met seem to believe.

Forgive me if this rambles a bit; it's something I'm just starting to grapple with. In any case, I'm severely off topic here. Let's go vote.
Ahrum Hong
11.02.04
03:05

If you've ever tried to use James Dyson's vacuum cleaner, you'd actually find that it isn't as easy to use as it looks. You may need a degree in engineering to use it.
Ken Kelleher
11.02.04
05:06

Alice has been doing a great job at the Design Museum: Interesting and varied shows (Smithsons, Archigram, Superstudio as well as those mentioned above). Dyson and Conrans reaction is probably more to do with the fact that they don't get her take on design as something more than a product. The British have a big problem with design as a cultural activity. They are suspicious of ideas in design. Hence Dysons description of design-as-engineering. Just look at British architecture. British High Tech pursues aestheticised engineering with remarkable and beautiful obsession but at the expense of everything else architecture can be. Design as an intellectual, social, or political activity is best left to those mysterious intellectuals on continental Europe. As for Terrance Conran, he's often described as 'one of Britians top designers' but I couldn't name a single noteworthy project. His firm churn out slick-ish hotel lobbies and contemporary-esque restaurants that are nothing but style. He certainly is a visionary retailer and talented promoter. Perhaps Conran felt snubbed that Rawsthorn overlooked his seminal book 'Terence Conran's Decorating With Plants' (from $1.08 at amazon, if you're interested).
sam jacob
11.03.04
03:20

Reading about London Design Museum debate I realize more then ever that I will never be tired of saying DESIGN IS ONE.
The field of design is enormous, and the areas covered by the museums are more then legitimate. They all represent designs with a purpose in mind, that is why they are Design and not Art.
There is a lot of ambiguity today around the subject of Design and Art, and I find it worthy of investigation, in order to better understand the roles and articulate the concept.
Massimo Vignelli
11.06.04
05:23

For another perspective on this subject, read the article at Core 77 by Amos Klausner on The New Strength of Style. I don't find the Louis Sullivan analogy very convincing, but this article should be a part of this archive.
William Drenttel
11.13.04
06:15

I find this thread proves that:
a) Gentlemen Prefer Blogs, and
b) if you dare be the first to comment make sure you say something 'nice' first -then proceed with your criticism.

In a careful reading of the WSJ article I came across a direct clue to the title of this thread. Paul Thompson was Rawsthorne's predecessor. I'd missed that. And Paul had, at the time of the writing of the WSJ article, refused to comment about the matter with Alice, James, and Terence.

On function: A Dyson gathers the dried-up petals and powdery pollen dust of flower arrangements which serve both visually as well as through olfaction, as mood boosters in the home or office.
On form: Flower arrangements are neither miserable nor flimsy and are in fact preferable to the artificial scents emitted from electric plug-in devices or the newer battery operated stand alone scent dispensers we're currently seeing advertised.
Shahla
11.20.04
06:14

"'design' means how something works, not how it looks - the design should evolve from the function."

Seems a bit of a banal comment. But then he does make vacuum cleaners. Design is acomplishing the task, according to the brief, to the customers satisfaction and getting paid on time.
D Shadbolt
11.21.04
10:44



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