Technological Questions and Issues
What is Design?
“Design is that area of human experience, skill and knowledge which is concerned with man’s ability to mould his environment to suit his material and spiritual needs.” 1
Design is essentially a rational, logical, sequential process intended to solve problems or, as Jones put it:
“initiate change in man-made things” 2
For the term “design process,” we can also read “problem-solving process”, which in all but its abstract forms works by consultation and consensus. The process begins with the identification and analysis of a problem or need and proceeds through a structured sequence in which information is researched and ideas explored and evaluated until the optimum solution to the problem or need is devised.
Yet, design has not always been a rational process; up until the Great War design was often a chaotic affair in that consultation and consensus were barely evident. Design was not a total process. The work of participants in the process was often compartmentalised, each having little if any input in matters which fell outside the boundaries of their specific expertise. Thus, participants explored their ideas unilaterally, with one or another participant, through virtue of their “expertise”, imposing constraints upon all others. In this way, the craftsman has a veto on matters to do with skill or availability of materials, the engineer had a veto on technological considerations, and the patron alone could impose considerations of taste and finance.
During the inter-war years the Bauhaus movement attempted to knit the design process into a coherent whole in that students were encouraged to study design in a way that was both total and detailed. That is, designers were expected to balance all the considerations that came to bear upon the design of particular artefacts, systems and environments. In this way, though, design quickly evolved into a closed activity - an activity in which all but the designers themselves has little if any valid input to make on questions of materials, taste . . . and so on. Designers came to exist within a social bubble, consulting no-one but other designers. The result was that many designs conceived particularly during the immediate post-Second World War period did little to satisfy the needs of users. Such designs were exemplified by the disastrous housing policies adopted by many local authorities in the UK who built residential tower block after residential tower block. These were essentially realisations of dreamy design concepts rather than solutions to the social, cultural and environmental needs of the local populations.
Recent years have marked a sharp reaction against the design movement, which has perhaps been personified by Prince Charles and has crusade against architectural “carbuncles”. Likewise, individuals within society have sought to express their own tastes, their own individuality, personal style and personal self-image through what they use and purchase. Thus it is that design is not an activity solely for engineers and designers but is a shared activity between those who design artefacts, systems and environments, those who make them and those who use them.
to be continued