Design is Everything! Or Nothing? Design is everywhere: On the toothpaste tube, the alarm clock, the jam glass, the bread bag. Cars, bicycles and subways are as much ‘designed’ as mobile phones, clothing and restaurant menus. Houses are designed, just like light switches and street signs. Even gravestones are designed.
Design is so omnipresent, that in fact we notice the object rather than the design itself. One finds billboards with the Coca-Cola Logo not only in urbanised regions, but even in the middle of the desert. Through its omnipresence, design has an enormous influence on society that no one can ignore. And still, what do we actually know about design?
In the public domain, the term is often used in a random and inflationary way: Designer jeans, hair design, design hotels, designer furniture, designer jewellery, etc. But isn’t every pair of jeans a pair of designer jeans? Ultimately, everything is ‘designed’. Is then everything that is created design, or is it only design when a designer creates it?
When is a person a designer? Exclusively when he has earned an academic degree, or when he receives public acclaim for his work? How does design work? Und what about design doesn’t work? With what should one measure its functionality? Is design art or science, or is it both? What is timeless design? What is a design classic? And is beauty always a matter of taste?
In design colleges, one finds few answers to these questions. Although answers are given in abundance to the question of ‘How?’, scant few are given to the question of ‘Why?’, and even fewer to the question of ‘For what purpose?’. Copious amounts of time are dedicated to training in the craft, but seldom to a deep, theoretical understanding of design. Design is seen as a ‘practical’ discipline. Theory is often neglected as outside of the scope. Furthermore, design decisions are often made based on ‘feeling’. This
offers the designer, on the one hand, great freedom to make decisions based on his mood and without much ‘brain work’. On the other hand, exactly that often leads to ‘thoughtless’ design.
During my second year of study towards a Master of Arts at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, I began to also look outside of the university for answers to basic theoretical questions about design. I asked experts, read books, observed, listened, questioned and philosophised. The insights from my research are not final truths about design, but are rather an incitation to question and to think, and to ignite a philosophical discourse about knowledge and wisdom in design, just as the word philosophy implies: ‘philosophia’ literally means: ‘Love of wisdom’. In this case, the love of wisdom in design. Wisdom, not for its own sake, but rather with the intention of attaining a deeper understanding of design in order to make the job of the designer easier, and to improve design quality.