What is Design?
Did it occur to you that everything surrounding us has been designed by somebody, somewhere, at some point? I was twenty-five years old when I read a designer called Paul Rand who said:
“Everything is design. Everything”
It hadnt struck me at all for twenty five years that everything surrounding me has been designed! I started to feel guilty that I did not learn about design early enough to appreciate the things that surrounds us, to make them better and to take care of them. From the cup that we drink our morning milk to the book that we read at bedtime, everything that we see, hear or touch is designed.
Yes, cups are designed as well.
Someone has paid attention to the shape and size of the cup that will make it easy for us to drink milk. Someone has chosen the material of the cup — glass, ceramic or steel. Do all cups look the same? No, there are so many cups. Just try collecting all the different types of cups in your kitchen and tell me if you did not spot atleast 10 different cups. Did you ever wonder why we have so many different cups? I asked myself this question and the only convincing answer I got was:
“We all love to design.”
Humans have been designing since time immemorial. We learnt to design tools with stones and bones. With invention of the wheel, we started to design pots and cups using clay. We made bricks and designed houses for ourselves. We then made utensils out of iron and coins out of bronze. The urge to make something and make it better than its predecessor is very human. One of the designers I know said,
“Design is to improve something so as to make our lives better — in some way. Make something work faster, or make something easier, lighter, heavier, simpler, quicker…”
Sometimes, we think design is to beautify something. We want to make it look nice, shiner, brighter, duller and so on. It is perfectly normal to design a cup that looks beautiful. We do not want to hold a cup that looks ugly and drink milk out of it everyday. Do we? But if the beautification becomes the driving factor to design the cup, then we would land up designing a cup just for ourselves, not for others to use. Because what is good looking to us, may not be so good looking for others. Do we agree? If we focus on designing a cup for how it looks, we will never be able to make someone who uses the cup happy. It might look good to them as well, but what if it spills milk all over rather than gently pouring out? One of my children in my design class put the purpose of design nicely in her own words. She said:
“To design is to make something useful for somebody.”
My art teacher asked me to express my world through paintings. I drew a giant cup and made a little girl peep through the rim. Through that painting, I told everyone that I was a curious child looking at the world beyond what i can see. But can that cup be useful to someone? It was an artistic expression. I could have very well drawn a small cup and a giant me. I could color it in blue, pink or red. It wouldn’t have mattered to anyone. But design matters. Design matters to everyone who will use the product we design. It should make their life or work easier.
Design is not about only making something beautiful. Design should make our lives better.
Can you think of an object that made your life better?