WHAT IS MEANT BY DESIGN TODAY?

Marco De Michelis

 

LET US TRY TO DESCRIBE AND DEFINE WHAT IS MEANT BY DESIGN TODAY.

It is easier to say what design is not. Design is not limited to furniture design, nor interior design, nor car styling.
We can attempt a first approach by addressing the relationship between the body and its surrounding environment. In this way, architecture can be described as the production of the space around the human body: the capsule inside which man establishes his residence. Clothes can be described as an extension of the body itself, one that protects and improves its functions and its feelings. They form something approaching a new skin layer, the shape of which is essentially connected to that of the body. Clothes breathe with us. And finally, design can be described as the interface between the body and its environment: a prosthetic device that enhances its communication to the external world, that makes life and work more comfortable, and that carries out useful functions that improve ours. The chair can be interpreted as a prosthesis. We even call its component parts ‘legs’, ‘arms’ and ‘back’. The dental drill has an ‘arm’ that works as an extension of the dentist’s own arm. Even a pair of skis under the feet transform and enhance the contact between our body and the snow-covered earth, increasing speed and the agility of our movements.

In this perspective, design becomes especially crucial for the disabled. Because here, design is able to act as a substitute for parts of the body, re-establishing lost functions. But even this approach is still only able to explain half of the problem.
Design is, in fact, also a creation of the modern machine age. It is an essential part of this age. One of its particular accomplishments has been the improvement of the quality of industrial products. In this sense, the threshold between architecture and design is not as evident as one would assume. When Joseph Paxton built his Crystal Palace in London for the first World Exhibition in 1851, it was an extraordinary architectural invention. But it was also a masterpiece of modern design, which allowed rapid construction and the prefabrication of all building elements.

The development of building elements – especially of joints – is a crucial part of the history of modern design. Let us focus on the works of the Frenchman, Jean Prouvé, or of the American, Buckminster Fuller. The search for new components, the experimentation of new materials, the approach to new production processes: these are all crucial issues addressed by modern design. In this sense architecture and design are different, and at the same time, share an evident proximity. The same can be said about coats: fashion can be interpreted as a form of communication of design. And technological aspects become increasingly relevant for the textile industry, as well for clothing.
There is another issue that could be useful if addressed – which I hope will be the case. That of the aesthetic nature of design.

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Design Management
VIZO Workshop

“Design makes the Difference”
Brussels, Belgium - 29/30 November 2002

 
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