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
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.