Thursday, December 01, 2005


Why would engaging with the discourse happening across a conventional boundary between domains (art and design) prove an effective strategy to transcend the pathologies and conventions of individual axiomatic domains?

Of the axiomatic domains, ‘design’ is distinctive in that the term itself is used as both a noun and a verb, placing emphasis on what practitioners do, rather than what they produce (Flusser, 1999 and Fairs, 2004.) ‘Art’ and ‘architecture’ are products - whereas ‘design’ is a process. Rather than being a weakness - as has been discussed elsewhere (Krippendorff, 1995.) this condition can be seen as a strength. Indeed, the impetus behind the call to ‘redesign design’ is the defence of the discipline from colonisation from ‘harder’ disciplines such as engineering, marketing, and business. Arguably from this point of view, design is now also under threat from the ‘softer’ discipline of art. This study proposes that this situation can be viewed as a strategic advantage – it affords practitioners the opportunity to engage with a wider (transdisciplinary) discourse; a second-order understanding of theory; and the ability to engage with a range of new aesthetic, cultural, psychological, economic and social conditions.

Design is an interdisciplinary, integrative process comprising both a professional field and an intellectual discipline (Friedman, 2000.) However, currently within the field there are strongly contested arguments as to what this constitutes. This is most easily indicated by the disagreement at London’s Design Museum between ex-Chairman, James Dyson and Director, Alice Rawsthorn (Fairs, 2004.) This collision of ideologies appears to have emerged out of a tacit, redefinition of what design can be; from an expanded perspective and in light of the impact of a transition to an information-based economy. This high-profile and much publicised difference of opinion serves to indicate a need for new frameworks of theory and research to address this problem.

Etymologically, the root of the word “design” is connected to “art” and “technology” (Flusser, 1999.) Historically, art and technology have been increasingly culturally segregated with design forming a sort of bridge between the two (ibid.) This can be traced from the time of the Renaissance onwards, culminating in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century with the Arts and Crafts Movement’s critical stance on industrialisation giving rise to the unified aesthetic of Art Nouveau in opposition to undesigned everyday existence (Tomes & Armstrong, 2003.) and conversely Constructivism, De Stijl and the Bauhaus’s mass availability and a unified machine aesthetic (ibid.)

In this sense, design has been caught in a cultural tug-o-war between Enlightenment rationalism and Romantic expressionism (Storkerson, 1997.) This is the case more so now than at any time previously in history. The professional field of design depends on the predictability of results to maintain the confidence of its client base. Yet, the transition to an information-based economy means that designed objects are consumed more widely and in many new ways than ever before. Contemporary design is something distinct from function (Fairs, 2004.) The functionalist philosophy of design as espoused in the Bauhaus dictum “form follows function” no longer applies when the principle aim of consumer product development specifications is to present users with the attractiveness, behaviour, and emotional qualities of designed objects. The diversity of the resulting distinct traditions, methods, vocabularies and job descriptions (Friedman, 2000.) threaten the coherence of the field as a unified discipline.

However, by viewing design as an integrative discipline and the generator of hybrid cultural forms presents the profession with the opportunity to rethink design as a cultural driver of enormous magnitude in the conjunction of the domains of art and technology. Indeed, this conception of design has been put forward as a role that is fundamental to the continual reinvigoration of the arts (Coles, 2005.) In the context of the current study, this perspective makes sense of the ascendant position of design as forged by the use of 3D computer technologies in the production of works of art.

Coles, Alex, 2005. On art’s romance with design. Design Issues: Volume 21, Number 3. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Fairs, Marcus, 2004. What is design? Icon 018. December. [online] Available from:

Flusser, Vilém, 1999. The shape of things – A philosophy of design. London: Reaktion Books Ltd.

Friedman, Ken, in Durling, David, ed. 2000. Doctoral education in design: foundations for the future. Stoke-on-Trent: Staffordshire University Press.

Krippendorff, Klaus, 1995. Redesigning design: an invitation to a responsible future. [online] Available from:

Tomes, Anne & Armstrong, Peter, 2003. Dialectics of design: how ideas of 'good design' change. [online] Available from:

Storkerson, Peter, 1997. Defining design: a new perspective to help specify the field. [online] Available from:

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I am exploring a hybrid form of art and design practice through the use of computer-based design and fabrication tools. I am interested in experimental objects and spaces that are dynamic and responsive and seek to challenge perceptions, expectations and established behavior.

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