Saturday, February 18, 2006

The expanding field?

Recently, I was writing about the changes (perceptual or otherwise in design):

“So, why should engaging in transdisciplinary, design-based, discourses from across conventional domains prove an attractive strategy to practitioners from current, clearly established, axiomatic domains? Of these 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 viewed as an advantage. 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. The position this research adopts proposes that this situation can be viewed as a strategic advantage – as it affords practitioners an expanded (transdisciplinary) discourse and an opportunity to engage with a range of new aesthetic, cultural, psychological, economic and social conditions.

The professional field of design appears to be caught in a perpetual cultural tug of war between Enlightenment rationalism and Romantic expressionism (Storkerson, 1997). It is interesting to note that etymologically the root of the word ‘design’ is connected to ‘art’ and ‘technology’. Historically, art and technology have moved into and out of positions of segregation and convergence with design forming a bridge between the two (Flusser, 1999). Contemporary design in this sense has long since broken with narrow association with function (Fairs, 2004). However, strongly contested oppositional arguments as to what constitutes design are still being articulated. This is most recently illustrated 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. Evidently the pervasive functionalist philosophy of design as espoused in the Bauhaus dictum ‘form follows function’ can still be tracked - but now might be seen to be subsumed by the desire to embody user expectations in terms of attractiveness, behaviour, and the emotional qualities of these commodities.

However, by viewing design in these terms as an integrative discipline and the generator of hybrid cultural forms it presents the profession with opportunities to rethink design as a cultural driver of enormous magnitude in the conjunction of these other domains. Indeed, this conception of design has been put forward as a role that is fundamental to the continual reinvigoration of the arts and culture (Coles, 2005 and Cox, 2005). If it is accepted that the design of everyday objects is increasingly concerned with culture and the communication of the meaning of a product or its use (Norman, 2004), then designers and architects will continue to explore approaches that develop the potential of the space between fine art and design - to provoke and make manifest our relationships with the objects we imagine, design and produce.”

Well, it seems that this was a very prescient observation:

“The former director of the Design Museum was forced to resign after clashing with its founder over plans for an overhaul of the institution. Alice Rawsthorn, who stood down as director last week, was critical of proposals to link the Thamesside museum to a proposed Centre of Excellence for Creativity and Innovation to be set up with government funds, a senior design industry source said. The new centre is the brainchild of the Cox Review, led by Sir George Cox, the chairman of the Design Council. Sir Terence Conran, who founded the Design Museum 18 years ago and is now a trustee, backs the initiative, but Ms Rawsthorn fears the museum's distinctive profile and independence will be lost.”
(By Arifa Akbar Published in The Independent 06 February 2006). Link to article

Some more thoughts on this at Bila + Design:


Coles, A., On art’s romance with design. Design Issues, 2005, 21(3), 17-24.

Cox, G., Cox review of creativity in business: building on the UK’s strengths. Available online at:
Link to document (Accessed 30 December, 2005).

Fairs, M., What is design? Available online at: (Accessed 18 November, 2005).

Flusser, V., The shape of things – a philosophy of design. pp. 17-21, 1999 (Reaktion Books Ltd: London).

Krippendorff, K., Redesigning design: an invitation to a responsible future. Available online at: (Accessed 18 November, 2005).

Norman, D. A., Emotional design: why we love (or hate) everyday things. pp. 83-89, 2004 (Basic Books: New York).

Storkerson, P., Defining design: a new perspective to help specify the field. Available online at: Link to article
(Accessed 18 November, 2005).

No comments:

Blog Archive

My Portfolio

John Marshall Portfolio

My Linkedin Profile

View John Marshall's profile on LinkedIn

rootoftwo's shared items


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.

Creative Commons


Site Meter