I found this post that I published elsewhere almost a year ago. I was prompted to find it because someone more famous wrote something similar last week. I thought it could do with a second airing, with a bit of editing.
My children ask 'why' a lot. I'm glad they do, and try to give a full answer - to their obvious dismay sometimes. But it got me thinking about its use as part of the design process. When you know how to do something its easy to apply the rudiments subconsciously. But nobody fails to get something important from proper consideration of the fundamentals of their discipline from time to time. This is a way to do that.
Asking 'why?' at the right time can save a lot of bother and help get things right. Why put cooking instructions on food packaging? - so people know how to cook it properly and don't get poisoned by it. It has to be readable, otherwise it's useless. In this case the answer is "so people can read it". When they can't, because the text is too small or not contrasting enough, it doesn't work. Can't read the instructions, cook it wrong, doesn't taste good, won't buy it again. Everyone loses.
I look around and wonder why this seemingly simple question isn't asked more often. Maybe it's that it gets asked at the start and gets lost somewhere during the process. The design develops and requirements are refined - hey, what were we trying to do again?
In my first week at architecture school, my tutor told me I had to explain all the decisions I made during the design process. I was flummoxed at the time, but soon learnt to make up something to suit. "Because it looks good" wasn't a legitimate answer. Apart from the fact that it didn't look good - it was my first week after all.
I hope for a time when 'why?' is thought and heard more than 'why not?'. 'Why not open an account/give us a call/make an appointment today?' How different it would be if that not was not there. It would mean you do things with good reason, instead of doing them without a good enough reason not to.
Why is design is such a difficult concept for people to grasp? The word is bandied about without question as to what it actually is . I'm a designer and I ask a lot of questions. This one has bothered me for a while, and although I don't expect to find a simple answer, I need to think about it awhile.
In 'Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance', Robert M Pirsig asserted that whilst everyone knows what 'quality' is, it is impossible to define. 'Design' is perhaps the opposite.
For me, design is solving a problem. So a thing that does a job has been designed. You can assess how well it does the job by asking 'what is this supposed to do?' and 'does it do that?' Tin opener, jet engine, centrifuge, all do something that can be closely defined. So what about a wallpaper? It would stick to the wall irrespective of the pattern, or design imprinted upon it. Its function is independent of the decoration. A beautiful tin opener that doesn't work is useless. And annoying - I have one.
The process of making a decorative pattern is so different from making a functional thing that it warrants a discrete word. Fashion designers need to make sure the clothes are wearable, but their true function is to attract attention in varying degrees. There are lots of ways to do that.
I'm not saying decoration and fashion aren't of value, but that they don't utilise 'design' in the same way that, say, a mechanical engineer would. We need a good word meaning 'make it look good'. I'll leave that with you...