Why the definition of design might need a change
Why the definition of design might need a change
The Latin root of “design”, de-sign, transmitted to people like Cicero a much broader and more abstract set of meanings than we generally give to the word today. These ranged from the literal and material (such as tracing) to the tactical (to invent and achieve a goal) to the organizational and institutional – as in the strategic “naming” of people and objects (where the root “design” remains visibly anchored). All of these meanings share a broad sense of imposing a form on the world, in its institutions and arrangements.
Yet the use of drawing to directly shape construction in the 13th and 14th centuries began a linguistic shift, with this sense of “design” eclipsing almost all others.
An early snapshot of this ongoing transformation is a parchment dating from 1340. Folded, creased and perforated with nail holes, it records a contract between the patron and three main builders for the construction of Palazzo Sansedoni in the center of Siena. In its lower part, the parchment records the legal and financial arrangements surrounding the construction of the palace; in its upper half, it represents an elevation – a drawing – of the still unbuilt facade, with annotations and dimensions.
Drawings had, of necessity, recorded the intent of builders long before 1340 – drawn on the floor, wall, or possibly more portable surfaces. These inscriptions, however, were secondary and adjacent to the building process. But the growing prosperity of economies like that of Siena in the 1300s made it likely that prominent master builders would balance several concurrent projects, so it became necessary to rely on the authority of a drawn document – a “design” in several senses of the word. then used to govern activities on the construction site. In fact, part of the role of Sansedoni’s scroll was to describe the role of an unnamed fourth builder, who would remain on site to direct the work while the three named signers of the contract were busy elsewhere. Along with this transformation, the maestro of the construction site was replaced by the architector architect, who would produce and record the design of the building – with authority given primarily by documents and drawings.
“The diminished postindustrial significance of design is inextricable from a corollary diminishment of the planet’s finite resources, whether it’s the quarried stones piled up to form a Sienese palace or the rare-earth metals that anchor icons like the iPhone .”
As a result, architects can sometimes take a proprietary attitude towards the word “design”. If there is any justification for such sentiments, it is that architects were indeed the first to practice design in the contemporary sense – as a drawing-based strategic mode for shaping objects and environments distinct from their direct production. Yet if architecture were to pioneer design as a profession and a course in its own right, it would soon have company. While architecture students at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris were creating drawingsor preparatory sketches, as specified by their program and as part of what we now call the “design process”, the factory chimneys rising farther from Paris would mark an even greater change in the economy of the physical world and the design idea inside. he.
It was as early as the 16th century that designs and models of porcelain household ware traveled between Europe and the Jingdezhen kilns in China, helping to specify forms and decorative patterns – what we would now call designs. – to be created for specific markets. By the 18th century, British pioneer Josiah Wedgwood had deployed both artists and “master” potters to make illustrations and models. The intention was to enable consistent, large-scale pottery production – in Wedgwood’s own words, to “make such machinery of the Men it can’t be wrong. But in addition to eliminating workers’ field of error, it ended their individual expression. And it was the subsequent, literal mechanization of production that firmly separated design work from manufacturing – with profound consequences for the definition of design, as a word and as the structure of our society.
While this concept of design has spread to our society and economy today, we can take a single industry as an example. It was Henry Ford’s Model T whose streamlined 1907 design allowed gasoline-powered automobiles to become more than tailor-made toys for the wealthy. But it was Alfred P. Sloan’s equally important innovation at General Motors in 1924 to introduce design as meaning new yearly models and of varying price and status levels for mechanically similar vehicles, from Chevrolet to Cadillac – a pointless sales feat.
So while calling a handbag or sunglasses “designer” may convey superficial brand image instead of material value, we nevertheless deeply appreciate “design” as one of the few activities that can making the ever more complex realities of modernity navigable. It is no coincidence that companies seeking to make products that are both transformational and accessible – Tesla, Apple, even IBM in its day – proclaim an elegance of surface finish as the (presumed) manifestation of sophistication. global technology, even as they exploit the commercial value of style and status.