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Genius of Design (doco – ep #2)

4 July, 2010

Genius of Design : Episode 2: ‘Designs for Living’

This episode was about how we started living from the early to mid-20th Century through designed products and experiences thanks to basically, European Design vs American design. Highlights and resonators were:

European American
Characteristic ethic In reaction to art nouveau and the over-ornamentation of everything,  the Bauhaus ethic was to strip to beautiful utility in order to produce high value objects in high numbers produced for reasonable cost in a low value way [i.e. mass production]. This is the democratic way; the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least.*

So democracy as by the people (designers, crafts people, all together in Bauhaus), for the people (to choose) but ‘elected’ for the people (the designers impose how you should live)
Driven by consumerism, capitalism, individualism and the market reigns supreme. The designer worked closely with the manufacturer and consumer in order to make design relevant.

So democratic design as in by the people (the American Dream, baby), for the people (read: consumer) and ‘elected’ by the people (as consumer).
Boundary breaker Eliminating demarcation between design and architecture, craft and mass production, designing and making. In the Bauhaus all worked together and learned from each other. Didn’t start with what people should be but what people actually are (and actually do). Applying a systematic and scientific approach called ‘Human Factors‘ the science of interface between people and things.
architected, idealistic, communal, egalitarian
designed, rational, rigorous, pragmatic, mainstream
Relationship to user monologue – imposes thought-out vision
dialogue – includes user in visioning
Example designer Le Corbusier and Bauhaus Henry Dreyfuss

*Peter Fiell said much good stuff. So did a guy called Paul Bennett (called that for that was, indeed is, his name…d’oh, faux pas alert – just looked him up, he’s an Ideo guy – s’pose that’s the sort of thing I should just know. I did wonder why his spiel about t-shaped people resonated so much, when at my work we’ve looked into the notion of t-shaped people when describing expertise for our designers).

Anyways, the designs were very of the times, and on looking back at my notes (yes, I made notes) it does come across as European = bad, American = great, but Europe had old Adolf and was about to go to war, who wouldn’t want to look to modern technology for answers about how to live better? Perhaps Le Corbusier’s visions of architect-ed communal city living that we’re paying for now (as the doco posits) is the same as the iDecades were living in now, the decades of connecting through wires and information exchanges.  Design of the times.

What struck me pleasantly about the episode was my personal balance as a designer where I like to strip away fuss and decoration and fight against personal preference or business views of ‘who wouldn’t want to use this/do it this way!?” In other words, I like both the European and American design ethics (of their time). An idealist pragmatism based on what people actual think, do and use and what can be built, manufactured and sustained, with a little knowledge and expertise sprinkled in.

See also: Episode 1: Ghosts in the Machine

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