Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What is Design?

On Tuesday, May 17, 2011 the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York City presented a discussion about "What is Design?"

A collection of 11 designers, museum curators and others in the design fields were invited to explore their conception of what design is in a "manifesto" format. The Manifesto series, curated jointly with the Gwangju Design Biennale 2011, aims to interrogate the current situation of design in relation to its past and present challenges, while attempting to provide a space of discourse for its future implications.

Seung H-Sang (left), Artistic Director of the Gwangju Biennale in Korea, was a featured guest and the discussion was moderated by Eva Franch (right), Director of the Storefront for Art and Architecture, where the discussion took place.

There were many areas of agreement among the participants and some differences. The main difference seemed to revolve around how broadly to define "Design". Some uses of the term "design thinking" seem to mistake design for management and planning in general and favor business applications of planning processes under the name "design". Some cautioned against the co-optation of design by the business world in which the goal is to become a better manager by thinking like a designer.

Design can be a tangible object like a book, a chair, a building, or a video game, or it can refer to less tangible, immaterial processes like making a plan or having an impact on an environment, network, or system. Some argued that defining the term "design" too broadly neuters and debases design. Design is more than cool cars and new fonts but design isn't "everything". Was the well-planned and skillfully executed attack on the World Trade Center an example of "design"?

One thing the presenters seemed to agree upon is that design is not art. Art asks questions and design gives answers. Art pushes boundaries by disrupting the status quo while Design's goal is to push boundaries by creating solutions.

The discussants agreed that design is evolving. Design had become too Western-oriented, aesthetic-obsessed, commodity-driven, and wealth-dependent. Examples of "design by revolution" were cited and names like Tomás Maldonado and Victor Papanek were raised as examples in which design can promote radical inclusion and wild diversity to project possible futures.

Click on the heading above to check out the Storefront for Art and Architecture.

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