Design Is (not) Dead! Long Live (the discussion around) Design?

October 21, 2010  |  By

The event is now over. Thanks for coming! Hopefully the discussion was interesting and thought-provoking enough that you’d like it to continue it here in the Open Space online world. Please post any additional insights, unanswered questions, lingering thoughts, and overall criticism, and I will add my own recap and post-event thoughts in the coming days. Addendum: I have also added video of the event after the jump. -EH


Design is Dead, Long Live Design, Part 1 from Volume Inc. on Vimeo.

Design is Dead! Long Live Design? Part 2 from Volume Inc. on Vimeo.

Design is Dead! Long Live Design? Part 3 from Volume Inc. on Vimeo.

Design is Dead! Long Live Design? Part 4 from Volume Inc. on Vimeo.

Design Is Dead! Long Live Design? Part 5 from Volume Inc. on Vimeo.

15 Comments

  1. Hunter Wimmer Says:

    eric: thanks for facilitating such a timely discussion for a standing-room-only crowd. it was nice to see you — even if it was a face across a crowded room. nice boots, though.

    on the BART ride home, i was struck by some of the things guthrie was talking about during the open-discussion and i reminded of the axioms: “change is the only constant” and “change or die” (the verve being “change”, of course) and reflected this against guthrie’s nod to the fact that a point-of-view shift might be the thing that carries “design” into its next phase.

    if moore’s law hints at the exponential speed increases of computer processors, we might also look to it for a cultural touchpoint (dave2 and i were discussing this as well)… so much more has changed in the last 20 years, it seems, than in the 100 years previous… and yet we, as designers (ideally on the forefront of change, right?), are still having discussions about saving print journalism and how much we miss our pencils… and this is why i think guthrie’s mention of twittering at the dinner table was on-target (and, i think, sean’s mention of us becoming lazy). we’re talking about the wrong things. we tend to get caught up in the manifestation of communication (newsprint, posters, etc.) rather than the reason and intent of communication.

    my 26 year old brother-in-law has more friends that i have students (and we have a lot) yet he’s only laid eyes on less than 1/2 of them. to me, a friend is someone you’ve dragged away from a bar fight — but for him, it’s someone who simply shares common interests and who he enjoys the company of. when you re-examine what “company” could mean, the differences between my ideas and his ideas of friendship tend to diminish. apply that to the idea of a “book” (which is a classic art school project even before the e-reader), then it seems that the e-reader is simply a natural evolution. (my only gripe about the e-scrabble is that it’s made to look faux-old — like the hipstamatic camera app… i wish these “new” takes on old ideas didn’t simply look back for aesthetic direction, but instead created new ones, but i digress)… that craigslist is a natural evolution of classified ads… that skype is the natural evolution of long-distance charges… that streaming video is the natural evolution of the corner video store.

    the change itself doesn’t seems to be a bad thing, but how we handle it and what we can bring to it insofar as guiding principles — and what we hang onto as the reason for doing it in the first place. one of the films i show my students to give them a bit of context is “a communications primer” by charles and ray eames. filmed over 50 years ago, it’s what our grandparents would have been watching if they were studying design at the time. one of the things that’s remarkable about this film is how excruciatingly slow it is — like garrison keillor in slow-mo… yet the fundamental principles of our daily challenges as design-communicators have remained. there are a few great lines about how “complex tools make the process easier, yet they never alleviate man from his responsibility of selecting and relating parts.”… and this was 50 years ago.

    if we got into design so that we’d get ink under our fingernails, then we might be out of luck, but if we got into the profession with the drive to communicate to audiences and to solve problems, then it seems like a shift in perspective might be all that’s needed to ween us off the wellbutrin.

  2. Anna Kwon Says:

    As an art student, I entered CCA thinking I was going to be making pretty things. Little did I know that making was just the surface of what design really is. Now, a year into the program, design has a whole new meaning, not only is our job to make things aesthetically pleasing, but also to convey or provoke some thought or meaning. Now that I have naively uncovered what design encompasses, there is a whole new outlook on what I believe is good design. With new technology, people are eager to make more. This could be why the iphone apps such as the hipstamatic camera app [stated previous] are so popular. People are producing well thought out designs, but rather explorations of visual expressions. There is nothing wrong with this, but as a design student, I believe that we need to realize that we need to bring more to the table. Conceptual ideas, unique thought, and a good formal design are now all equally important into making designs. Design is not dead but rather evolved.

  3. Stanley Lee Says:

    I think I type better than I talk.

    So we talked a lot about where each of us thought design was/is going and about addressing problems outside of what design was/is mainly used for. And it’s interesting to see how “design thinking” is influencing or being influenced today.

    But lately, I find myself thinking about how design is affecting me more. I’ve realized that it has changed the way I perceive and analyze things around me; to some degree, I believe that it has made me more open-minded and thoughtful (or at least, I’m trying to be) about what I’m facing. It’s about adamantly studying the problem instead of pushing an uninformed opinion. It’s always looking at both sides of an issue, and thinking about how I may try to solve it, or how some others may try to solve it. Research and having that knowledge is more important than I used to believe, along with the willingness to solve it (not giving up) and being objective about your own work/side. I mean, it’s something I think everyone should keep in mind and it’s actually pretty obvious when I realize it. And this kind of thinking, I’m not just talking about design specifically, but also about how it applies or can apply to me personally, daily.

    One of the things that I felt resonated, was when someone commented that, just because we’re studying our specific majors and will (hopefully) earn a degree within it, doesn’t mean that’s the field we will be working in all throughout our lives; there is, something else. While I too don’t know what that “something else” is, I’ve been thinking how I could apply these things to other things. I realize that that’s also how design is changing, I feel like it’s trying to connect to everything else, or that it’s focusing on how it can change or affect everything else. It’s sort of true, but also sort of pretentious; because, it also has to be kept in mind that design isn’t everything and we have all these great people working in different professions to make use of too.

  4. Suri Says:

    I am not sure how much sense my comment will make, because I am increasingly confused these days about design (and art). Similar to Anna, I also came to CCA thinking that a designer, as well as an artist, was meant to produce pretty and cool things. During my first year at CCA, I additionally learned that graphic designers had to successfully convey a universal sense and message of whatever their piece (logo, editorial, book, website, etc) was about. For example, a book about perfume could not be masculine and sterile looking, or use a typeface like Memphis. And then this year, I started to realize that graphic design is not purely for advertising some commercial/political events, goods or services. Graphic design could actually facilitate ordinary people’s understanding of certain data or news. Graphic design could promote NGOs and social causes. Graphic design could help bring changes and hope to its audience. Such truths should have been evident all the time, but it was only this semester that I realized this. It was only this semester that I started feeling like I could be an activist and designer that is useful to the world. Conceptual design sounded so meaningful and wonderful. I was experiencing a “Eureka” feeling and special excitement, I should say.

    But these days what confuses me is the equilibrium between pretty design and conceptual design, somewhat ironically. I started looking more closely at more designs, artworks and films that greater amount of audience responds to, in order to be a formalist. The more closely I look at famous/popular designs, paintings and films, the more I realize how not many of them are visually strong without their stories and concepts. I saw the traditional sense of art and design, which at least I believe was about being a formalist, being blurred. Especially when it comes to films (since I watch a variety of films these days) I realize that it is those films with compelling storylines and concepts that appeal to more viewers, not those artistic films with beautiful visual experiments. When it comes to graphic design as well, many of what we graphic designers find beautiful and amazing do not attract a lot of general public. General public, I think, tend to like functional or cheap products, and books/magazines with visceral or curiosity-evoking stories, although those may not look cool or pretty. I am therefore really confused about how beautiful, conceptual, and functional a design should be in order to be successful. I wish there was a right answer, or formula, sometimes. But other times I am glad there is no defined answer. I must be very confused.

  5. Jason Says:

    Definition of design according to the online dictionary:
    a. To conceive or fashion in the mind; invent: design a good excuse for not attending the conference.
    b. To formulate a plan for; devise: designed a marketing strategy for the new product.
    2. To plan out in systematic, usually graphic form: design a building; design a computer program.
    3. To create or contrive for a particular purpose or effect: a game designed to appeal to all ages.
    4. To have as a goal or purpose; intend.
    5. To create or execute in an artistic or highly skilled manner.

    It sort of surprises me that within so many peoples discussion of design, there’s rarely an attempt at first outlining what their definition is of the word. I feel that often people are talking about completely different things yet are still using the word ‘design’ to encompass these disparate ideas. And while the word design can be a huge umbrella encompassing a number of disciplines, I think that’s all the reason more for one to delineate those distinctions. In response to the question of design being dead, I think that realizing the broad definition that design takes, and even just graphic design, makes one realize that ‘design’ will not die until the human race stops conceiving thoughts. The mediums and tools used to execute them will undoubtedly change, but the process will remain as important as ever.

  6. Suzanne Says:

    I don’t believe that Design is Dead, only that this technology revolution we’re experiencing is introducing new mediums for design. I imagine when TV was introduced or even the printing press was invented, it was a drastic change for designers in terms of how they presented their work, but the idea of design was still the same. Concurrently, as we go through this technology boom, there is also a movement to get design back to its roots – handmade is all the rage (etsy), everyone wants the letterpress look, and it’s considered cool to go “off the grid.”

    So, yes, with technology we have access to everything and that can be overwhelming (and scary, change can be scary). But with this access it’s also exciting to think about all of the different paths we can take with our design.

    If only we could access more time…

  7. Rosanne Chan Says:

    I can honestly say that when I decided to go to an art college and pursue graphic design, I was only thinking about making pretty or cool things. It never crossed my mind that design can be some sort of superhero “changing” the world and “saving” its people.

    Now that I’ve been in college for three years, I think of design as a vehicle. Design can be used to not only make things “pretty” but it can persuade people as well. Through good looks and function, design can grab attention and speak as a universal language.

    But with the advances in technology today, we’ve reached a point where design today could arguably be “unoriginal” and everything comes from one place or another because of the easy access to everything. Some programs, like PowerPoint, have templates that create a “look” and is easy for those who want something “good looking” and functions well (although I argue otherwise).

    I don’t think design is dead. I believe that if design is used right, it should be a universal language, understood by everyone. Being a universal language holds power to not only enjoy pretty looking things but could also change the world by being universal.

  8. K Arthur Dwyer Says:

    As the US transitions into a knowledge economy, design has become more interdisciplinary. As technology advances, the tools of our trade have become more ubiquitous. As a result, new forms of design have permeated the landscape. Guthrie Dolin gives an example of the Standard Hotel Target fashion spectacle that used a visualizer programed by Daft Punks light designer. Instances like this show design is branching into new territories of experience.

    To say design is dead seems disingenuous. Marcel Duchamp’s readymades did not mean the end of art. Instead art continues to embrace new forms of representation. Likewise, design will continue to propagate different modes of experience. To maintain our role as the pied piper, design will have to.

    That being said, I found each speaker interesting in different ways. The point that the web is not necessarily the most sustainable medium. Bob Aufuldish’s example of how form doesn’t necessarily follow function, showing nicely package carrots. Melina Jone’s engaging introductions.

  9. Jen A Says:

    In my opinion, design is far from being dead, in fact, in some ways I think it’s just beginning. Yes, design practices have changed over time but the conceptual ideas behind design and their ability to impact the world have not. As designers, we have to take advantage of all the rapid advances in technology and recognize how lucky we are to be surrounded by so many opportunities to create new “things”. I agree with those who feel we are at the forefront of change in design and it is exciting/scary (in a good way) to think of where we are heading. So let’s not dig design an early grave but instead start thinking about how we can help design evolve with us in the future.

  10. Sasha Says:

    Design might have died but it was re-incarnated has a new hybrid. Today’s designers need to be super human to fill all of the roles required in world where graphic design is not just print, but motion, web, film, and space, we must able to do everything, which at times feels a little overwhelming. Graphic design in the traditional sense is long gone, and modern design encapsulates pretty much anything and everything. In the Bauhaus, students were taught to be “total designers,” they would design furniture, typography, buildings, etc. rather than applying their skills to one solitary medium. As times change, we are naturally reverting back to that kind of multidisciplinary design. Therefor, design is not dead, its alive and well :)

  11. Keziah Says:

    I don’t think design is dead, but I think it’s totally going into a new aspect, it’s getting more practical but at the same time it’s involving in much broader medium. It’s not just like people are looking at a piece of work and get the message and done, but it has to have interaction, and get people to react. I can’t disagree that there are many bad or “unoriginal” designs flooding around within the design field, but it doesn’t mean that people can’t do nice work and open a new aspect to certain subject. Design should be something that’s aesthetically pleasing as well as working functionally, but I found that many of the modern designs are aesthetically pleasing yet the idea behind is confusing. We still can find awesome design nowadays but only if we utilize our tools and skills appropriately. I think that with all the technology and information that we have nowadays, and the combination of the traditional design elements/skills, it could be a pipeline to lead to brand new ideas, and it will be a cycle that never ends.

  12. Matt Says:

    The definition of design seems to be constantly expanding and more and more difficult to pin down. Like Jason I was surprised that there were so few attempts to define design, however, it’s transformative nature does make this a daunting task. I believe that the beauty of design in this day and age is its ability to span multiple disciplines and act as a larger and larger umbrella. Perhaps trying too hard to define its limits would hinder practitioners’ willingness to apply design thinking to less traditional design problems. I do not remember who mentioned this during the discussion (I apologize) but it was suggested that in twenty years we might not have something called graphic design (or industrial design). Even if this becomes the case I do not think that the design itself will ever truly seas to exist, though it may go though metamorphoses. We will continue to communicate through images and text as long as we continue to be social beings. The impulses and tools of design are far too basic and engrained in our nature to become obsolete.

  13. Dominic Says:

    At the event I asked about design and need, and what a deign problem is nowadays. I remember now where I got that thought: a piece by Daniel van der Velden in Metropolis M a few years ago. Here si the link http://bit.ly/bFVJWj

    Specifically, this bit:

    “We no longer have any desire for design that is driven by need. Something less prestigious than a ‘designed’ object can do the same thing for less money. The Porsche Cayenne brings you home, but any car will do the same thing, certainly less expensively and probably just as quickly. But who remembers the first book, the first table, the first house, the first airplane? All these inventions went through a prototype phase, to a more or less fully developed model, which subsequently became design. Invention and a design represent different stages of a technological development, but unfortunately, these concepts are being confused with one another. If the design is in fact the aesthetic refinement of an invention, then there is room for debate about what the ‘design problem’ is. Many designers still use the term ‘problem-solving’ as a non-defined description of their task. But what is in fact the problem? Is it scientific? Is it social? Is it aesthetic? Is the problem the list of prerequisites? Or is the problem the fact that there is no problem?”

  14. Deanna Says:

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    And on this post SFMOMA | Open Space – Design Is (not) Dead!
    Long Live (the discussion around) Design?. I was actually moved enough to post a leave a responsea
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    new you have to post. Would you make a list all of your shared pages like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

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