Dunne and Raby's Teddy Bear Blood Bag
You do what? "So, you design factory machines? Is that what you mean?" Many of us have switched from calling ourselves "industrial designers" to saying that we are "product designers." But the difficulty grows if your design work does not fall squarely inside the commercial realmthe experimental stuff, the artsy stuff, or not-for-profit stuff.
The confusions are understandable. Not only has the profession never had its own television series with a catchy abbreviated title to predicate popular understanding (E.R., CSI: NY, L.A. Law, Dr. 90201), but the discipline is relatively young, immensely broad, and ever expanding. What is hard to reckon with, however, is the confusion that exists even within the profession of industrial design: What activities do product designers recognize, champion, or even legitimize? What are the frameworks around our practice, and how are those communicated to the outside world?
Design is a mess The problem is that design is pretty much a mess. Just try and make sense of the range of the terms floating around out there: user-centered design, eco-design, design for the other 90%, universal design, sustainable design, interrogative design, task-centered design, reflective design, design for well-being, critical design, speculative design, speculative re-design, emotional design, socially-responsible design, green design, conceptual design, concept design, slow design, dissident design, inclusive design, radical design, design for need, environmental design, contextual design, and transformative design.
Without a compelling, indeed, taxonomic, way of organizing design activity, we are selling ourselves short; we not only have difficulty understanding the profession ourselves, but also in communicating to the world our potency, range, and potential impact. In the end, we seem scattered and "designy"in a less-than-flattering sense of the word.
As academics responsible for making sense of this jumble for our students then, we feel like those professional bic-a-brac organizers you see on daytime talk shows, confronting the tumult of someone's bloated car garage. So after some long days and a dumpster-load of capabilities lists, here we present everything neatly ordered onto 4 shelving units. Behold the Design Garagea categorizing of designed-object activity into four primary fields: Commercial Design, Responsible Design, Experimental Design, and Discursive Design. Let's take a closer look at each, focusing on the drivers, criteria for success, and primary intents:
Commercial Design Commercial Design is what is commonly understood as industrial/product design and comprises the overwhelming majority of our professional activity. This is design work oriented toward, and driven by, the market. Success is largely defined in economic termssufficient return on investment. The primary intent of the designer is to create useful, useable, and desirable products that customers can afford and that generate adequate profit.
With the iPhone, we have what is rudimentarily a gadget, be it seductive in form and sophisticated in function. It has proven quite profitable for Apple, as even between the announcement of its sale in January 2007 and the first days in the store, their stock value increased 65%, and then up to a 135% total increase by the end of the year.
And beyond the realm of gadgetry, Phillipe Starck's Louis Ghost chair for Kartell sold over 200,000 units in 2006. Now selling for $410 at the MoMA store, this could represent over $80,000,000 in retail sales. While just a (highly profitable) chair, Starck includes an element of "concept" in its design, capturing the spirit of classic Louis XV chair, but in 21st Century polycarbonate plastic. Aside from this perhaps "artistic" quality and intellectual content, it is still an object that was designed using cutting edge industrial processes for a mass market, with the chief intent of producing profit for Kartell.
The primary (though not only) driver of Commercial Design is to make money.
Responsible Design Responsible Design encompasses what is largely understood as socially responsible design, driven by a more humanitarian notion of service. Here the designer works to provide a useful, useable, and desirable product to those who are largely ignored by the market. Issues such as ethics, compassion, altruism, and philanthropy surround the work, be it for users in developing or developed countries. While Responsible Design can and often does have a relation to the marketbeing "commercially available"its primary intent is not a maximization of profit, but instead to serve the underserved.
The XO laptop of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program is a prime example that has garnered a great deal of press in recent years. It is typical in that the device is commercially available (to governments and aid organizations), though it is not conventional in its means of distribution nor with its philanthropic intent.
Another example that helps make the distinction from Commercial Design is the Ableware one-handed cutlery set, which with the aid of a spring mechanism cuts a bite-sized piece of food and allows it to be skewered on fork tines with a simple downward motion. With this product, amputees and people with limited dexterity are better able to feed themselves and live more independently. While this is a product that exists on the market, the impetus was compassionthis object is not highly profitable as the target audience is fairly limited. The designer's primary intention was one of service.
(It may be helpful to compare Ableware to OXO Goodgrips, where Sam Farber wanted to create a commercially viable mass product line around more comfortable and grip-able handles. While initially inspired by his wife, he saw a market opportunity of "20 million Americans like Betsy who suffered from arthritis" and subsequently "interviewed retailers and buyers to identify the best-selling and most important items" for the first OXO products. Responsible products certainly can be profitable, but we doubt that if Farber had not seen such a viable business opportunity he would have proceeded with his project. As such, Ableware is a more pure example of Responsible Design, and we would classify OXO as Commercial Designprimary intentbut one that also has a strong secondary concern for service to a somewhat ignored market.)
The primary (though not only) driver of Responsible Design is to help those in need.
Experimental Design Experimental Design represents a fairly narrow swath within the broad field of design, and its primary intention is exploration, experimentation, and discovery. Experimental Design is defined perhaps more by its process than its outcome. In its purest form it is not driven by an overly specific end-goal of application, but instead is motivated by a curiosityan inquiry into, for example: a technology, a manufacturing technique, a material, a concept, or an aesthetic issue. Much of the work at MIT's Media Lab is fairly typical of this kind of design: technological investigations that are often only obtusely practicable and relevant to the immediate and everyday. Just as with Responsible Design, a marketable object may eventually result from an experimental project, especially after refinement and after it is directed at a specific market. But the primary intent of Experimental Design is to explore possibilities with less regard for serving the market.
Front Design's Animals Project
Popular Swedish design group, Front Design, created their Animals Project as a way of exploring the possibilities of a non-humanly-mediated production process: "We asked animals to help us [design products]. 'Sure we'll help you out,' they answered. 'Make something nice,' we told them. And so they did."
What resulted were everyday objects: wallpaper that was "decorated" by a gnawing rat, a lamp cast from a rabbit's burrow, wall hooks that were formed by constricting snakes, a lampshade created after recording a fly's path around a light bulb, a vase created by casting the impression of a dog's leg in deep snow, and a table who's top is patterned by the paths of wood consuming beetles. None of these everyday products were commercialized; they were not intended to be viable products, but instead the product-form was the means through which they investigated ideas of randomness and mediation within the context of mass-production and everyday objects.
The primary (though not only) driver of the Experimental Design is to explore.
Discursive Design Discursive Design refers to the creation of utilitarian objects whose primary purpose is to communicate ideasthey encourage discourse. These are tools for thinking; they raise awareness and perhaps understanding of substantive and often debatable issues of psychological, sociological, and ideological consequence. Discursive Design is the type of work that is generally less visible in the marketplace (though it can certainly exist there), but rather is most often seen in exhibition, print, and film. This is where design rubs up most closely against art. Importantly, however, these are objects of utility that carry ideas; in order to be considered design rather than art, they function (or could function) in the everyday world, but their discursive voice is what is most important and ultimately their reason for being.
Dunne and Raby's Compass Table (Photo: Jason Evans)
The Placebo Project by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby is a strong example of Discursive Design, where they wanted to raise awareness and debate regarding the role and costs of technology in contemporary life through the topic of Hertzian spacethe engulfing fields of invisible electromagnetic waves generated by electrical devices. One object from the series is the Compass Table, which is an ordinary, unadorned wooden table whose top surface has been embedded with twenty-five simple, navigational compasses. The table functions as any other table would. However, when, for example, a cell phone sitting on the table rings, the compass needles begin to dance and make visible the electromagnetic waves that enter into the home and surround its occupants.
Rafael Morgan's Indigestive Plates
Another more literal example is with Brazilian designer, Rafael Morgan's Indigestive Plates. These are classic ceramic dinner plates that have a message about poverty and hunger printed in thermochromatic ink. At room temperature the plate seems conventional, but when a dinner guest begins to finish their hot meal, they are confronted with a message such as: "Every day 16,000 children die of hunger-related causes." Morgan imagines "what would happen if we disguise some of [these] plates in an expensive snob restaurant...or maybe in some important political meeting?" Here a product offers typical utility, but is foremost designed to instigate and quite literally carry a provocative message.
The primary (though not only) driver of Discursive Design is to express ideas.
The Overlap In presenting the aforementioned product examples from the four fields, we chose more "pure" versions of each. As mentioned, this framework is based upon the primary intention of the designer, yet we fully recognize the reality of multiple motivations. It important to emphasize that the categories are not entirely distinct from one anotherthere is overlap.
In fact, it is rare for any product to be "pure," in the sense that it is a result of a single intention (e.g., profitability, service, experimentation, or voice). Most products are the result of multiple intentions, like OXO's interest in commercially successful mass-products that also serve the dexterously challenged.
A strong example of "impurity," or more appropriately, "hybridity" would be the Hug salt and pepper shakers designed by Alberto Mantilla. They are very successful commercially, and yet have a strong and intentional discursive voice. These are two shakers abstractly anthropomorphized, which differ only in colorone white and one black. The shakers, with their stubby arms, nest together appearing to hug each other. As described by the designer, "[Their] very nature...connotes brotherhood. The bold use of black and white suggests that we are all brothers and sisters on this planet and we need to treat each other with kindness, compassion and respect." To truly understand these as either a commercial object or a discursive object, it would be necessary to understand the primary intention of the designer, which cannot always be read from the objectsespecially in hybrids. Along with this overlap, it should also be emphasized that all four fields represent relative- rather than ultimate-states; objects range in their commercial-, exploratory-, responsible-, and discursive-capacity.
Scott Wilson's iBelieve iPod lanyard
So what? It might be easy to respond to this conceptualization of four fields as an interesting contribution to design theory, but is it actionable in the "real" complex work of design practice? As authors/academics/designers who confront daily the theory/practice divide ourselves, we feel confident that there are important implications of such a framework for designers, the profession, and the consumers of design.
1. First, we know from experience with our students and many seasoned practitioners that there is a sense of comfort and even relief that comes from the legitimization of the range of their design work/ideas. There are many professionals who do "side work"considering it "conceptual" and sometimes hiding it or sheepishly refering to as "design-art" on their websites. (This was the case at one point for Scott Wilson and Mike and Maaike, for example.) This four-field approach offers formal acknowledgement, and challenges the dominant legacy of 20th-century industrial design with its inextricable link to markets and its focus on "problem solving."
2. Similarly, once the range of design work is recognized and "sanctioned," forces can rally around it and move it toward full potential. In many ways this has happened in the last decade with Responsible Design. We now understand what it is, how it relates to the profession, and corporate pro-bono initiatives and groups like Project H are understood, championed, and are becoming more mainstream. We imagine that once the IDSA adds to their professional interest sections Discursive Design and Experimental Design groups, we will see the same kind of advances that have occurred since their establishment of responsible design sections such as Universal Design and Design for the Majority.
3. Since this framework is based upon design intention, its structure can help designers better understand and focus their projects. The fields help the designer get straight on their overall intention and how overlap or hybridity might help or hurt, as well as how the context of use/consumption comes into play.
4. Professionally, this scheme also helps Industrial/Product Design communicate with the world that it engages. Once we understand the various intentions and roles that we can take on, the better we can clarify and be taken as seriously as we often wish we would be. Those who work in staunchly commercial realms can easily distinguish their activity from the other forms, and vice-versa. Experimental Design or Discursive Design, which can resemble art or mere frivolity, have a means of expressing distinction and value in their activities.
5. The formal inclusion of other modes of design beyond the commercial moves us beyond the role of handmaiden to industry; our profession is seen as being able to serve along broader intellectual and social lines. It helps establish designers as important local and global citizens as well as influential cultural agents.
6. With this framework, consumers of design have a more established basis for understanding intentionality and therefore a basis for evaluation. Experimental and discursive work are often erroneously subjected to the same measures of success as commercial work (blog commentary is notorious for this). When consumers are aware of designers' intentions, then more effective communication results: the designer is better satisfied because an object's goals are understood, and the consumer can focus more precisely on what value they may extract from the work.
7. And finally, the consumer can see their role shift from a position of passivity (when striking an all-too-common commercial posture) to a more active engagement in work that intends on engaging the intellect or prompting debate.
Names and frameworks are powerful. Our hope is that understanding the design landscape through these four, simple categoriesCommercial Design, Responsible Design, Experimental Design, and Discursive Designwill help the profession, our "consumers," and ourselves better understand design activity and ultimately its potential in an increasingly complex world of ideas and objects.
Educated as a mechanical engineer, industrial designer, and sociocultural anthropologist, Dr. Bruce M. Tharp (bruce.tharp[at]core77[dot]com), is an assistant professor of Designed Objects at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). He and his wife Stephanie Tharp (snmunson[at]uic[dot]edu), Associate Professor of Industrial Design at the University of Illinois-Chicago, are currently working on a book project, entitled Discursive Design. In addition to their academic work, they have a studio, materious, through which they create across all four fields of designed objects.
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What about economical and environmentally responsible designs? Of course the beginning of the article is smart to call us out on creating labels but given the amount of focus placed on environmentally friendly or cost effective (for the consumer) designs shouldn't they be included for consideration under the "Responsible Design" category. I understand these fields are not an exhaustive list but I'd like to think Responsible design encompasses 3 pillars of social, economic, and environmental. Even if some of us place more emphasis on the former than others. Thoughts?
Parts of this article have been reproduced, assumedly without consent considering what a hack job they've done, at this link:
Luke, Thanks for looking out for us.
What would you say to potential students thinking of entering the field in terms of job access and security?
Tonya, Sorry for the delayed response. (Perhaps if you were looking for work at the time you wrote, you may have an answer to your question already :)
Job access and security are absolutely challenges with discursive design. While there are more approaches than just social engagement (activist mode), this is where most of this work is being done. This happens independently or pro bono. Much of it happens in educational contexts as well at universities of art and of design.
That said, there are models of designers who are working in this arena, either employed within a large company or as an independent studio or consultancy. Large companies, like Intel, Microsoft, and Philps have discursive design on their radars and have done work in this area. Undoubtedly there are not an abundance of in-house jobs though. What is happening is that the strategic foresight community, which has a longer history and has some credibility with industry already, has discovered speculative design (what we consider a subset of discursive design, which is an umbrella category). In a way, speculative design is gaining access to corporate work through the doors opened by strategic foresight.
There are independent studios like Superflux, The Extrapolation Factory, Tellart, Strange Telemetry, Situation Lab, and the Near Future Laboratory. They work for clients, and also mix in independent work. While I believe that there are increasing opportunities (especially in research capacities)--much more than 10 years ago--they are still not plentiful. If you are passionate about this arena, you will need to be more entrepreneurially minded. I often remind students that the responsible design positions were almost non-existent in the 1990's, but the field matured and gained visibility, so that now there are far more opportunities. (The design thinking movement also contributed to responsible design's advancements.) But if you have school loans to pay off, this is a more challenging (but potentially rewarding) path.
>Morgan imagines "what would happen if we disguise some of [these] plates in an expensive snob restaurant...
yes, we would agree that most designers probably have all four intentions with their design work, at least at times. rather than a designer simultaneously having all four, it is important to understand that we are focusing on the primary intention. often there is at least a secondary motivation. but, as we mentioned the commercial-discursive combination is a little more difficult, and likely has to be quite deliberate.
your comment about commercial suggests that a designer has to be concerned with "selling". with a great deal of the discursive work being done now, it is not sold and exists as an independent project. this certainly does not preclude having other design work, or a design job, that "pays the rent". a main point we are making is that discursive work can exist outside of the marketplace, as a small or quasi- or para-commercial project, or perhaps a limited run commercial project, or even what is indeed a commercial project.
and another point about discursive...you referred to it as "your own statement as a designer." we are hoping that designers differentiate between having a voice or making a statement and the quality or content of that statement. it is nearly unavoidable for a designer not to express themselves with a design--they are making thousands of design decisions. it is far more difficult to craft a discursive message as an abstraction within a design-- saying something that is of psychological, sociological, or idealogical importance and capable of sustaining a complexity of competing perspectives and values. so we are speaking about a special "statement" that can be considered a contribution to some discourse.
ultimately these categories are meant to help the designer self-reflect and focus on what they really are intending to do with their work. it is meant to help designers understand that their motivation or primary motivations do not have to be so homogenous and tied so tightly to 20th century notions of industrial design and styling for the mass marketplace.
comercial - how could you pay rent if your product is not selling.
responsible - as a human being & responsibility for the world & others.
experimental - well we have to discover new things.
discursive - your own statement as a designer.
and that's what make you a good product/industrial designer
The truth of the matter remains that the naming confusion may be cleared up definitively by retitling the field as "Product Architecture"; most persons realize that architecture melds the visual/aesthetic with the technical/rational, with the subtle differentiation of scale.
That's the term that I now use.
The IDSA should therefore be rebadged "PASA".
first: nothing is learned or enhanced by only "doing it". if that were the case, amoeba would be fertility experts. design is as much about intellect as action. even commercial design involves more thinking than i want to think about!
second: if design is only about solving problems, then why does apple keep putting a new ipod on the market every six months? maybe we can remember the three functions of products as put by Lobach? practical is not the only function to be considered when developing a product, and if you don't have the intellectual capacity to understand your problem and to see beyond your little hole, you will never leave it. that is where critical thinking and discourse come in handy. and besides, if you look at projects coming from design centers, you will see that there is a lot of thought and discussion and reflexion behind it. think the simpsons of the design world!
third: we are, like it or not, opinion formers. and that brings with it responsibility. we can't all be lowerys. some must be rams as well. and who knows, maybe (and i like to think some have) thinking heads can come up with a middle ground!
fourth: we should care about what people think about design because that directly affects their response to it, and the value they add to our work. you slave away for months to make the most balanced possible chef's knife, a masterpiece of cutlery, and give it to a 20 yo guy who will end up using it to open chilli cans and spread pb & j on white bread. will he realize the potential of the knife, appreciate the balance, materials, lines? heck no! he won't even notice if the blade is dull. but put it in the hands of an expert chef, and you have true appreciation for craftsmanship and attention to details!
fifth: just because (bean counter) corporate heads segregate the world populace, doesn't mean it's right and we should put up with it. and we are in a position to, if not change, at least affect it. that is where the other three fields come in. and if we get enough leverage, we can change things for the better. when ive took the helm at apple, the company was going under. and he created a monster. if that can be done in one company, it can be done in more of them, and maybe some good can come off that!
sixth: some people actually like having a light in the middle of the tunnel. myself included. i am not comfortable stumbling around in the dark, and if someone with more experience can help me find my "neiche" then so much the better.
seventh: profit is always part of the equation. unless you're jesus, but even then, his reward is another soul to his side of the scoreboard!
eighth: design is design, art is art. except where they overlap. this discussion is boring and old and useless as there is not one answer but as many as there are people discussing it. the same can be said for design and engineering, but nobody is putting up those war posters! my opinion: art asks questions, design offers answers. but that's just me, with my two different majors in art and product design. other people with other formations might think differently. you're welcome to. and pointing fingers is soooo third grade. i'm looking at you mr. helper!
that's it. for now. will be expecting the book, as this very brief (sarcasm really doesn't translate to the written word does it) discussion has helped me with my graduate work in design. being able to analyse and classify what i want to do takes me one step closer to actually doing it. ty to the authors, and the commenters who have made this debate possible.
We just keep confusing the world and ourselves by not shedding our old ancestry of arts and crafts.
Discursive Design as you call it is Art. Design solves problems. Your article demonstrates why designers are paid for deliverables and not expertise of thinking.
per: bruce m. tharp February 4, 2009 10:39 PM
We, society, including designers, are accepting a false constraint about the responsibility of business or corporations, public or privately held, in a capitalistic system. Despite statements or guidelines of the Chambers of Commerce, Congress, the SEC, the Department of Commerce or media pundits, the first responsibility of business is not to make make money or ROI. The corporation is an organization of more than one which can operate as one, with the same responsibilities as an individual. An individual's first responsibility is not to gain a good ROI, but to serve. To profess a standard greater than one's self, then live by that standard in performing an occupation is to be a professional. We allow corporations to exist to provide a group of individuals with a legal organization to serve society in producing goods or services for which they can be compensated just as an individual. Assuming a good service is provided, the individual or corporate business has a right to just compensation including a reasonable ROI for the risk of making the offer of the goods or service. The idea of ROI being the prime responsibility of a business to its owners, be they stock holders or one person is a misplaced ideology we must fight against. This faulty logic, not yours I assume, of the financial community is the reason we are involved in the financial meltdown today. Greed may provide a structure to do good design for a season. It soon fails the user, society, the corporation and the designer. A responsibility to serve humanity directly or serve God by serving humanity does not fail unless a distortion of the meaning of "service" is injected. My first responsibility as a designer is the same as a doctor, to do no harm. Safety, efficiency, social and ecological responsibility, and hopefully pleasure of experience by an encounter of someone who experiences my design work is my focus and should be for a business that offers my design to the marketplace. The responsibility of designers to address the sociological, psychological or physiological aspects of humanity's needs and desires does not change with the various government's financial structure, whether that system is capitalism, socialism, communism or a dictatorship. It's just that different systems provide different constraints on the designer to fulfill that responsibility. Of course, it's difficult to design under a dictator who has no care for the aesthetic values of a culture different than the dictator. In our efforts to evolve the "profession" of industrial design, especially in a global market structure, we need to evolve the language and semantics of theory and practice with linguistic awareness of a multi-language world and the connotations of past design methodologies such as those voiced by Bruce Archer, Walter Schaer, Eva Pfeil or others, while looking to new language structures with which we can speak in an evolving or revolutionary corporal voice. Core77 can be a good site for this effort if it would structure a morphological visual/verbal language format for idea generation and critique. I may not agree with your structure of "4 Fields." However, I do appreciate your work to explore the verbal language of design. Such nomenclature should not be constrained by any political system or financial order, but should respect language norms of past and existing design practice, even if the new language eradicates the old.
To me, the issue of the language is whether it serves the advancement of the profession or just one designer.
The languages of science, math, music, humanities, art and geography have old and new words and structures. Why cannot we forge a corporal language of industrial design that builds on our past and the foundations of other professions?
thanks for your comments regarding your categories of 'Design Methodologies' and 'Types of Design' and how they correlate with verbs and nouns.
from what i understand you are looking at the design process and the outcome of that process, whereby there is human activity (verb) and the mostly physical product of that activity (noun).
fundamentally our framework is based upon design intention. so it precedes the normal process and product scheme. so there is first, what the designer wants to achieve, then how they go about achieving this, and then what they produce.
often when looking at others' work and trying to make sense of it, we are focused on the object and we must speculate on the process and intention. because intention is not so explicit, you run the risk of incorrectly interpreting this.
for us this taxonomy is less about a tool for classifying others' work. instead we see it primarily as a tool to help designers design and make sense of their efforts.
i hope that this helps.
it seems to give a name(s) to what initiatives I'm already involved in. This facilitates communication with my colleagues and potentially other adopters of the same.
Secondly, as a design-outsider interacting constantly with the design community, I can vouch for the confusion generated by the myriad monikers for niche and not-so-niche design disciplines. (Yes, I realize I just advocated adding about 4 more to that list).
Finally, I think these terms could be viewed as another axis and not substitutes for other terms, like universal, eco-, etc. Seems to me, for example, that universal design fits equally well with Commercial and Responsible. Ultimately, I feel these four new categories would best serve more of a design-external exchange, while still maintaining the granularity w/in the design community (referring to jay's post)
For my work, I've previously viewed IDs primarily in three categories:
Innovators (in the sense of creative, open innovation partners);
Influencers (IDs who need and use materials and technology for their jobs);
Conceptualists (path to pictures of the future thru design thinking).
To me, these would correspond to Responsible, Commercial and Experimental Design, respectively, with Discursive Design also being used more as a means than an end.
I have also worked on taxonomy of design, classifying my design practice, methodology and concept. I use brain mapping software to define and classify my personal vision.
Some time ago I came into a dilemma when I was classifying my version of what you call here the Fields of Industrial Design. I had two categories:
1. "Design Methodologies" which were verbs to me, how projects are done.
2. "Types of Design" similar to what you call here Fields, which are nouns to me. For me things like "Critical Design" (for you it's a subcategory of Discursive Design) were both a verb (a methodology) and a noun (a kind or type of result). What do you think about this? Do you think that your fields are also both verbs and a nouns? Can you do Experimental Design and end up with AN Experimental Design?
When a designer is working on a commercial project, his or her purpose is different from a designer working on a discursive project. Dividing design into four categories is useful because it simplifies how we understand our work's purpose. If writers are not confined by having their work fall into one of two categories, designers should not feel confined because their work can fall into four.
Thank you for clarifying an issue that has muddied the profession for a long time.
for engineers its easy as they work on quantitative stuff.
consider the GMAT itself encourages student to develop a vocabulary/ communication skills and analytical skills as well.
I would say most design schools have selection procedures based on innovativeness and visualization skills which is fine but analytical and communication skill testing should also be mandatory at entry level itself
thanks for your comments; we appreciate critical feedback, as ultimately we are striving for a fundamental taxonomy that is relevant for practicing designers and not merely a piece of theory. we also took a look at your extended thoughts on your own blog.
the discomfort you feel with the commercial/responsible distinction relates to what we feel is the most important caveat/condition with our scheme. the drive for profit, service, exploration, and voice are rarely independent--most objects are hybrids and most designers are likely not so singularly-minded.
we completely agree that a practical way to serve on large scales (and even smaller ones) is to engage with markets. certainly capitalism makes so much of the world go 'round. we do not feel however that concern for return on investment (ROI) is a necessary component of wanting to serve the underserved. we see this self-service (making a profit) as distinctive from a type of selfless service.
ultimately corporations have a mandate to make money for (serve) their shareholders, not the underserved. corporations are understandably loath to enter into ventures that do not produce sufficient ROI and may ultimately jeopardize this responsibility to shareholders.
we like to think that designers could have 'pure' philanthropic intentions. of course enlisting the profit motivations of others along the way can help them, which makes understanding this a little more complicated.
'pure' forms of responsible design also do not necessarily eschew the marketplace. the market may be the way that their work is disseminated--people can trade money for their objects of service. but the designer/producer may choose not to make a profit. certainly they could charge more than their costs, but they do not have to--this is the divergence with 'commercial design'.
so we posit a range of this responsible work: design can be simply given away; design can be sold, but not for profit (no ROI); designers can donate their work (no ROI) in a system where others can turn a profit, e.g., manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers; and designers can make a little money (low ROI). the idea is that their *primary* motivation is not to make money; this does not mean that they necessarily work in a moneyless system. when the designer's primary motivation is to make money, then this is what we are calling commercial design.
we hope that this makes a little more sense. fundamentally i think that we would agree that one effective strategy for 'responsible' work is to engage these efficient and potent capitalist systems. but we do not see that they should be necessarily be linked.
we are happy to tease these issues out further if you still have concerns.
But I'm troubled by the commercial/responsible distinction because it implies that responsible work cannot also be made commercially viable. The OLPC is a case in point, it's been a failure in most respects, and overtaken by highly commercial developments in cheap laptops.
I've written more thoughts on my blog:
the range of experimental design and discursive design is not limited to the domain of exhibition, print, and film, though these are certainly their primary venues. i am particularly interested in the area where discursive design exists in the marketplace. these are the hybrids that were mentioned in the article. what you find is that they are not as provocative, because they have to demonstrate restraint demanded by markets. this begins to differentiate 'discursive design' from the territory carved out by 'critical design', which dunne and raby define as not being able to exist within mass markets. (we feel that discursive design is the broader rubric beneath which critical design exists.)
so, while many designers have a commercial design day job and then 'play' experimental or discursive (or responsible) designer in the evenings and on weekends, this does not have to be non-commercial play. i would agree that these forms of work are difficult in the in-house and consultancy model, but it's still possible in an entrepreneurial model. the hug salt and pepper shakers may be one of the best examples of this. this was a project initiated by the Mint trio and was then pitched to MoMA, where it has sold so incredibly well. so you may want to think about licensing or self-producing some of your experimental and discursive work (though you may have to rein the provocation in a bit or specifically try and translate the experimentation into more commercial products.) it is my belief that as consumers increasingly demand more from products, discursiveness is one of the attributes that they will sometimes desire--"so what if a product is functional and beautiful and 'green,' does it say something/does it have a strong voice?"
I have struggled with this question for years: How do I "survive" (buy food, pay the rent) if I produce experimental + discursive design? is it really a sustainable field for people that are not famous? if its domain are books and exhibitions doesn't that make it art (design being a mere medium)?
For a lot of time I've had to alternate between doing commercial design to get some money and my other work that relates with art, exploration and cultural comment.
Just as some people argue that everything is art, you can argue that everything is design but then you'd still have to specify distinctions within. It is precisely because design is not bound to specific disciplines that we need a common language with which to describe the nuances and that is what Bruce and Stephanie are trying to do.
Consider the music industry for example. Categorization and keywords run rampant but that doesn't prevent people from experimenting in cross-genre music.
In short Hughmama, you're treating Bruce and Stephanie's adjectives as straitjackets when you should be thinking of them as expressions of what makes your work special.
Design, at least interior design, does have many popular TV series, at least on cable. I hope you are not saying that having a television show based on your profession makes it more valid. Those shows, like "Trading Spaces" are the worst possible demonstration of what design should be about.
I think "the Fountainhead" is responsible for the romanticism that surrounds architecture? Maybe someone could write "the showerhead" and make a movie starring Brad Pitt. However, I for one, don't care I am famous, or if my profession romanticized.
However, I do agree that design, especially what is typically called industrial design, does need more definition, and this article is a worthy attempt. I also agree that licensing would be a good way to give it definition, although implementation would be extremely difficult.
I understand some of hughmama's impatience. I think we do learn a lot by just doing some stuff, but there is inevitably a moment when we have to explain our work to someone else. Then it can be useful to have a framework.
On the topic of categorizing things: There is a social psychologist at Harvard named Ellen J. Langer who studies how people engage with the world, especially in a state she identifies and describes as 'mindful'. In her work mindfulness is shown to enable learning and problem solving, among other things. She says 'The creation of new categories ... is a mindful activity. Mindlessness sets in when we rely too rigidly on categories and distinctions created in the past.."
I found the categories new and useful.
Design is a contextual adaptation directed by a brief with democratic, non violent, comforting and aesthetic sensibilities. Also every nation or ethnic demography has its own pre-occupations that direct thought and action which 'determines' design. The prefixes are mere specialisations or sub categorisations at the brief level. The intutive and instinctive sensibilities are the stirring of martini.
Thanks for choosing my work to represent "Discursive Design"...I guess that's just what it's supposed to be.
Categories that help to clarify the scope of this diverse profession are useful indeed. And well done here. Thanks Bruce and Stephanie!
Thanks for your comments. To clarify:
The problem is that 21st design activity is not adequately reflected beneath the colloquial banner of "industrial design". With the maturation of our profession we have ventured beyond our historic boundaries of industry handmaidens who only work to 'solve problems' Granted this historic activity still represents most of what we collectively do. But should it? We posit that these other forms are important, and increasingly relevant in a post-industrial world. Design and designers can be relevant and contribute in other/broader (social, cultural, ideological) ways. A first important step in the advancement of this is acknowledgment and a common language. The article takes a stab at that.
Our point is not to make design simpler, in fact we are stressing the opposite--its increased complexity. The four fields are a way to help make more sense of this complexity as it relates to our historic footing.
You are correct that the four fields--based upon primary intentions--are not exclusive, as we state. The complexity of intentionality adds to the richness of design. Acknowledging and articulating these intentions serves designers, the profession, and our consumers. Having a framework and language helps in self-understanding and expression and debate.
The word 'discursive' has at least two primary meanings: one is "digressing from subject to subject", which I think you are referring to when you say that: "We all work on different types of design that are constantly changing, so I guess you could say we are all 'discursive'". The meaning which we refer to is "of or relating to discourse". Perhaps that helps to clarify a bit.
We probably disagree on the point: "You identify it [the work you do] by doin it." Identification (recognition via shared understanding ) is not something that is easily achieved without a means of more explicit communication (verbal/written language). And without common definitions and perhaps categorizations it certainly makes any fruitful discussion of the work difficult.
Thanks again for the opportunity to elaborate.
If you just want to talk about "discursive" design because that is what you are writing a book about, then just do it. We all work on different types of design that are changing constantly, so I guess you could say we are all "discursive". You know what kind of designer you are, just look at your work. You don't need these useless categories to identify the work you do. You identify it by doing it.
then, what about software programmers, biotechnologists, astronauts and so on????
all those professions began much later than design did.
anyway, as hughmama said:
Oh god another teenage crisis of identity.
thanks for the comments. we certainly agree with you that the OLPC does have flaws. we chose it as an example because it takes what might be seen as a typical commercial product, the laptop, yet orients it differently in the world. comparitively, we think it is illustrative. from their website:
"OLPC is *not*, at heart, a technology program, nor is the XO a product in any conventional sense of the word. OLPC is a non-profit organization providing a means to an end an end that sees children in even the most remote regions of the globe being given the opportunity to tap into their own potential, to be exposed to a whole world of ideas, and to contribute to a more productive and saner world community."
for us this is an explicit intention of doing good and serving the under-served. intentionality is key. whether in the end it accomplished that is certainly debatable, given the many contexts in which they might exist. a commercial object can try to be successful in the marketplace; if it does not sell well, this, to us, does not mean that it ignored capitalist principles.
we hope this helps to clarify.
Surely after reading a couple of these superficially interesting mirror conversations it becomes obvious that the best design practice is anti-disciplinary and anti-professional and without the rest of the world, the things to which it is applied and so often improves (including the most important component of any design activity - the mind undertaking it), it is empty. Good design practice at its purest and most potent is not a discipline, it is more like discipline itself.
I was always told that the weakest design dissertations categorize and criteria-orize. Names and frameworks are powerful ways of making consultants money and getting academics published. In my experience they are not very good at inspiring good design.
Designers explore what you can be more and why and spend as little time as possible listening to people trying to tell you what a designer is. Then you might actually do something interesting.
the only downfall was using OLPC as the best example of "Responsible Design"- what is it with that useless overpriced trophy product? not only is it obsolete, it was never appropriate for the target users, so how can it be responsible???