Donald Norman concludes his recent piece for core77 by saying "But beware: We must not lose the wonderful, delightful components of design. The artistic side of design is critical: to provides [sic] objects, interactions and services that delight as well as inform, that are joyful. Designers do need to know more about science and engineering, but without becoming scientists or engineers. We must not lose the special talents of designers to make our lives more pleasurable." What he might not realize is that we are already losing that creative bent. Our desire to speak the languages of marketing, engineering, and rigorous research have left us neglecting our native tongue, design.
I argue that many young men and women are magnetically pulled toward physical (industrial) design because they have a creative passion to reshape the things around them. We live in an age of magnificent and wonderfully magical experiences. Physical design has a talismanic relationship to those experiences and must fulfill the promise or run the risk of seeming anemic.
We must remember that design is not an academic act and this reminded me of three artists at the polar opposite of much of design thought leadership, but who did much to influence physical design: Umberto Boccioni, Constantin Brancusi, and Isamu Noguchi.
Boccioni (1882-1916) was an artist, sculptor, and a futurist theoretician. Along with F.T. Martinetti he shaped the Futurist manifestos which were ground breaking in their acceptance, celebration, and exaltation of modern life. Working before WWI at the peak of the industrial revolution, the Futurists were fascinated with the new speed of the world around them. They sought to represent what they called Dynamism in their work as exemplified in Boccioni's famed "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space", 1913 (above), capturing movement, emotion, meaning and essence in form. Boccioni, as with many of the Futurists, died young during WWI, but their work and ideas went on to influence the future generations they anticipated. See also the architecture of Antonio Sant'Elia which hauntingly predicts the century of architecture that followed his death.
That is not a Philippe Starck tooth brush, it is "Bird in Space" by Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957). From a pure form standpoint, few artists have influenced as many famous designers of the physical world as Brancusi. His fascination with getting form right lead to more than 30 variations of "Bird in Space" done over a 20 year period, mostly in marble or bronze. Of his own work he said, "There are those idiots who define my work as abstract; yet what they call abstract is what is most realistic. What is real is not the appearance, but the idea, the essence of things."
Of the three, only Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) played with mass produced product, from the famous Noguchi Table to tea cups and radios. The magic is in the pure and beautiful forms of his sculpture. Though only briefly an apprentice of Brancusi, a similar sensitivity and resolution to form can be felt. Be sure to check out the Noguchi Museum on Long Island if you are able. Noguchi's work spanned a wide breadth from the design of the gardens in the IBM headquarters in Armonk, NY commissioned by Elliot Noyes to the chrome plated portrait of his good friend Buckminster Fuller.
Their long relationship, both as a friendship and a collaborative force, is a case study examining the power of art combined with science examined in Shoji Sadao's book, "Buckminster Fuller and Isamu Noguchi: Best of Friends". Their individual depth is a reminder that breadth is important, but not at the sacrifice of being able to do something really really well! Or as Brancusi said it, "Work like a slave; command like a king; create like a god."
Ellen Dissanayake, author of book "Homo Aestheticus" put it well, "each one of us should feel permission and justification for taking the trouble to live our life with care and thought for its quality rather than being helplessly caught up in the reductive and alienating pragmatic imperatives of consumer and efficiency-oriented and "entertain-me" society." As designers, we need to be at the forefront of that effort.