What Design Means

· November 1st

Last week, I spent quite a few hours on set as an extra for an indie film. As being an extra involves far more waiting on the sidelines than acting, I met a lot of interesting people, and — when cameras weren’t rolling ­— had some great conversations.  There were people from all walks of life: special-ed teachers, contractors, film industry professionals, and some unemployed.

As we spoke about what we did or hoped to do for a living, I discovered something interesting. Nearly everyone I spoke to, when I spoke about being a professional designer and illustrator, expressed some level of interest in design. Often it was something like this: “I really love design, but I’m not sure I have what it takes. I never was very good at art.” Or maybe something along these lines: “I really enjoyed art classes in school, but I guess I decided to go with something more practical — we all have our bills to pay!” Others were going back to school and were considering a design degree.

Why such a universal fascination with design? Often we bemoan the state of design culture as being replete with wannabes and false claimants, but it also makes clear that there is a general appreciation and love of design, even among those who aren’t destined to do it for the rest of their lives. Granted, those I spoke to on set shared an interest in film, which may explain their common interest in visual media, but I believe it is more than that.

We’ve shaped ourselves into a predominantly visual culture. Form proverbially follows function, but although it’s theoretically secondary, form means a lot to us. It may be the colors we first see when we wake up in the morning. Maybe it’s the curve of a machined aluminum computer body. It’s having that picture window on the west wall so we can see the sunset. It’s the pattern on the tea box when we open the cabinet.

Even the simplest objects are designed, and the more thought put into any given thing the more it means to us. Making everyday objects — the things we use, touch and see constantly — beautiful is one of the oldest pursuits of humanity. This is why people buy products from Best Made Co., when they could get an offshore factory-produced version for a fraction of the price. This is why Imogene + Willie sells their well-crafted jeans, when you could get a cheap lookalike elsewhere. Design means something to us, very deeply. Design is about quality of living. It’s a very personal connection. That’s why being a “designer” has this sort of mystique surrounding it — it’s the opportunity to make everyday things beautiful, every day.

Thus, after talking to a dozen different people whom I hadn’t met in a design context, and hearing what they had to say about design, I spent some time thinking about what it really means and how we are privileged to have a hand in raising the quality of living for others. When I left the set that day, I had a new appreciation for my line of work as a designer.

Photo by katsrcool