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Design Review: Volume 1, Issue 6 (April-May, 1949)

What is Design

page 2

What is Design

This is Design Review, so we may well ask the question: “What is design?” Like everything that has to do with the arts, design cannot be tested for its quality in a laboratory. You cannot work out an equation and find the unknown value of X which shall prove that a design is good or bad. It remains a matter of personal opinion, period and the object.

The elusive quality that a consensus of opinion agrees to call good design is not to be defined in terms like an axiom in geometry. This has not prevented men from attempting to lay down the rules of good design. The learned may quote Aristotle. Thomas Aquinas, Herbert Spencer and more, who have been vocal and dogmatic.

There are those who, perhaps after a modicum of instruction, can and do discern good design when they see it, and value it. There are others who fail to recognize good design but value their judgments. It is these latter who imagine they can discover sets of rules, rigid and frigid, that attempt to embrace the principles of all design and bring creativeness within their framework.

Those with a natural gift and a trained eye to discern good design refrain from attempting to shackle it with rules and definitions. They need none. They know it when they see it and what is there more? It is those who do not know good design, or who do not trust their own judgment, who need to form rules to support their wavering confidence.

Wherever there is design there is also the man who created it. So design always carries something of the temperament of its maker. This allows a wide margin of difference between similar objects made by different men. All may be of good design, but some we shall prefer to others for purely personal reasons that do not affect the quality of design.

So we will leave the making of formulas and rules to those who like that sort of thing. They do not get us anywhere. In fact there is no such thing as good design or bad design. These are only handy words of nonexistent things. Granted there are well designed objects and badly designed objects, design does not exist apart from the object. What matters is how a particular object is made.

Let us leave the rules and formulas to the pedant and the philistine. Instead we shall publish in each number a discussion on some particular object; a house, a chair, a teapot or what have you. The contributor will tell you his or her opinion about the merits or demerits of the way that thing is designed, omitting any waving of the big stick to lay down laws of design. It is for you to decide if you think they are right.