Design vs Craft: An Argument that Designers Are Delusional If They Think They Can Change Anything

© Dieter Rams: "Good design is as little design as possible"

Cameron Tonkinwise tweets about an essay by Colin McSwiggen , a student at the Royal College of Art, saying "every idiot who leapt on then off the #designthinking bandwagon needs to read this." He's right. McSwiggen thinks that designers are delusional, thinking that they have some kind of sociocultural superpower. He also points out what the stuff we design really is doing:

Design’s real power is that it makes relationships and divisions between people concrete. Without physical stuff to remind us of how we supposedly differ from one another, our hierarchies would be awfully ramshackle; stripped of our possessions, categories like “class” start to look like just a bunch of learned behaviors and confused ideas. Whether prohibitively priced cars, gendered garments, or separate schools for blacks and whites, social hierarchies are always maintained with the help of physical objects and spaces designed to reflect those hierarchies. Otherwise everyone’s claims of superiority and difference would be quite literally immaterial.

Apple/Promo image

McSwiggen makes you look at stuff in a different way. I do go on about paying more for what I call good design, but am I not falling into that trap of learned behaviors? Am I "paying the apple tax" because they are demonstrably better or do I want to differentiate myself by the designs that I chose? Graham Hill says Nothing is the Next Big Thing; Colin McSwiggen suggests that if Graham and I really had nothing, nobody would know who we are or what we stand for. Our stuff defines us.

Once you realize that all designed objects carry this sort of encrypted information about the organization of society, something amazing happens: you suddenly stop feeling bored in home furnishings stores. Washing machines and cooking implements have a lot to say about norms surrounding domestic labor; office trash cans embody the values of a middle class that can’t deal with its own waste; alarm systems and porch lights offer a crash course in the popular phenomenology of crime. But these objects are not just passive representations of ideas about how society should run. They actively promote those ideas, validating certain prejudices and chastising us when our behavior deviates from certain norms.

Fascinating reading at Jacobin

Tags: Designers | London