Designing The Real World

by mo on Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Now that we are reaching the end of our design education, I think we find ourselves in a position where we begin to seriously question the role of the designer, and in turn, how we place ourselves within that definition. Admittedly, the phrase “the role of the designer” has been thrown around so much during the past few years that on the outset, it seems to have lost any real meaning – however, this time, it’s different. This time, we want to define this role of the designer not because we have to for some 1000 word design theory essay worth 25%, but because this is what will direct us after we graduate.

For me, the role of the designer lies in their ability to manipulate, to craft visual communications so as to inform and enlighten the general public. Designers have no place in the realm of pure self-indulgence – they must always answer to the often-uninformed non-designer general public. If our designs do not appeal to the public, then the title of “designer” becomes somewhat obsolete.

Robertson’s article poses an interesting term that I have never really applied to the design practise: “Praxis”.

According to Robertson, “Praxis” means practicing “critically and responsibly within the public sphere” (Robertson 2002, p.189).
“In the public sphere, however, praxis necessarily involves others. Praxis may not even exist without others for it is fundamentally exoteric, other-seeking, dialogue…the “real world” is not just private, it is public too; and as such, it cannot be a place governed by self-interest” (Robertson 2002, p.189).

In this way, for me as a designer, praxis is paramount to a successful design. It should speak to the general public, and its conception should be developed in dialogue with the public.

Robertson references Victor Papanek’s seminal work, Design For The Real World, in which he points out the initquities of useless, low-quality, unsafe, expensive design as it impacts society. For him, “most designers – especially graphic designers – were more committed to designing for other designers than for ordinary people (the “audience”). The real world is poor, uninformed, exploited, disadvantaged, unwired, and home to 5 of the 6 billion inhabitants of spaceship earth.” (Robertson 2002, p.189)

The conclusion is that designers have a social role, if not only just that one role.  Design is a social product that pays testimony to the “basic human ability to help autonomous self-realization.”

As Robertson decides at the end, “This is why I believe more in the real world of design education than the unreal world of professional design. It is way past time for the design profession to get real. Design might well be too important to leave to designers.”

Robertson, A. 2002, ‘Designing the Real World’, in Bierut, M., Drenttel, W. & Heller, S. 2006, Looking closer 5, Allworth Press, New York


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