Dumb Ideas

by mo on Tuesday, April 12, 2011

In my research into design theory and the purpose of the designer, I was hoping to locate articles that discussed the role of the design theory itself, taking an almost self-reflexive view on the topic. I came across this one that made a checklist of "design myths", some with which I agreed and others with which I did not. Here are a few of them:

“Designers just talking to other designers and “preaching to the choir” is a waste of time.” (Keedy 2003, p. 197) – while Keedy regards this a misguided idea, I would say that it is true in some aspects. The fact that this article was published in the design theory publication, Looking Closer, already proves a point – it is in fact directed towards an elite few. And by elite, I'm not even referring to all designers as a collective, but to the small percentage that even bother engaging with design theory.

With his sarcastic and cynical comments here and there (“It’s a big country and an even bigger world. Next time you find yourself assaulted by flagrant verbosity and misguided citations, turn the page or turn up your iPod. This too shall pass”), Keedy's ideas are a little difficult to engage with - the idea may have a point, but because it is presented as a case of resentment rather than encouragement, it is a little off-putting perhaps.

Another "myth" that he attempts to demystify is the idea that: “Designers should always try to do worth that is experimental.”

Calling design experimentation as products of what looks like student effort, he points out that we should be more critical of anything that is labelled "experimental", pointing out that "design is about organising and making, but not from scratch and always in the context of use" which I do agree with – in a way, I agree with it because it is a term that is loosely thrown around in design talk, but he fails to suggest a solution. Perhaps the solution is to reframe the practice - to not call it "experimenting" as such but something like what Kenya Hara suggests - that is "re-designing". The difference lies in the fact that experimenting does not suggest an end product explicitly, whereas the term "redesign" suggests just that - that the end product is a "redesign" of an object.

However the one point that I really was inspired by was the following, which I now have a stronger awareness of as I continue my research and designing:

Design theory is for making sense of design practice. I think of theory as coming in three flavours: methodology, criticism, and “pure” theory.

I guess that for me, "methodology" is the type of theory to which I have an affinity – whereas 'pure theory' often collapses in on itself and goes around in circles, and "criticism" is guided by a sense of bitterness in some ways, "methodology" brings the two together, and then produces a solution – which in the end, is what design is about I guess?

Keedy, 2003, ‘Dumb Ideas’, in Bierut, M., Drenttel, W. & Heller, S. 2006, Looking closer 5, Allworth Press, New York.

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