Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.

Some Advice To A Young Designer

Dear Reader,

At top industry parties, young designers – who must have blagged their way in - often ask me: ’Hey Sam, what is your secret?’ They say: ‘how come you seem to breeze through the world of design with such ease?’ They also say ‘I love your sweater!’ – but that’s just because of my exquisite taste in casual knitwear.

Sometime later in the evening, as the alcohol lowers their blood sugar level, they whisper their own discomfort: “often the process of design feels like a terrible disaster unfolding in slow motion. I wonder where I am going, and what I’m here for, and why I feel like the objects that I have drawn seem to have turned on me”

At this point, I put an arm around their shoulder, and offer reassurance – even though, as George Orwell might have said if he’d been an intern at a large design practice, the future of design is a jackboot stamping on the human face forever.

Traditionally, people argue that design is about making the world a better place. Actually, far from being about making everything else better, good, responsible and honest design is about making the rest of the world feel your pain.

Design has outgrown its traditional role and definitions. Perhaps that why there has been so much retro-style in design magazines: It’s nostalgia for when designers knew who they were and what they were doing which probably ended in the late seventies. Now, it’s hard to know where design starts and marketing ends or even how it’s all strapped together with the duct tape of engineering or software design.

This lack of purpose is of course, a great opportunity, if only one can find a way to take hold of it. Like any medium that seems to have sunk into a parody of itself, it’s a moment to re-make the image of the designer and to give new purpose to what a designer does. Perhaps it would help to imagine a designer as an extension of other fields into three dimensions: a novelist who doesn’t use any words or a musician sans music, a film director without a camera.

What this means is that design might not be about all the things we expect it to be about. It might not just be about aesthetic resolution, formal beauty, or an exquisite manner of detailing the junction of one material with another. Imagine, instead how one might design a breakfast cereal by writing a scenario of a lonely property developer whose health paranoia prevents him from forming lasting relationships. Or maybe a sofa for a dysfunctional couple whose last meaningful and spite-free conversation occurred twenty years ago. Or how the sound that a button might make could take twenty top session musicians twenty days to record.

So, gentle reader, here is the advice I hand out to those desperate young figures. It is potato printed into a booklet of the finest vellum. Think of it as a warm up routine, a dietary regime and an annoying addition to you ‘to do’ list.

‘1. Never read design magazines, they will only distract you.

2. And depress you.

3. Instead, remember to visit a toyshop once a week in order to experience the magic that design can achieve.

4. Treat your local high street as though it were the Museum of Modern Art.

5. Treat the Museum of Modern Art as though it were your local high street.

6. Keep a record of the shape of each piece of food you eat.

7. Is there a pattern to your food shapes? And what might that pattern mean?

8. Everyday, use something in the wrong way. But wear goggles, because it might become dangerous.

9. Write a biography of an imaginary designer in biro. Ideally one who ended up buried in a pauper’s grave.

10. Then illustrate it.

11. Try to imagine how you would extend your local currency to include all kinds of non-monetary exchange. Remember to prototype these designs thoroughly

12. Phone all of your clients and tell them they’ll have to double your fee.

13. Only make models out of Plasticine tm – its not a very reliable, and keeps changing shape, but it will add to your personal mythology.

14. Only use Penguin Classics for sketchbooks. That way, you’ll never suffer from blank-page-it is (and, as a bonus it works out cheaper)

15. Remember: Measure twice, cut once, but sometimes just hack away.

Posted by anothersam at August 4, 2006 11:50 PM.


Alan Martin said:

Excellent sam, that description above, especially the latter satges is how I have been coasting through my MA, presenting crude objects and prototypes fashioned from card, where as everyone else has been presenting fantastic renderings, CAD images, animations, (and not to mention every possible function known to microsoft powerpoint)! In my opinion, design has lost its soul, time to go back to the roots. Design shouldnt just be a visual medium, but a medium where ideas should be presented verbally. YOung designers should be encorouged to walk before they can run, understand the fundamentals and reasons of why and what we should design, rather than having their eye on the sweet desert at the end of the party.

Dan J Farnan said:

That's some interesting advice, i've just started a job over summer working in the field of Design for Visual communication and i'll be applying some of these theories. Good to hear it.
Regaurds :)

Mark Hogan said:

Thank you. I work at an architecture firm and I may post this list next to my desk.

In regard to number 13, I attempted to make a model out of chilled Vaseline a few years ago in graduate school. Its extreme lack of reliability caused numerous problems (not to mention the questions guests would ask when they opened the freezer to find an ice cube)but it forced me to completely re-think the design of my project due to the lack of precision in the process- quite different from the CAD/CAM world around us. I'm not sure how it added to my mythology...

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