The idealism of design?

by Gerard McGuickin, Design Writer, Walnut Grey Design

I am an idealist. I am also a perfectionist. My ideas are often fanciful, to the point where I’ve been accused of not living in the real world. Yet the real world—the prevailing state of things—is chaotic and in disarray; in short, the antithesis of my utopian ideal. I’m a writer and I specialise in design, culture and lifestyle. I believe design affects everything that we see, hear, touch, taste and smell. It influences who we are, how we feel and what we think. It has the capacity to inspire change in people for the better: individually, socially, psychologically and emotionally. Indeed design plays an integral part in our relationship with the world around us.

I often wonder if we are losing focus on what is really important, on the things that truly matter: health and happiness, friends and family, well-being and quality of life. To what extent are mindfulness and consciousness a part of the present? The sad reality is that we have lost any sense of present—of being present—and have succumbed to a new world order. We live in a 24-hour state, where our way of life is often reduced to fleeting moments and experiences. 


Today, materialism is encouraged and fuelled by short-term gains: we are greedy and desirous of the next new thing. We are slaves to capitalism, effectively disempowered, the control taken from our hands. We might think we are making informed choices, but as malleable beings we succumb to the influence of big design business, whose drive for profit surpasses all reason. It’s a world of more and more, where things are created to be sold, not used. Our global system is one of uniformity and commodification; in essence everything becomes the same. And we impetuously buy–throwaway–repeat.

More and more, we need to stop, breathe, ponder and reflect. We should question our decisions and think about our ideals. We might, for example, move to cherish and celebrate real and tactile objects, rejecting the prevailing digital status quo. At the same time, we should spurn the influence of governments and politicians—do they, in actuality, understand the power of design and creativity? (And at this point I catch myself on, realising that I am lost in my idealistic vision of the world—one where empowering, honest and aesthetic design decisions prevail.) I believe in an apolitical endeavour, where creative people, intellectuals, cultural institutions and grass-roots movements have the power to bring about systemic change.

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Ultimately I believe in the power of good design to challenge uniformity and conformity. In the late 1970s, the famed industrial designer Dieter Rams was concerned by the state of the world around him, seeing ‘an impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises,’ (Source: Vitsœ). As a contributor to this world, Rams questioned whether his own design was good design, and expressed the answer in his ‘ten principles for good design’. A veritable Ten Commandments for design, Rams’s principles remain pertinent today.

Returning once more to my propensity for idealism, I resolutely believe in the idealism of design. We should think about how and why we live with design, how we curate our spaces and as a consequence, our lives—mind, body and soul. I’m of the opinion that we should invest in better design: good design is made to use, to find pleasure in, to care for and ultimately, to last for many generations to come.