Design and Communication

I’m thinking about design and art, after having read a couple of old articles in Swedish about this. I’m particularly interested in the definition of design, as design is something programmers do, but this design practice seems not to go well with how design is usually defined, as the marriage of form and function.1

A couple of the articles I read have spoken about the communicative aspects of design. Apparently, Jean Baudrillard defines design in The System of Objects, or so says Swedish art critic and philosopher Lars O. Ericsson. According to Ericsson, Baudrillard distinguishes between the technical and the cultural aspects of design. The technical aspects concern form, function, technology, and ergonomics, whereas the cultural concern communication; the relationship between the user and the object; the user’s values, dreams, and desires.

I’m trying to figure out what communication means in this regard.

Reading Rick Poynor’s essay in the May 2005 issue of Icon magazine, “Art’s Little Brother,” I suspect that the following is about the communicative aspects of design:

[According to Deyan Sudjic, Ron Arad’s] work dealt not only with the qualities of a chair that are to do with sitting, but with its symbolic, allusive and literary dimension. Arad was one of many designers who, in the 1980s, tried to endow his designs with an extra layer of meaning [...].

And a couple of paragraphs later:

Offering his own version of the familiar riff, [art critic Matthew] Collings suggests that the essential difference between design and art is that design has function while art has mystery [...].2

There are many examples of design that exceed their functional role and take on some of the qualities associated with art: Charles and Ray Eames’ LaChaise lounger [here], Shiro Kuramata’s How High the Moon metal-mesh armchair [here Poynor lists a couple more examples]. The mystery [of Collings’] comes from the way that our expectations of form’s conventional possibilities and limits are overturned.

So is communication here about inquiring and challenging?

1 See also my post “Art, Craft, and Design in Software Development.”

2 The quote continues: “yet [Collings] acknowledges that ‘the art world’s mystery often isn’t all that mysterious any more’. He is absolutely right there. Art’s routines are often obvious, repetitious and stale.”

The above was posted to my personal weblog on July 22, 2005. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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