Picture this: Me (a designer) driving around in my car, noticing “good” design and “bad” design—everywhere—always coming to the realization that, “Design rules everything around me.” But then picture this: Not everyone thinks this way. The majority of good (and bad) design goes unnoticed. When you’re trained in Design Thinking, you learn to analyze everything. Eventually, it becomes ingrained in your mind, thought processes, practices, etc. Therefore, finding its way into every facet of your visual (and emotional) life. The more you do, and the more you learn, the more you notice. This is why I can recognize almost any typeface I come across, or instantly know when something is designed in a specific, historical style. Regardless of my ability to notice specific and learned aspects of design (like typefaces, styles, etc.), when I am going through the motions of my everyday life, like driving in the car, I find myself constantly analyzing car decals, billboards, street signs, and the like; critiquing concepts, communication, and overall appeal. Is it solving the problem it needs to solve? Is it creating some form of barrier? Does it accurately communicate the underlying message? Is it easy to read, comprehend, and understand? Is it easy to use? Does it even make sense? Is it visually appealing and inviting? As I’m asking myself these questions, the more I believe in this concept that Design Rules Everything Around Me and that these kind of critical questions can apply to virtually anything.
As designers, planners, dreamers, architects, engineers, speakers, leaders, individuals, and so on, we are constantly designing the world around us. But the question I always ask myself is, “Are we designing the world we want to be a part of?” It is in this question that we are able to discover how much design actually matters. Not just from an advertising or software and product development aspect, but in every aspect of life and the world around us.
Throughout our education, design students learn to design things that have a lasting life cycle. Are we creating a product or identity that can be translated and grown over time as technology and the world around us advances? Or are we creating a product or identity that will be obsolete in the next five years? Are we designing a form of communication that is “universal” and able to resonate with people fifty years from now? Or are we designing for the message to be evident, but eventually invisible, down the road? Sometimes there are situations where we only want to speak to a specific audience for a specific amount of time. However, I’ve noticed that most effective, lasting designs are successful because they were created with a forward-thinking, future-conscious, state of mind. Most designs act to engage a very specific audience, and sometimes, part of the concept-creation process involves asking yourself if your design will be able to communicate with the same audience, and continue to portray what it’s intended to portray, over a long period of time rather than just at the present moment.
When someone asks me, “Why do you think design matters?” I always bring up this ever-living idea that Design Rules Everything Around Me (Us); but I also note that history—not just history specific to design—has played a key role in not only how design has evolved with the world around us, but how it has simultaneously shaped and built the world around us. For example, if you look to the Art Nouveau movement of the late 1800s, one of the defining aspects was the idea that it needed to consist of a style that could be applied to all situations, and as such, was not unique to any one type of design—an idea that surrounded universality.
When you think about design in relation to our history, you recognize that it was more than just new technologies, artistic movements, and the growth of the entertainment industry that influenced design. Historical occurrences, such as revolutions, wars, civil movements, social changes, and more, played a huge part in what role(s) design would take.
Take the First World War, for example. This was a situation in which design (particularly graphic design) became increasingly significant, as it began to serve another unique role in terms of war recruitment, funding, and overall support of the war. At this point in history, design was being used to produce war propaganda and act as an avenue for recruitment tactics. Diving deeper into this idea, you find that these things were designed with one aim in mind: to get the viewer to Stop, Read, and Act—a notion that is widely used in today’s design world. As designers, we aim to reach viewers in ways that drive them to do something, whether it be to feel a certain emotion, buy a certain product, or donate to a certain cause. In this aspect, it is obvious as to why design matters, especially as the immense impact it has on not only a personal, but universal, level becomes increasingly evident.
As for the case of social movements acting as yet another vehicle for design evolution and impact, the Dada movement that emerged after the end of WWI was a form of an “artistic revolt” that led to a new style of design that would not have surfaced without the general public’s outrage and disgust of the war. When you consider the effect WWI had on design as both a business industry and art form, design items from the Dada movement portray a true, visual representation of not only the evolution of design, but also the need for it. Additionally, after WWI, designers continued to build upon the “pre-defined” formal design elements, while beginning to utilize new forms, organization of visual weight, and more expressive approaches to color. Thus, expanding on the idea that design evolves as the world evolves, consistently playing a significant and essential role in the process.
Perhaps the most evident movement in history that supports this idea of design being universal, essential, and something that is constantly evolving and changing to mold itself to fit (or fix) the confines of the current state of the world, lies in the ideas and motivations behind the creation of the Bauhaus in the early to mid-1920s. Leaders of the school emphasized the literal rebuilding of society at every turn, aiming to provide high-quality designs for the modern world, moving towards the idea of art and technology becoming a new unity. The leaders of the Bauhaus also believed that architecture needed to take on a leadership role in design because it presented the opportunity for immense visual and social impact. This idea was supported in the belief that the practice of architecture could serve as a collective place where all of the arts and design could be fused together. Again, as you can see, this idea of design not only being universal, but extremely influential, has existed and been proven all throughout history.
Eventually, the concept of the designer as someone who sensibly approaches a design problem on behalf of a corporate client and produces a functional solution came to the forefront of everything. As a result of this, American-based international corporations came to “reinvent” this continuing idea of universality in order to express the success of their major capitalist enterprises to the general public. Out of this process emerged the idea and development of “corporate identity,” which is one of the largest series of vertebra in the backbone of what design is today. It was at this time in history in which corporations began to realize the immense amount of value that lied in creating an “individual” personality for their company, especially one that customers could relate to on a personal level. This kind of design strategy that is largely dominant today, led to the realization that a key aspect of a company’s logo / identity is in its proposed longevity, which relates to the point I made earlier about the need for design to not only be universal, but also be able to adapt and live as an innovative, but relevant, visual staple as the world continually progresses. The universal nature of simple, generally geometric, designs found in successful logo designs makes them extremely adaptable and able to function over several decades without becoming obsolete. Design strongly, and increasingly, proposes this universal ideology because companies in the vast marketplace we know today desire to establish a mark that will last for generations.
At the end of the day, design is how we communicate, how we envision, how we understand, how we create the world around us. Everything is designed—from the bed we sleep in at night, to the building in which we spend our work days, to the curriculum our schools provide, to the software we use on a daily basis, to the cars we drive, the bicycles we ride, and the routes we take to get to where we need to be. As technology, culture, beliefs, movements, policies, knowledge, and so on, transform and advance, so does design. Design is relative to the world around us in so that the world around us would literally not exist if not for design. It is evident that with new technologies and advancements come new possibilities; and with new possibilities, more and more things are capable of continuously emerging and evolving. Not only does this provide new and improved ways of doing and creating, but it can also provide faster and more efficient ways of accomplishing things; all of which coincides with the idea that design is universal, ever-evolving, and always relevant. Everything is possible with (and because of) design, which is exactly why design will always matter.