An essay on Design

I live and breathe Design. I see Design all around me. I touch it everywhere. There’s a sensual feeling of almost taking in Design through every pore of my being. I love it most times, hate it at other times, but respect it always.

We are, admittedly, at the mercy of Design. It leads us by the nose, or the eyes, or the heart. It is a persuader and a coaxer. It cajoles and gets its way. The brands we like (or are softly lulled into liking), the names we understand from among those that gently fly around the ether, the air, and the radio waves, are all carefully crafted by Design. All given an identity so unique it startles, or so pliable it lingers in the depth of our subconscious, or so shocking it shocks.

The visual gymnastics that are Design’s own domain, created skillfully by designers trained in colour compatibility and association, visual balance, font significance and creation, image manipulation, and, quintessentially, the use of space (be it white, black or coloured), ply their trade in every sphere of society. They are the gurus leading our eyes as we drive up busy thoroughfares; they are the ones that determine the decor of the shops we visit; they craft the chairs we sit on; they manage the looks of the magazines we read. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They sit backstage, directing the orchestra of our senses, playing music of seduction and thriving on our pleasure … that which makes what they do worthwhile. Because pleasure, at icons that signify products, sells. Or buys. The designer is a mercenary on the side, a pen for hire. Fighting somebody else’s war with shapes and colours.

The designer’s job is to problematise communication. He or she must understand the needs of what is to be communicated, the needs (in the best tradition of Maslow) of those who will eventually see the design product, and the needs of the visual. They tie together the aesthetic with the intellectual, because the best Design has both, in an invisible bond that carries the essential message and pleases (at time pleasures) and communicates ideas, or thoughts, or just basic information.

Design is also culturally significant and brands countries with a brush that generalises, but is often an accurate interpreter of mood. The cleanliness of the Swiss, the cacophonous, crowded colour of the Mediterraneans, the minimalism of the Scandinavians. And so many others in between. The history of Design is rich in national treasures and iconic moments that stay with us as persistently as the best art.  From the French Belle Epoque’s Toulouse-Lautrec’s exotic dancers, to Milton Glaser’s American heart. From Tatlin’s Russian tower, constructed with the need to indoctrinate patriotism, to the Dadaist Duchamp’s urinal, not constructed and meaning nothing at all.

The logos that are stuck to facades in meters high cutouts, and which adorn in miniscule visuals the face of our watch, identify and decorate. Because Design has become a totally integral part of life … a visual underpinning of society. It burns with the fires of screaming and dances with the pastels of dreams. It shouts and whispers, and cries and laughs and beckons. As invisible as breathing. And, it tells us persistently, just as indispensable.