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The Death of the Designer

Author(s): Adam Richardson


Source: Design Issues, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Autumn, 1993), pp. 34-43
Published by: The MIT Press
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Adam Richardson

TheDeathof the Designer

Introduction
Industrial
designis in crisis.Whetherit recognizesit or not,it is
in a crisisof identity,purpose,responsibility,
andmeaningthat
communihaslargelygoneuncommented
uponby thepracticing
in itself.Theviabilityof
ty, a factthatis, or shouldbe,disturbing
the professionas it is currentlypracticedneedsto be seriously
its boundaries
anditsvaluesreconsidered.
questioned,
examined,
andthesupposedflounderAfterthefallof classicalmodernism
whatfollows?Where
ingof ourcurrent
paradigm
post-modernism,
doesdesignendandengineering
andinventionbegin?Orarethey
a singlecontinuum
withartificially
Whatare
imposedcategories?
theimpactsof design'sproductsin societalandculturalcontexts,
andaretheseimpactsimportant?
Thesearenot new issues,but
andmore,needto beanswered
thesequestions,
before
emphatically
theindustrial
becomesa ghostlyparodyof what
designprofession
it claimsto be.
is uponusandhasbeenforsometime.
Thedeathof thedesigner
andtheItalianCounter-Design
movementof the 1960s
Papanek,
wereallearlywarnings
whichhavesincebeenmuted.Infact,there
aretwodeaths:onepromising
theotherdamnation
reincarnation,
a seemingly
butonethatis inevitable
paradoxical
combination,
in today'sclimate.Bothdeathsmustbefacedif we areto avertthe
crisis.

Thiscrisisof identityis simplythatindustrial


designers
do not
do whattheygenerallysaytheydo. Thatis, theyhavemuchless
controlovertheprocessof productdevelopment
thanonemight
be ledto believeby thecommonrhetoric.In addition,howusers
andculturesrespondto theproductswhichdesigners
helpcreate
is notwellunderstood.
Mostconventional
theoriestendto exaginfluenceovertheseinteractions,
geratethedesigner's
andexactly
whatthe designer'sresponsibilities
aretowardthe cultureas a
wholemustbe givencloserattention.
To begin,two fundamental
rootsof design- formandfunction- mustbe dugup andexaminedbeforebeingreplanted
in
translated
form.Theserootsareancientandperhapsa bitworse
forwear,havingendured
manyinspections.
Certainly
muchhasbeen
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1) Ralph Caplan, By Design: Why there


are no locks on the bathroom doors in
the Hotel Louis XIVand other object
lessons(New York: St. Martin's Press,
1982), 32-33.

2) Reinhart Butter in an unpublished lecture as part of the Progress Lecture


Series in San Francisco delivered on
May 30, 1991.

recordedaboutthe relationshipof thesetwo basicconcepts.They


havebeentreatedaseitherdistinct-orinseparable,
one attheexpense
of the other,or treatedwith absoluteparity.Thereexistsa necessity for a new examination,a new equation,to rethinktheirrelative
balancein lightof thecrisisnow withus (acrisistheyhelpedto instigate)and to tracethe consequencesof this new interpretationto
the boundariesof industrialdesign.
Of all the manifestosconcerningthe relationshipof form and
function, the Bauhausmaxim"formfollows function"is surely
the most famous,as well as being the most sweetly succinct.It is
also one of the most misinterpreted.
It is not a statementof importance, grantingfunction a greaterstaturethan form, but one of
process:functionmustbe discernedbeforeformcanbe fashioned
and,implicitly,to do otherwisewould be nonsensical.'However,
in the effort to repudiatethe erroneousmyth of the subservience
of form,formhasbeenmademoreimportantthanfunction,almost
to the exclusionof the latter.The myth of the maximhas replaced
its reality,and thus broughtappearancesfirmlyto the fore in the
collectiveconsciousnessof the industrialdesigncommunity.For
evidenceone needonly observe,with few exceptions,whendesignersdiscussa product,thefunctionandthereasonsandconsequences
for it arebarelymentioned;its formis almostsolelyreviewed.This
seemsironicwhen consideringthe lengthsto whichdesignerswill
go to separatewhat they do from "styling,"that dirty word that
belittlestheprofession.Justhow functionhascometo be so exiled
within industrialdesignwill be examinedlater.
The semanticsargument
First,let us considerwhatis perceivedto be the moreconsequentialof thetwo factors:form.Surprisingly
littlehasbeenwrittenabout
the interpretationof formin the field of industrialdesign,leastof
all fromthe perspectiveof designers,who arenotoriouslyreticent
to critiquethe professionor themselvesas a group.The fact that
this particularaspectof design has receivedso little attentionis
evenmoresurprisingwhenit is recognizedasone of themostdominantfactorswithin the field.
Productsemanticsis one of the mostdevelopedandwell-known
recentconceptionsof form,andseveraldifferentversionsof theprecise meaningof the phrasehavecome to prominence.The modern
semanticsmovementexistsin two generalschools:"process"and
"function."The processschooluses semanticsto guidethe useras
to the properuse of a product,an approachthathas been labeled
"scientific"by its proponents(which accordinglyis supposedto
give industrialdesign more credibilitywithin the businesscomThefunctionschool,on theotherhand,usesthesemantics
munity).2
of formto expressthefunctionsof thedifferentelementsof theproduct.To my mind,thisschoolis journeyingdown a dead-endstreet
for reasonsthatwill becomeclearlater.Much of the work funcDesign Issues: Vol. IX, Number 2 Springl993

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35

3) Stewart Brand, The Media Lab:


Inventing the Future at MIT (New
York: Penguin Books, 1988), 80.

4) Donald Norman, in his book The


Psychology of Everyday Things (New
York: Basic Books, 1988), gives a lucid
description of this fundamental foundation. The fact that the book was
deemed so innovative is worrying.

5) Roland Barthes, "Death of the


Author," in Image, Music, Text, trans.
and ed. Stephen Heath (New York:
Noonday Press, 1988),142-48.
6) Henrietta Moore, in Reading Material
Culture, ed. Christopher Tilley
(Cambridge,MA: Basil Blackwell,Inc.,
1990), 112, argues, a. . material culture can be consideredas a text because
it is the product of the inscription of
meaning and meaningful action on the
world." Here, "product semantics" is
meant quite literally, treating products as texts and interpreting them
similarly.
.

tion semanticshas produced has been frivolous. For example,


StewartBrand,in his book on MIT'sMediaLab,statesthatwhile
judginga nationalcontest of studentdesignwork: "One contestantwaxedeloquentaboutthe'productsemantics'of hissubmission.
He meant the handleswere cleverly designedto look like handles."3It was fromone school thata numberof productsappeared
with wavy surfacessignifyingwater.Or was it sound?Or heat?
Ultimately,shallow "one-liner"metaphorssuch as these quickly
become wearing.Likewise, the early experimentalwork of this
type done at Cranbrookhad more complexgoals in mind but, as
so oftenhappens,thepopularizationof the approachcausedmuch
to be lost. Specifically,it was strippedof its engagementwith cultureand,with this,muchof itsvitality.Productsemanticsis thought
by manydesigntheoriststo be passe,out-of-fashion,andperhaps
even obsolete. Indeed,ideassimilarto thesewere investigatedin
the 1950sand 1960s(withoutthe "validation"of communication
theory),andideallyshouldhavebecomegivensor foundationson
which to build.4Thereis farmoreto a productthantheseschools
allow. They confine themselvesto communicatingfunction and
methodof use, bothof whichareundoubtedlyimportant,butonly
constitutepartof the meaningand impactof products.
The semanticapproachof both theprocessandfunctionschools
has held to the modernistmodel of closure,of a singular,logical
of theproductby the
meaningthatis discernedupon apprehension
user.Thisis a comfortablemodel,sinceit beliescertaintyandlocks
the designeranduserinto a controlled,predictabledialog.To critiquethis belief,let me referto the literaryandsocialcriticRoland
Barthes,whoseessayDeathoftheAuthorinspiredthetitleof thisone.
Barthescontendsthatin literatureeachreaderof a textwill interpret
it in subtlydifferentways,imbuingit with meaningsnot considered
by theauthor.In fact,he goesso faras to say,thattheconceptof the
authoris a fallacy:thereaderis therealauthorwho "writes"thetext
as he/shereadsit. Forthe readerto be accordedhis/hertruestature,
statesBarthes,it mustbe at the expenseof the deathof the author.5
semanticapproachesaregroundedin
Sincethetwo "traditional"
communicationtheory,it is appropriateto use Barthes'sliterary
theory in order to counter them and observe its effect.6Instead of

the constrictingmodeldescribedearlier,we haveone thatis openandoutsidethedesigner'sinfluence.Thenewly


ended,unpredictable,
invigorateduser "reads"the form andfunctionof a productusing
an interpretationthat is independentof the one that the designer
intended.As with text,thereis obviouslyconsiderablecongruence,
remainsindividual
buttheinterpretation
nonetheless.In otherwords,
the "birth"of the usermustresultin the "death"of the designer.
The first death
In order to make this process clearer,let us take a product and
examineit in light of theseconcepts.The commonU.S mailboxis

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7) Paul Ricoeur, in Reading Material


Culture, 94, calls this distanciation, a
process that he recognizes in reading
both texts and material culture. He
states: "the text's career escapes the
finite horizon lived by its author. What
the text says now matters more than
what the author meant to say, and
every exegesis unfolds its procedures
within the circumference of a meaning that has broken its moorings to
the psychology of its author."(emphasis mine) Here we may substitute
"products"for "text,"and"designer"for
"author."

an objectwith which most people arefamiliar.It sits unassuming


on many street corners.Like a parking-meter,it has an animallike presence.Its "paws"press on the concrete, its mouth gets
pulledopen,andthemailtosseddownits belly,laterto be "pumped"
by the mailcarrier.It is a familiar,whimsicalimage.It is interesting to comparethe U.S. mailboxwith the Englishmailboxwith
whichI grewup.Thelatterstandsshoulder-highor taller,massively
cast of iron. Painted bright red, it is embossed with Queen
Elizabeth'ssign:ER II.
Why the differences?Eachnationhas its own distinctivemailbox, shapedby culturalforces.Americanshave a distastefor big
government,so the U.S. mailbox, a potential symbol for overbearing governmental omnipresence, is comforting, cute,
disarminglyinnocent.It has none of the statureor solidity architecturallyspeakingof, say,cityhall.In contrast,theEnglishmailbox
is dominating,unmovable,andnow "classic."TheEnglishencourage(or tolerate)moregovernmentcontrolandlike to pretendthat
the monarchystillplaysa partin runningthe country.Theirmailboxes reflect these inclinations. The evident age of the design
harkensback to an era of Britishprosperityand dominanceand
servesas a nostalgicreminderof past glory.
These, of course,arejust my responses;a resultof my experiences and biases as a designer layered on top of my English
upbringingwith its classconsciousness.Theoreticallytherearean
infinitenumberof interpretationspossible,although,in reality,a
poll of mailboxuserswouldprobablyfindinterpretations
thathad
some congruencewith mine while still exhibitingindividuality.
All interpretations
areequallyvalid.Whetherandhow manyof them
were intendedby the designer(s)of the mailboxis unknown,but
the degreeto whichthey couldcontrolthe multiplemeaningsthat
havesince come to be associatedwith mailboxesis only partial.7
It is also interestingto note how the mailboxfareson conventional semanticlevels. Its simple process of use is successfully
communicatedby thepull-handle,buton a function-semantic
level
it is a totalfailure:whereis the"mailness"
of itsform?Theonly indicationof itsfunctionis givenby thetextpastedto itsflank.Otherwise,
conventionandcommonknowledgearethe only meansof recognizingthe objectas a mailbox,over time it hasbecomean icon.
Here then,is the firstof the two deathsof the designer;this one
in the metaphoricalsensethatBarthesmeantit for the author.The
commutabilityof meaningthat an abstractform permitsmeans
thatthe designerhasno way of conveyinga singularmeaningand
thatprecisemeaningonly. Productscan only communicatemessages within boundariesof probability;there always remainsa
degreeof uncertaintyas to how the symbolismswill be decoded
by theirusers.The designer'sself-madepedagogicroleis therefore
denied, not only its hegemonicnature,but its entire existence.
Upon releaseinto the use-place,it is impossibleto know whatwill
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becomeof the project,althoughit hasostensiblybeenthe designer's task to control and limit the impendinginteractionbetween
cultureandproject,a taskthatcannotbe performedwell at a draft- instead
ingmachine.In this,thedesigneris grantedreincarnation
is
it
that the
there
is
liberation.
Once
acknowledged
of paralysis,
play of interpretationon the objectis unceasingandunstoppable,
a greatburdenis lifted.We shallsee laterwhatthismightimplyfor
the practiceof industrialdesign.
Looking beyond conventional semantics
So far,our analysishas been at the individualuser-productlevel,
with the concentrationbeingon the "form"halfof the "formfollows function"equation.Before describingthe second death of
the designer,it is necessaryto widen our scope to the level of cultureas a whole. Here,functionbecomesmoreprominentwhen all
the individualresponsescombine to form a numberof cultural
ones, and createa complexsymbiosisbetweenthe individualand
themasslevels.Withthisexpansionof scalecomesa shiftin emphasis. Culturedealswith categoriesof objectsratherthanindividual
products,so the specific form of a product becomes essentially
insignificant;its functionbecomingthe majorfactorandcausefor
attention.Here,thereis alreadya clue as to the seconddiminution
of the designer'srole.Designersdealwith individualproducts,not
the category(for example,"SonyTrinitron"ratherthan "televisions"), and consequentlyappearless importanton the greater
culturalscale.
The culturalresponseto a particularfunctiontakesplacebroadly in three ways. The first and most immediateresponseis that
meaningscometo be associatedwith thefunctionof theobject.For
example,the telephonehasnumerous"mythical,"in the Barthian
sense,attachmentsthatrangefromover-extendedteenagegossiping to telemarketing,from informationtransmission(humanand
electroniccommunication)to ordinarycallsof friendship,as well
as strongassociationsof power, control,and subservience.Since
the telephonehas beenwith us for a periodof time,some of these
myths are derivedfrom the second type of response:the socioculturalimpactof theproductovertime.Whenthephonewasfirst
introduced,it was not considereduseful in the domesticsphere
(who would you want to call?).Now, it is one of the most ubiquitous products, and to live without a telephone is almost
unimaginable.Its assimilationinto societyis complete,andwe are
absolutely dependenton it. Our lives, our world is structured
aroundknowing that it is available.Surelyit is not possible that
AlexanderGrahamBellforesawwhatwould be madeof his invention or how it would evolve to createand fill nichesas though it
werea livingorganism.This bringsus to the thirdresponse,which
is a technologicalone:functionsarenot static.Rather,they change
andmutate,crossingoverintootherareasof technologyand,in turn,
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areimpactedby otherapplications.Telephoneshavenot remained


simplevoice-to-voicecommunicationdevices,but havespawned
other uses and products,such as Galluppolls, modems,answering machines,and so forth.
In summary,function generatesresponsesthat vary perhaps
even more than responsesto form, althoughthey are of a different nature.Forthe telephoneandotherdomestictechnologies(TV,
radio, remote control, microwaveovens, vacuumcleaners,etc.)
function, not form, is the primaryreasonfor their importance.
Our lives are affectedand organizedin certainways becauseof
what they do, not what they look like. For better or for worse,
mass-producedobjectshaveramificationswithin society thatare
as concreteas they are far-reaching.Just as the brainconstantly
itselfto accommodatenew memories,societyandculrestructures
tureconstantlyshift as they absorbthe impactsof products.
It is clearthat at the culture-productlevel there is an unpredictabilityto the response,justas thereis at the user-productlevel.
It appearsto be anunavoidablepattern.The conventionalprocess
semanticand functionsemanticapproachesareinapplicablehere
for this reasonalone,even if they don't addressthe culture-product relationship.This is a significantlack, for it is at this level,
where function is the primaryforce, that the designer'ssecond
deathbecomesevident.Whereasthe firstdeathis a directresponse
to form, the secondis tied to function.

8) This definition excludes the feminist


critique that the history of industrial
design has ignored craftsas a valid part
of design, a realm that women have
occupied to a largedegree.This is consciously done since it is just this
"classic" definition which I am critiquing, in part, advocating a returnto
a pseudocraftprocess, i.e., involvement
of the designer at the initial stages.

The second death


The culture-productinteractionis a postpartumactivity, so to
speak,one thattakesplaceafteractualproduction.However,it is
necessary,also to examinethe developmentphaseof the product,
as well as the prevalentmodelfor the practiceof industrialdesign.
Here,the designeris hiredto createa formfor a mechanismand/or
structureconceivedof by an engineer,the functionof which has
been determinedby another.The end goal is massproductionof
the item.8Clearly,the industrialdesignerhas no say in the base
functionof the product,only in how its functionis to be executed by the user.This is the outerlimit, the prescribedperimeterof
the designer'sinfluencewithin the functionalrealm;his/her task
is to moldthe functioninto a usefulanduseableformthatis attractiveto thepurchaser.Fora largenumberof products,includingthe
domesticitemsmentionedearlier,the extentof thedesigner'sinput
is to annuallycreatea new shellfor innardsthatremainessentially unchangedfrom the previousyear's exterioriteration(aside,
It is herethatthe
perhaps,froman increasein dubious"features").
capitalistideology reachesits apotheosis,or perhapsnadir.
In this light, the word designerseemsempty.The myth of the
individual,heroiccreator(whichdesignersthemselveshavedone
little to dispute),is simplybarrenof truth.Designershavefarless
impacton the finalproductthanthey liketo think,insteadthey are
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9) Adrian Forty, Objects of Design (New


York: Pantheon Publications, 1986),
241-42. Forty gives a harsh critique of
the myth of the designer's omnipotence and also touches on the ideology
question. He states, "To put the paradox in the most extreme terms, how
can designers be said to be in command of what they do, but at the same
time merely be the agents of ideology,
with no more power to determine the
outcome of their work than the ant or
worker bee?"

10) Since this essay was written, Tony


Fry's "Against an Essential Theory of
Need: Some Considerations for
Design Theory" appeared in Design
Issues,VIII, no. 2 (Spring 1992), 41-43,
and is an insightful investigation of the
fabrication of needs by "the system"
that leads to products that fulfill these
"artificial" needs. Of course, the
boundary separatingan artificialneed
from a genuine one is, at this point,
extremely blurred.
1 1) Jean Baudrillard, Design After
Modernism, ed. John Thackara (New
York:Thamesand Hudson, 1988), 173.
"Degree-zero" is a reference to
Barthes's Writing Degree Zero,
although a similar argument about the
ideology of myth can also be found in
Barthes's Mythologies.
12) Roland Barthes, "Myth Today," in
Mythologies (New York: Farrar,
Strauss and Giroux, 1992), 37. Here,
Barthes investigates the favoring of
myth toward the bourgeoisie.

partof a teaminvolvingothersthathavedone muchof the work


beforethe designerbegins.9
This exclusionof the designerfromthe initialdecisionon functionis a partialcauseof theseconddeath,whichcomesaboutbecause
thefunctionof theproductis out of thedesigner'shands,bothduringdevelopment
andafterwards
whenit is introduced
intotheculture.
The designerhas little opportunityto define the functionwhile
workingon the product,as it is a priori,a given.Once the product
hasbeenmanufactured,
theforcesof culturetakeoverandthefunction becomesredefined,once again,outsidethe designer'scontrol.
The issuessurroundingthis seconddeatharemoreproblematic thanthefirst.By beingexcludedfromdecidingfunction,designers
arepreventedfrom havingany influenceon the ideologicalissues
concerningproductsand can only respondto them in a cursory,
detachedfashionwhileremaining,nevertheless,implicatedin them
in a very directway. Whilethe ways in which a culturewill react
to a particular
functionareunpredictable,
it is importantfor designersto be awareof theideologicalcontextwithinwhichtheyoperate
if they wish to influenceit. For it is only at the initialstagesthat
the designerhas any chanceof affectingthe ideologiesthatareto
be propagatedby the productionline.
Whatarethe ideologiesinvolvedhere?Productsandtheirattendant functionsare not accidents;they exist for specific reasons.
The issueof existence,of why a productis createdat all,is not one
that has been carefullyexamined,despite its undeniableimportancein the productdesignprocess.10
JeanBaudrillardstatesthat
function is the "degree-zero"or non-ideologicalelementalconstituentof a productin a capitalisticsocietywhereproductscannot
presentthemselvesassimplypurveyorsof functions."No mass-produceditemsare neutral- all are ideologicalcontainers.Function
containsthe deeper,evenmoresinister,ideologiesandsocialramifications.It is decidedby those who makesuch decisionsthat a
particularfunctionor technologicalinnovationis worthy and/or
marketable,andso a productis conceivedto performit. An investment of time, money, and effortis made.Theseareall ideological
concerns.In a capitalist,bourgeois-dominatedsociety, much of
the ideology will involveitselfwith the continuingentrenchment
of thesevalues"2
and of wealth(itselfan ideology thatoften takes
precedenceover all others).A form is consequentlygiven to the
product, continuing the ideologies that were initiatedwith the
function,althoughalmostinvariablyit will maskthem.But form
is inevitablyimplicatedin the myth and, along with it, so is the
designer.By creatingthe form for the function,the designervalidatesin the eyes of the public not only the product,but also the
processand ideologiesbehindit. (Thisact of confirmationis evidentin theearlierexampleof themailboxes.)Whether,andhowever,
the formis decodedby the user,it contributesto the implementation and absorptionof the ideologiesby presentingthemin such

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13) Barthes,"Myth Today," 127-31. Here,


Barthesdescribesthe naturalizingeffect
of myths in more detail and in a broader context than I am using it here.

a way as to make them appearunquestionablynaturalor, conversely,by distancing,obscuring,or distractingthem.'3But these


ideologiesandtheirculturalenvironmentsareinevitablypresented in one form or another(perhapseven becomingrealizedby
their conspicuousabsence).The product is a convex ideological
mirror.It showstheusercontiguouswith his/herculture(sincethe
object, and its designers,are within a culture),and this imageis
alteredand/orcreatedby the reflectiveideologicalcurvatureof the
objectitself.
The issuehereis thatof control,or ratherthe illusionof having
it when in fact it is in the hands,of others.In the case of the first
death,designerswork as thoughthey havecontroloverthe product once it entersthe use-place.Although,as we haveseen,this is
not so. Withthe seconddeath,designersareprimarilypassivespectatorswhen it comesto initiallydecidingthe functionof products,
andconvenientlysubmergethis factby stating,"I designedthat."
The sweepingscope of meaningsindicatedby the word designis
at times confusing.Here, it is obscuringand preventingthe profession of designfrom graspingthe crisisat hand.
Living with the deaths
How is the crisis-of industrialdesign to be averted?As I have
definedit, the crisisarisesfrom the currentprofessionnot recognizingthe two deathsI havedescribed.If we areto quellthe crisis,
the deathsmustsomehowbe acknowledgedandlivedwith. Below
are some preliminarysuggestionsas to how to tacklethe ramificationsof the two deaths.
In termsof the firstdeath,whereform is the issue,it is evident
thatwe needto finda new theoryof formto describetheuser-product nexus.It should be one thatembracesthe unpredictabilityof
interpretationsto be found in the use-place,one thattakesa positiveratherthannegativeattitudetowardthe flexibilityof meaning
in design'sformalmanifestations.Certainly,guidelineson how to
instructa useras to the functionandprocessof operationarevaluabletools for designers,andthe developmentof such tools is one
of thecentralgoalsof productsemantics.However,aswithanytool,
the end goal is not the tool itself,but the use of the tool to create
somethingbeyondit, achievedthroughskillandindividualexpression. In other words, product semantics should provide the
frameworkfor the expressionof otherissuesandideas,the semantics themselves becoming "transparent."To use the linguistic
analogythat assignsthe title "productsemantics"to its extreme,
semanticsarelike words andconsequentlya collectionof semantic tools, like a dictionary.Dictionariesareusefulreferencesbut,
in Heidegger'swords,they havelittle to reportaboutwhatwords
spokenthoughtfullysay. However,once the basicneedof clearly
communicatinguse hasbeentakencareof, designersmayalso elucidatethroughformtheiremotionalandintellectualstandson the
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14) Clive Dilnot, ID Magazine Jan/Feb


1992), 32-34.

productsat handwith the full recognitionthat theirfeelingswill


not necessarilybe interpretedas they meanthem.As with art,the
emotionalexcitementcomes not from the dull predictabilityof
eachviewerseeingexactlywhat the artistintended,but fromfinding themselvesandtheirown readingswithinthework.Thisis not
to say necessarilythat designis art, since the issues and working
processesof eachdisciplineareusuallyquitedifferent,but design
would do well to placegreateremphasison the emotive,evenpoetic, roles that productscan have in expressingthe meaningsthat
mass-manufactured
objectshavein technocraticcultures.
The designerdoes not havea freehandin this activity,howevof the
er. The meaningsarelimitedin scope by the manufacturers
products.For instance,a manufacturerof TVs producinga new
modelwould not look kindlyupon a designerexpressinghis/her
negativecritiqueof the socialeffectsof televisionupon this country'spoliticaldiscourse.Nevertheless,the designermightfeel this
way and thus is morallybound to question rigorouslywhether
he/she is willingto participatein a processthatwill bring,in their
mind,a damagingproductinto being.
This point bringsus to function and to the second death.As
discussed earlier,designersessentiallyhave no role in deciding
whethera productshouldbe distributedon a wide scale.Television
is, of course,an easytarget,but giventhe deterioratingstateof our
environment,escalatingpovertyandsocialdivision,over-population, and enormous medical costs (caused partly by expensive
technology that is a mainstayof high-profiledesign),it is more
importantfor designersto placethemselvesin a position of social
consciousnessand responsibility.The unpredictablebehaviorof
technologywithin culturemakessoothsayinga difficultactivity,
but it is one thatneverthelessmustbe undertaken,for it is only at
the earlieststage,beforeproductionbegins,that the designerhas
an opportunityto promptthe attendantideologiesin a direction
thatwill likely benefitboth the individualuser and the cultureat
large.Allthoughthe play of cultureon a functionis a vital activity, it would be irresponsibleto let it occur without any checks,
monitoring,or criticism.As those who, in principle,have each
user's and the culture'sinterestsat heart,it is only naturalthat
designersshouldbe includedin performingsuch analyses.
Unfortunately,this is not the case,probablyfor the simplereason that designershave, almost universally,little or no training
or experiencein performingsuch research.As Clive Dilnot has
noted, designershavehistoricallynot felt compelledto readphilosophy, ethics, economics, the social sciences, or even design
history.'4Despite the fact that these disciplinesall comment on
the very social relations that designers deal with on a day-today basis, few designers are aware that these fields have any
bearingon the profession, or if they are, they take little action
to implement their knowledge. An ethics of industrialdesign

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sorely needs to be definedand developed,and not left in its current nebulous state.
The correctionof this deficiencywill take time. Likewise,so
will therecognitionthatdesignersshouldbe presentattheveryconception of the productand the reevaluationby designersof their
roles in the processof "formfollows function."Whilethe implementationof thesesolutionsto thecurrentcrisisof industrialdesign
is imperwill be experimental,
evenproblematic,suchreassessment
ative,for thepaththatindustrialdesignis currentlyfollowingleads
only to its bastardization.
Acknowledgements
I wouldliketo thankMarkBartlesandDave Orgishfor theirhelpful commentson an earlierdraftof thisessay.Boththe essayand I
have benefitedgreatlyfrom them.

Design Issues: Vol. IX, Number 2 Springl993

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