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Designing problems and solving problems

Filed under: Deep End— Tagged with: design

This is me rambling about design, plagiarism, and being bored. And stuff like that.

Intro, or design for the sake of design

Before I was a dev I studied furniture design in university, back then I was really into the scene and followed the trends and all that. Somewhere at the back of my head I developed a roster of designers that interested me, just stuff that made me go "Ufff". The more I learned, the more I realized how much furniture designers actually love chairs.

There are millions of different chair designs, quite literally. Every designer has to have their take on it, and this leads to a bewildering multitude of different sitting devices: for working, for taking it easy, for laying down (chair for laying down... isn’t that a bed?), for multiple people to sit next to each other, chairs that rock, chairs on wheels, chars without a backrest, padded chairs, tattooed leather chairs (yes), egg-shaped chairs, chairs that hang from the ceiling, and tons of just plain uncomfortable chairs. This kind of multitude and diversity is for sure good, it celebrates the beauty and diversity of life and art, yada yada.

But, there’s a rotten underside to the cornucopia of chairs.

Not to go too deep into the purpose of design in general, but allow me to be an idealist for a moment: its purpose is to support life, design should make the task of living in the human-constructed world a bit easier, right?. The reality of things might be different, though. A designer wants to do a chair that is innovative and somehow new so they can sell it, but there are so many chairs already, it easily feels as if every feasible structural solution has been conceived already, and the designer needs scoop some murky slag from the bottom of a barrel to stand out, a somehow forceful process of birthing new ideas. I can't help of thinking; the process happens as an intellectual exercise, design for the sake of design, not from any sort of eloquent worldly need.

That’s like spreading butter on a block of butter, but the bread is missing.

On a good day like this, when I’m feeling high and mighty, I think that design in general is a philanthropic pursuit, unselfish act devoid of the ego, invisibly serving the humanity. Like cleaning, you’re not supposed to notice it.

Creating problems

One of the designers I gravitated toward was Jasper Morrison, an English furniture/product designer. He has done a lot of chairs, and a lot of them look very familiar somehow. Have a look at the image below.

An ordinary looking chair designed by Jasper Morrison
A chair you’ve probably seen before

You’ve seen this one before, right? But that’s not the chair you’ve seen, most likely. Sometimes he takes an old chair and looks how to make it better, usually there are only very minor things to change and the result looks a lot like the original.

What about plagiarisms? I guess legally you’re safe if it’s an old piece (copyright has expired) or the maker is unknown, or if it’s different enough, but that’s beside my point. Obviously you (or a lawyer) might disagree on that, but I don't think we should.

I somehow like idea of not designing when there’s no need for it.

If we don’t have a problem to solve, we tend to create the problem and then solve the problem we didn't have. That’s how we humans are wired. To create something new, just for the sake of creating, is not necessarily the way to go. In functional design that is, in art that’s the whole point. And this bridges to my next point of being bored.

Here’s another interesting one, a very bench looking bench:

A very typical wooden bench
A bench by Jasper Morrison

But I’m bored

I personally get bored when there’s too much conformity. As much as I need it, the minimalist "purity of form" bores the living daylight out of me. After just ranting about how things should be, I should also say that there are no rules, no dogma, you think there is, but there literally isn’t. There’s nothing to tie you back. The life-loving, ecstatic exuberance of creating problems is ultimately so much more appealing than the nihilist minutia of solving them... to a degree.

Norwegian design duo Yokoland said in an interview (I can’t find it right now, but it was most likely on the now defunct I.D. Magazine from around 2006, Momus writes about it in his LiveJournal [interesting throwback to a more simple time heh]) that they rather create problems than solve them. Creating problems is obviously a terrible idea when you want to, you know, solve a problem. But it’s fun! And unboring!

How does all this come together in context of web then?

I’m still not sure... I mean, does it have to "come together"? I don’t think I have a strong point to make. But maybe we’re all dead inside, rutted into these landing page layouts, infinitely variating the same theme.

I rarely anymore do any design, but when do, I try not to. I like the idea of letting performance and the browser’s the capabilities to render code to define all my design decisions. Same way, if a piece of furniture is hard to build, maybe it should be built in a different way then? Just keep it dumb simple and the rest will follow.

Comments would go here, but the commenting system isn’t ready yet, sorry. Tweet me @hiljaa if you want to make a correction etc.

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