Why would there be a need to change the definition of design

Latin root “design,” dē-signo, we conveyed to the likes of Cicero a much broader and more abstract set of meanings than we generally give the word today. These ranged from the literal and material (such as tracking) to the tactical (the pursuit and achievement of a goal) to the organizational and institutional – as in the strategic “naming” of people and objects (in which the “design” is rooted still prominently embedded). . All these meanings have a broad sense of shaping the world, its institutions and arrangements.

But a change in the language of the use of drawing to shape construction began in the 13th and 14th centuries, and this sense of “design” almost surpassed the others.

An early illustration of this ongoing transformation is a parchment from 1340. Folded, creased and perforated with nail holes, it records a contract between a patron and three lead builders to build the Palazzo Sansedoni in the center of Siena. Over its lower part, the parchment records the legal and financial arrangements related to the construction of the palazzo; across its upper half it shows an elevation – a drawing – of the facade that has not yet been built, with notes and dimensions.

The drawings, of necessity, recorded the intention of the builders long before 1340 — to trace them on land, walls or finally more portable surfaces. Such inscriptions were, however, secondary and adjacent to the building process. But the growing prosperity of an economy like that of Siena in the 1300s meant that prominent master builders were likely to balance multiple simultaneous projects, so reliance had to be placed on the authority of drawn documents — “design” in many senses of the word. is then used — to control activities on the construction site. In fact, part of Sansedoni’s role was to outline the role of an unnamed fourth builder, who would remain on site to direct works while the three named signatories of the contract were busy elsewhere. Along with this transformation, the master of the construction site replaced the architecturalor an architect, who would design the building and record it — with authority given mainly through documents and drawings.

“The reduced post-industrial meaning of design cannot be reconciled with the reduction of the planet’s finite resources, whether the quarried stones stacked to create a palazzo Séine or the rare earth metals that anchor icons like the iPhone.”

As a result, architects can sometimes take a proprietary attitude toward the word “design.” If such sentiments are justified, architects are indeed the first to practice design in the contemporary sense—as a strategic, drawing-based method of shaping objects and environments that is separate from their direct manufacture. But if architecture as a profession and course of study were a design pioneer, she would soon have company. And the architecture students at the École de Beaux-Arts in Paris crafted diceor preparatory sketches, as specified by their curriculum and as part of what we now call the “design process,” the factory chimney rising beyond Paris would further change the economy of the physical world and the idea of ​​interior design . it.

As early as the 16th century, drawings and models of porcelain household goods traveled between Europe and the Jingdezhen kilns in China, helping to specify decorative forms and patterns – we would now call them designs – to be created for specific markets. By the 18th century, British pioneer Josiah Wedgwood had deployed both artists and “master” potters to make illustrations and models. The intention was to allow consistent, large-scale production of pottery—in Wedgwood’s own words, “such Machines of the Men That can’t be a mistake.” But as well as eliminating the workers’ scope for error, it also eliminated their individual expression. And it was the mechanization of production that followed and literally separated the work of design and making firmly — with profound consequences for the definition of design, as a word and as a structure of our society.


Although this concept of design has spread throughout our society and economy today, we can take a single industry as an example. It was Henry Ford’s Model T whose simplified design from 1907 allowed gasoline-powered cars to become more than custom playthings for the wealthy. But Alfred P. Sloan’s equally important innovation at General Motors, in 1924, was the introduction of design as the hallmark of new model years and different price and status points for mechanically similar vehicles, from Chevrolet to Cadillac – a commercial tour de force. wasted

So even though it is possible to call a handbag or sunglasses “designer” for superficial branding instead of material value, we nevertheless appreciate “design” as one of the few activities that can make the modern realities more complex navigable at all. It’s no coincidence that companies trying to make transformative and accessible products—Tesla, Apple, even IBM in its day—tout a beautiful surface finish as a (supposed) expression of sheer technological sophistication, even as they exploit the value commercial style and status as well.

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