I work with gathering and exhibiting design and research of design history and design processes. And, like everyone else, I’m surrounded by design.
The design critic Stephen Bayley once said that design is the art of the 20th century, and I tend to agree. Design is of course much more than art, but after art stopped being beautiful in the beginning of the 20th century, it has only been within design that we have found beauty, which is necessary for the human as a cultural being. The concept design is developed from the Italian renaissance term “disegno” that defines the conceptualizing phase, where the artist writes down the divine idea. It is a neo platonic conception that has been transferred to the product culture of modernity. On one hand it is about intuition and thereby an artistic work process in which one seeks to achieve the optimal result for a function or shape of an object. The design term is normative and to the common user of the word, it has moved from being a verb, an action or process, to being a noun that describes a good shape or idea.
Design is the cultural area which Denmark is mostly known for internationally. In the middle of the 20th century Danish Design became a brand – by coincidence or by luck. Denmark was not industrialized but had fine crafts in a modern idiom. And after the second world war people desperately wanted to go back to great crafts in the avant-garde circles, especially in USA. Design as survival-strategy always concerns differentiating from others. Denmark as a nation has had luck with doing this throughout the 20th century. Design has become an obvious competition parameter for all international enterprises today. Those who do not think design into development processes cannot compete. But if you do the same as everyone else you cannot achieve differentiation and thus survive. Even though design is banal today, it is still something that makes people happier and gives them a better life.
The design term has through the last decades been dissolving itself with postulates claiming that everything is design, and that designers can handle all the challenges and problems of the world. If everything is design, then nothing is design. If the design world itself is not capable of explaining what design design means, then there is a risk that it will not be taken seriously and perceived as empty talk. It is a pity because design can do so much good. I believe and hope that soon the expansion of the design concept and the naïve megalomania of the design professionals will stop and we will go back to limiting the design concept, so it makes sense. Perhaps we should go back to the concept of “disegno”, and emphasize that design can offer something that science and the rational approaches to development and problem solving cannot, hence an intuitive, trying, non-factual work method that is like the artist’s. When you hire designers in management in big companies, it might be an acknowledgement that art can make a vital importance in our lives.
Design historian, cand. mag. art history, german studies. Research area: 20th and 21st century design. Head of Exhibitions and Collections at Design Museum Denmark. External examiner at Southern University of Denmark and The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Member of the advisory board at Southern University of Denmark. Author, latest book “Wegner – just one good chair” Strandberg Publishing/Hatje Cantz 2014. Curator, latest exhibition: The Danish Chair – An International Affair, Designmuseum Denmark.