11 November 2019

On the word design”

On his website, Carl MH Barenbrug quotes Dieter Rams on how the word design’ has slowly been stripped out of a precise meaning, especially in English. The famous — well huh — designer believes using the German word Gestaltung instead, with a meaning closer to what he considers design, would be an improvement. Barenbrug explains:

The word design’ is frequently misused, much like the word minimal’ is also. Quite often, I suspect this essentially comes down to a sheer misunderstanding of what design actually means. So what is Gestaltung exactly? According to Rams, it is observing, thinking, and understanding. It is also strongly related to three basic principles expressed by Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio: Firmitas (engineering), Utilitas (science), Venustas (aesthetics).

This reminded of a quote from Steve Jobs –who was a huge admirer of Rams — from an interview with the New York Times in 2003, which I think fits nicely here:

Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

I truly wonder what Jobs would say about the Apple Watch and the AirPods: two truly iconic designs which enabled huge hits for Apple, and also what he would say about the terrible, unreliable keyboards of the current MacBook Pro line-up.


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