Thursday, September 10, 2009

Institutionalisation of Design

Design is an Anglo-Saxon word whose etymology comes from French words ‘dessein’ (means project, intention) and ‘dessin’(means drawing a picture). Design as the word itself has multiple meanings and can be interpreted in many ways. Edwardo Corte-Real’s journal in ‘The Radical Designist’ explores the different meanings of the word design in Robert Cawdry’s Alphabetic Table of hard words, Nathan Bailey’s Universal Etymology English dictionary, Noah Websters an American dictionary and Merriam-Webster Collegiate dictionary.

Definition of design has been modified over time to suit us. In French it is rather a search for harmony between shape (form) and function of the object. For functionalists it is a process to give objects right shape (form) according to its functionality.

So, the overall thought of design is far too complex for us to narrow it down to one particular perception. Like any other cognitive process, this also requires some order in order for us to make sense of it. Here engenders institutionalisation of design. Two of the earliest schools of design we know of across the world are the Bauhaus school in Germany, 1919 and the Vkhutenas in Moscow, 1920. Both these institutions preached their vision of design. Students/Professors of these institutions branched to form a wider web of say ‘Bauhaus style’ and so on.

In the nascent stages design was mostly an offshoot of a higher context. Over many years it can be argued that design has lost its initial meaning and is now often confused with stylisation to embellish objects and aesthetics of objects.

Institutions are expected to give guidelines, increase awareness and aid creativity and application of design principles in practicality. For any institution to function there is a literal concept of a ‘curriculum’. John Kerr defines curriculum as “the learning which is planned and guided by the school, weather it is carried on in groups or individually, inside or outside the school”. The main keyword in this definition ‘learning’ is highly subjective and varied, which implies that a curriculum is subjective and therefore we conclude that the underlined vision of an institution is also subjective.

The purpose of an institution is to impart basic foundation and learning (which can take various forms). An institution may not necessarily mean a room of four walls with one teacher and few students in it. The concept of institution permeates through different mediums such as: Person to person, inspirational talks, following work, reading other’s stories etc.

‘Design gene is in everyone and in built in us’-Rodney Fitch. An institution is just a system by which people of similar beliefs can come and work together. An excerpt from design council article I read recently ‘Design is fundamental. People often need reminding that everything around us is designed and that design decisions impact on nearly every part of our lives’. Technically a company that finds solutions to a complex problem is also designing. Therefore it is imperative for a design institution to be aware of the aspect of design it is looking at.

Due to recent corporate and commercial nature of institutions, the fundamental idea of design has become warped. What needs to be emphasised is the ‘point of design’. Today it is widely said that institutions concentrate more on form rather than function. The ‘form’ referred in former is limited to aesthetics. Notion of form goes beyond just the aesthetics; it is a medium, an outcome, something that embodies a function. Design as a word is made up of ingredients form and function (which go hand in hand), if we were to distinguish form from function then it wouldnt be called designing.

So the basic argument is not the fight between form and function, but the overall view of design looked at by institutions. A design council article on ‘what is design’ says ‘ design could be viewed as an activity that translates an idea into a blueprint of something useful that is to say making things better for people’. In my opinion this is a nice way of explaining the situation we are in. I am a believer of ‘a firm foundation leading to good results’. So an institution that knows its primary principles and bases its fundamentals around this, I feel does justice to the concept of institutionalisation.

To conclude, I would say that institutionalisation of design (or any other) is an inevitable phenomenon. It gives us some sense of direction in this massive pool of meanings and interpretations of design. As a part of design institution it is important for us to keep sight of the basic idea an institution follows or in other words it is always nice to retrace our steps back to make sure that an institute’s current vision is coherent with its initial plan and that it comes across through its lessons and curriculum.

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