Fast Company June 2005

Steve Portigal writes about the Fast Company June 2005 issue "Masters of Design" in his blog and the subject came up in a conversation with him today. It’s interesting, because I had a similar conversation an hour beforehand with Stuart Constantine, one of the founders of Core77, on the same topic.

It’s great that business magazines like Fast Company are covering the design industry and it’s relevance to business  but after an entire issue touching upon the positive side of what design can do for your business, it seems to undermine the entire concept when articles such as the breezy "5 point guide to looking like a designer" and "how to think like a designer" focus on elements such as the right pair of spectacle frames and finding a notebook to carry around. I quote,


Actual need is irrelevant. An in-your-face pair of specs announces
to the world (or at least to your Starbucks barista), "I’m such a
visual person — and sometime devourer of obscure French philosophy —
that only the finest eyewear can grace these orbs."

Ironically, I do not practice design but I believe I wear just such a pair of "designer" frames, Jean Paul Gaultier to be exact 😛 Perhaps that is why that entire bullet point and it’s tone is somehow demeaning to those of us who would walk into walls without such a pair of specs.

Our concern was that by focusing on the frivolous aspects of the designer stereotype alongside articles discussing the ability of the design profession to add shareholder value to a company or solve "wicked problems", hinders more than than helps the very industry they are covering. A while ago, Design Observer had a post on this very topic and the commentary has been worth reading. These are the questions that Adrian Shaughnessy asks at the end of his post :

How galling this must be for designers from the
“design-as-business-tool” school. They work tirelessly to promote
design as the ultimate edge-giving device for the corporate world, and
yet this is what big business thinks about designers. It is no less
galling for those of us who view design as primarily an aesthetic and
cultural activity. No one benefits when designers are treated as
figures of derision. Yet perhaps we deserve to be lampooned? Perhaps we
are guilty of such excessive self-absorption that we haven’t noticed
that we are despised by those who can help us most? Perhaps our
unspoken determination to be regarded as artists has resulted in our
elevation to global laughing stock?

The dichotomy still exists, "yes, design is great for business" mingling with the sense of the Other – "designers are these cool, hip people with unfathomable habits." In a sense, Steve, Stu and I are all design observers in our own ways, part of the industry and yet not practioners in the traditional sense. Our unique vantage points allow us to see the possible implications of this juxtaposition of conflicting messages and what it means for the profession.

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2 Responses to Fast Company June 2005

  1. Heath Row says:

    Those two very short items were in some ways attempts at levity. I’m sorry you think they undermine the rest of the issue, which takes a solidly serious look at the business of design — and design of business.

  2. Niti says:

    I understand that, the attempt at levity, and we did indeed discuss that they were very much in keeping with the rest of Fast Company’s tone and style, but when you know the issues that face the design industry in being taken seriously by business, as problem solvers, strategists et al, then reverting to the stereotype doesn’t help perception in the market. It’s easy to ignore these issues in light of the fact that it’s absolutely great that the news media is covering design as serious innovative field but perpetuating the stereotype doesn’t help. See the Design Observer post on the same issue.
    Thank you for taking the trouble to respond though.

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