A compelling defense for the importance of design and how it shapes our behavior, our emotions, and our lives
Designers are jinxed. They are victims of a spell cast on them in the middle of the last century. This curse is the work of three people: Eliot Noyes, the brilliant Cold War strategist, architect, and industrial designer who coined the term Good Design; Edgar Kaufmann Jr., who launched an aggressive media campaign to promote MoMA’s Good Design exhibitions; and Thomas Watson Jr., the celebrated IBM president who came up with the Good Design is Good Business slogan.
Ever since, designers have been laboring under the assumption that their work must be “good.” Or that they must serve “the public good.” Or that they must cultivate “good” clients. How pathetic. Other creative professionals would be mortified to be subjected to standards of goodness or, God forbid, to be described as being merely good. Good architects? Good photographers? Good writers? Please. These people want to be great.
At long last, someone from within the ranks of the “Good Designers” is nudging good design out of its comfort zone. With her latest book, The Invention of Desire, Jessica Helfand is questioning the reasons why it is so difficult for designers to join the human race. Courageously, she exposes the kind of posturing she and her colleagues have embraced in pursuit of goodness.
Design has always prided itself on being relevant to the world it serves, but interest in design was once limited to a small community of design professionals. Today, books on “design thinking” are best sellers, and computer and Web-based tools have expanded the definition of who practices design. Looking at objects, letterforms, experiences, and even theatrical performances, award-winning author Jessica Helfand asserts that understanding design’s purpose is more crucial than ever. Design is meaningful not because it is pretty but because it is an intrinsically humanist discipline, tethered to the very core of why we exist. For example, as designers collaborate with developing nations on everything from more affordable lawn mowers to cleaner drinking water, they must take into consideration the full range of a given community’s complex social needs. Advancing a conversation that is unfolding around the globe, Helfand offers an eye-opening look at how designed things make us feel as well as how—and why—they motivate our behavior.
“Jessica Helfand looks at design as a deeply emotional experience, as a live wire on sensations, as an expression of what it means to be alive. This is truly intelligent writing.”—Stefan Sagmeister