Very often I am asked about who my favourite designer is, or what is that one piece I am coveting or what project I can’t wait to experience. Very rarely am I asked about what it is that I value in design.
Design appreciation and obsession can be subjective (unless the piece is badly made in which case the jury is unanimous). More than I love the end results of brilliantly made pieces or projects that make you go ‘wow’, I love the values that result in great design and great designers. Not ironically, these values serve everyone — no matter their chosen profession. So here goes.
I value authenticity. There is absolutely no need to be anyone other than yourself. This applies in life and in design. There is no need to ape someone’s style, aesthetic language, or even confidence. Instead, time invested in refining one’s craft and message reaps huge dividends — your own sense of style. Over the years, one of my greatest joys has been interviewing celebrity designers face to face. In that movement, there is no edifice. It’s been both glorious and disappointing to find out for oneself if the image projected outwards is real or just great PR.
Authenticity also means not copying other people’s designs.
I value honesty. That should translate in intent, action and word. Design of anything should first be honest to its purpose and its materiality. Everything else can follow. Sometimes that is not the case. It is not because the design community doesn’t want to, or can’t, it is simply a function of the age we live in.
It is easy to lose sight of the process when the biggest picture on one’s mood board is winning awards, getting publicity and having your face plastered everywhere. There is nothing wrong with any of that. But if you are in the business just for the glory, I think design is not for you. Design serves the user, the paying customer and the client. And that requires remaining true to the intent of the project.
There is another element to the ‘honesty’ jigsaw. Design is not an act of solitude; it has many moving parts, mostly humans coming together for a common goal. It is easy to drop the ball. It’s been done before and it will be done again. In such situations, integrity is important. Don’t throw others under the bus when it suits you. Take responsibility of your promise and your actions.
In business terms, honesty also translates into not under-cutting your competitor just to win a project. And not supporting the replica industry.
I value community. Anywhere you go, the design world is so small. Competition is one thing, keeping it playing field clean is another. Instead of being jealous of other people’s success, learn from it. If you feel someone is over-exposed — and it works for them — figure out what you can learn from their strategy. Very often, you will find that people are happy to help. Banding against someone is so easy — it doesn’t require thought or self-reflection; appreciating someone, especially competition reflects confidence and team spirit. As I said, design is a small world — support in this industry is a game of swings and roundabouts.
The sense of community extends from the designer’s studio to the artisans they employ or collaborate with, and the wider community of humans. Architects, designers, developers and manufacturers have immense power.
How does our project impact the community it will be planted in? How can I bring more diversity to the table? How can we use an opportunity to nurture and uplift the craftsmen who are carrying the burden of our heritage?
Every design decision that is made has the power to impact communities and be an agent of positive change. That to me is what I value in design, and what makes design invaluable.