Design produces chairs, and culture

Senior curator at the Museum of Modern Art, Paola Antonelli, debuts a new column in SEED on design and science. In it, she describes design as a relatively unexplored area of human creativity.

Several groups, ranging from economists and bioengineers to Christian creationists, have claimed the word 'design' as their own. They might have an etymological right to do so, but they also contribute to the ambiguity surrounding one of the most important and least studied fields of human applied creativity, the process of making things for other people. From chairs to interfaces, from food-delivery trucks to conceptual scenarios on the impact of nanotechnology — design takes into account people's needs and concerns, helping them live better within the broad context of the world; it maximizes the available means to achieve the most satisfying outcome, and produces culture in the process.

She asks, can science help form a theory of design? And in an earlier piece at SEED, "Design and the Elastic Mind", she has argued that one of design's most urgent goals is to help people deal with change, and again touches on the link between design and culture:

Designers have the ability to grasp momentous changes in technology, science, and social mores and to convert them into objects and ideas that people can understand and use. Without designers, instead of a virtual city of home pages with windows, doors, buttons, and links, the internet would still be a series of obscure strings of code, and appliances would be reduced to standardized skeletons of functions. Without a visual design translation, many fundamental concepts—such as the scope of the human genome or its comparison with that of other primates—would remain ungraspable by most. Designers give life and voice to objects, and along the way they manifest our visions and aspirations for the future, even those we do not yet know we have.