Letter: Defining Design

Oh how long and often have I pondered the question ‘What is good design?’ and written about it even more! But the other day, I saw a bit of graffiti that simply said ‘Do more of what makes you happy’ and it got me thinking. What if good design is simply whatever makes you happy? I promptly went and bought a slab of chocolate cake. I enjoyed every last crumb. It filled me with joy for all of the seven and a half minutes it took me to eat it, so is cake good design? Surely yes: after all, it’s functional (intensely satisfying), ergonomic (comes in handy slices), economical (much cheaper than new shoes!), ecological (no waste in usage) and beautiful (to me, but then beauty is always subjective).

Often ‘design’ is thought of in hushed terms, put on a pedestal or designated as expensive, rarefied or for ‘others’. I’ve routinely protested that in fact everything is designed – from our bodies to a magazine, your teacup, pens, car and so on – albeit some things work better than others (which recalls Sir Alec Issigonis’s brilliant quip, ‘A camel is a horse designed by a committee’). But if we redefine ‘design’ along more emotive lines, ie as purely that which brings you the most pleasure, does this widen or narrow the scope of what may be included? Perhaps it simply allows everyone to understand more fully what we mean when we talk about ‘design’, which can’t be bad. After all, I confess to a great fondness for those knitted toys that look like wonky, kookily drawn monsters: there’s something about them I find a bit silly but very endearing. They might not ordinarily be considered ‘design’, but they’d certainly find a home in my house. However, new in at number one on my current hot list of quirky stuff that brings a smile to my face is a Yarnlight Collective sweater that claims to have healing powers. Having worn it solidly for the past week, I’ve yet to be quantifiably sure that the jumper has made any difference to my wellbeing, but as it’s a bamboo/cashmere mix blended with energy-imprinted carbon and it boasts a 24-carat gold line of stitching just inside the neckline, it certainly feels very comforting and cosy. Now, I wonder if banana cake is better ‘designed’ than chocolate?


First published as my Editor’s Letter in the October 2013 edition of ELLE Decoration UK

ELLE Decoration cover October 2013

ELLE Decoration cover October 2013