The Guardian view on good style: it makes life better | Design

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“Art,” wrote William Morris in the socialist newspaper Commonweal, in April 1885, “is man’s embodied expression of interest in the life of man; it springs from man’s pleasure in his life.” Of course, life was not all pleasure. There was grief and pain in abundance, but there was also memory, hope and, above all, the attention that could be paid to the unavoidable business of daily living: “It is the lack of this pleasure in daily work which has made our towns and habitations sordid and hideous, insults to the beauty of the earth which they disfigure, and all the accessories of life mean, trivial, ugly.” This had, Morris argued, a direct, deleterious effect on how people felt about themselves and how they behaved; it exacerbated the divisions between classes and encouraged a dire inauthenticity. In his revolution, pleasure in dailiness would be available to all, in all aspects of life – from town planning all the way down to, say, a porridge bowl and spoon.

The death last week of Terence Conran prompted much distinctly qualified memorialising of the man, and some keen memorialising of things: woks, salad bowls, drinking glasses, duvets. One would hesitate to compare him to Morris for many reasons, not least that the latter was a Marxist (he owned a beautiful copy of Das Kapital) who struggled with squaring his need for beauty with the difficulty of giving everyone the opportunity to produce that beauty. But what they did share was a mission to elevate and value the quotidian. Whatever people felt about Conran’s originality (often dubious), they agreed he made good design “available” – and changed a grey, Spam-fed island in the process.

Both understood that objects are not separate from ourselves – they affect us, and we them, in myriad ways: by being, however humble, “worthy of the word wonder” (as Daniel Libeskind once put it, in relation to Bauhaus); through the efficiency and ingenuity with which they fulfil their purpose; through the value we attach to them (think of a ring, before and after a marriage); through touch, sight, sound, or colour; or through all these things at once. The obvious caveat is the degree to which culture uses taste, not least for “simple” things, as a signifier of social status, and the related view of good design as consumption – nice, but pacifying; not especially egalitarian, necessary or accessible (unless you count building an Ikea desk).

But at its best, good design – a concept that can increasingly be expanded to include supply systems, digital interfaces, modes of production – can be both this and a force for good: for instance Maggie’s Centres, which provide cancer care within thoughtfully lit and beautiful spaces designed by renowned architects, and make a measurable difference to patients’ wellbeing in comparison with hospital settings.

As Priya Khanchandani of the Design Museum recently argued, the pandemic has both focused our attention on the objects we live with and prompted an explosion of fleet-footed ingenuity, from 3D printers spitting out Perspex visors to medics redesigning ventilators, to individuals at home designing cloth masks. Nearly everything we’re surrounded by is designed in some way. We only gain by paying attention, making it available, and doing it well.

Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The Guardian view on good style: it makes life better | Design

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