Friday, March 18, 2011

Design Doing, rather than 'Design Thinking'...

Handmade Portraits: Liberty Vintage Motorcycles from Etsy on Vimeo.

This short video of Adam Cramer has been doing the rounds. I watched it a couple of weeks back and then watched it again recently. I originally started this blog thinking I'd force myself to try and write about design more. Graphic design. But all I ever really think about these days is motorcycles. I do sometimes, however, make some strained connections between the two. Like this...

I've been thinking about manual labour. About working with your hands. And about how this sort of work was quite blatantly discouraged when I was at school. I'm thinking about high school. Classes like woodwork and/or metalwork were for the dummies. As a slightly-above-average student, I was encouraged into more 'academic subjects' – maths, science, etc., with the view to becoming a doctor, or a lawyer, or an architect. Obviously that didn't work out, and I managed to slip classes in art in under the radar there somehow. Anyway there was an obvious preference (amongst parents and teachers) for working with ones 'brains' as opposed to working with ones hands.

In this video Adam Cramer says something about the "de-industrialization of America". I thought about what he meant, he's complaining about the younger generations lack of industrial skills and/or interest in those skills. And I thought about my experience at high school. I also thought about the sleeping bag I bought recently. It says on it "Designed in New Zealand". And then if you look real hard deep down on the inside hidden away on another tag it says "Made in China".

It's becoming clear that in the West we don't 'make' stuff anymore. We just 'design' stuff. And then we send it to China, or India, or Malaysia, where it can actually get made. I know the reason for this. It is because "it's cheaper over there" and "we can't compete price-wise". But I'm also wondering now if it might have at least something to do with the long-term effect of my generations high schooling? And that attitude we have developed towards manual labour? It's for dummies.

I went to a design conference a couple of years ago. It was in London and Richard 'Dick' Buchanan spoke at it. I hated him. He had the stage presence and shonkily-tried-for charisma of a practiced TV evangelist, and he was saying that "the window has closed for graphic design". What he meant was that talking about graphic design wasn't very interesting and that we all needed to evolve into more complex 'Design Thinkers', applying our ability to think like designers to larger more complex situations. I thought that was fine, if you were wanting to become a managerial middle-man, or run a business or whatnot. But I couldn't, and still can't, see how that helps graphic design? Which, despite the window supposedly closing, still exists in exactly the same shape and form it always essentially has.

I might be misrepresenting Dick's talk here. My point though is, I think, valid. This idea, 'Design Thinking', has had a lot of sway in recent years. especially in academia, where, lets face it, a lot of design academics don't have much interesting to say about the actual 'doing' of design.

My obsessing over motorcycles seems to grow exponentially as my interest in graphic design wanes. I've been trying lately to try and fix this, and to become more interested in design again... interestingly enough my way to do that was to try and force myself to read more. To think more! But now I'm thinking what I really need to do is just DO more. I'm thinking again about Stuart's blog here, and it's so cool to see the obvious link between his bike project and his design work... it's all manual labour, it's rolling your sleeves up and getting your hands dirty! It's also that ability to do-it-yourself that I really like. And the printing, on the risograph or the letterpress, is somehow parallel to the bike there.

Getting back to Adam Cramer here, I think I share his anxiety, and I think it's to do with the separation of thinking and doing. We do the thinking here, and they do the doing over there. I keep thinking it won't be long until all the books we 'design' in New Zealand will be 'made' in China. The Julian Dashper book will be hitting the press in Hong Kong in about a week.

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