in Final Project

History of Design Essay

Q. Given the purview of past design movements which flowed with changing contexts (social, political, economic, scientific, technological, philosophical, environmental, etc), what could be a potential emergent design manifesto, ethos, movements, styles, trends or directions, which you could creatively adopt for your FYP/Graduation Project?


Better Design, for a Better Future

By Toh Yixue

In the last century, mankind has experienced tremendous progress in food, infrastructure and industrial production. Capitalism and consumerism have led to incessant goods production and massive wastage of natural resources. The new century is upon us, and the net effects of global warming are becoming increasingly apparent. Challenges of the 21st century include overpopulation, landfill shortages and diminishing natural resources. There is clearly an urgent need for better consideration of material choices and production methods. These issues need to be addressed head-on; e.g. infrastructure that can harness natural forces positively for lighting or heat. Wars and conflicts are also indirect consequences of societies’ insatiable thirst for dwindling natural resources. Slowing down consumption patterns by building intimate connections with people via well-designed, considered products, could be a feasible solution. Highly economical use of materials will be a genuine necessity in the foreseeable future; thus a good understanding of diverse disciplines; material science, mechanics, renewable energy production etc. will be important to the contemporary designer.

The concepts mentioned above are not entirely new. There have been similar movements and companies that have embraced these forward-thinking ideas.

Droog design is a unique practice from the Netherlands. They believe in practical use of recycled materials, with an interesting concept of combining skills and ingenuity to create something useful with found materials. They are primarily concerned with usability, utility and humility of objects. By combining high tech with low tech in a peaceful synergy, and complementary relationship between craft, industry and technology, the craftsmen of Droog were ‘redesigning’ the process of design.

Muji is a conceptually unique brand with products and services spanning across multiple sectors. Its concept of ‘brandless’ is a statement in direct contest of consumerism and brand dilution; a living example of quality over branding in principle. Its minimalist design philosophy places an emphasis on recycling and waste avoidance in production and packaging.

Super Normal is a compilation of products from all over the world. These products draw parallels to Wabi Sabi sensibilities; functional, personable yet not excessive. The considered use of materials, functionality and form show a highly evolved sense of design thought from their designers.

Having examined past trends, the emergent design philosophy in product and architectural design, will likely be made up of a contemporary design ethos utilising a combination of science(materials, engineering, harnessing of natural forces), philosophy(reduction, practicality, uniqueness without branding, ecological impact consideration) and systems design(modularity, repairability, flexibility in design change, open source; no propertatiery hardware, use of off-the-shelf components, 3d print fabrication).

Customisation will be key, and can be achieved via parametric or algorithmic design. Products will also possess multidimensional use-cases: practical, social and environmental benefits. Having such qualities in products will likely start a ripple effect indirectly; promoting dialogue on sustainability awareness, people getting to see and experience possibilities first-hand, inspiring future generations. This direct, incremental and localised approach doesn’t rely on top-down approach, which has failed us thus far.

The reasons for such a design philosophy are plenty. Necessity is key; these are direct responses to challenges that lie ahead in a global context. Structural materials and practical issues can be adapted for local context. Harnessing of natural forces by structures can be tailored to site’s availability. Upcycling, repurposing, repairability and interchangeability can help waste reduction across generations, thereby improving wasteful consumption mentality. This could potentially build deeper connections between user and product. A change in mindset could regulate anxieties of a fast-paced society; tackling problems head-on rather than taking the easy way out(repair instead of discard and acquire).

With these aforementioned trends in mind, they can be incorporated meaningfully into a FYP.

A shelter structure, with the ability to harness solar, wind, rain(kinetic) energy, is built with recycled, discarded or upcycled materials. Its design will possess a high degree of maintainability and modularity with a light environmental footprint. The structure’s primary role is to provide shelter, yet reduction of energy consumption is achieved via solar harnessing for illumination. Social values can also be cultivated via mechanisms that encourage ‘group play’, possibly driven by kinetic energy and playful design, to be enjoyed by families and strangers alike. Structure mobility and modularity also allows for flexibility and scalability; structure can be reused elsewhere, strategically repositioned and repaired.

Building a better future requires careful consideration, and a better design philosophy can be the answer.