Reading: ‘Hello World: Where Design Meets Life’, by Alice Rawsthorn.

I’ve just finished reading Alice Rawsthorn’s book; ‘Hello World: Where Design Meets Life’. This piece of writing puts together a clever, concise and engaging perspective on the history of design to date, by analysing the role and identity of the designer and their on going relationship with society, art and cooperation. I particularly enjoyed the way Rawsthorn explored a broad range of design examples for each topic. For instance, in a chapter titled; ‘What is good design?’, she uses short case-studies about the following topics to illustrate her views: The M16 rifle and The AK-47, Google’s ‘Doodle’ logo, Helvetica and Arial fonts,  BP’s logo, the Monobloc chair and the Egg Chair with it’s relationship to the McDonald’s restaurant.

On several occasions, I found myself reflecting on what I’d read, in particular during the chapter ‘So why is so much design bad?’ where the topic of ”designing for other designers’ syndrome’ came up, along with the notion of wanting to be fashionable and the motivation for why we, as individuals design. I think the notion of ‘designing for other designers’  is a particularly interesting subject when you consider it from the perspectives of a student, such as myself, who constantly has the thought of how their design tutors (who themselves are product designers) will react to their work. I agree entirely that all design should be user-centered, but this seems somewhat paradoxical, as it is design tutors, not users who mark students work, which seems to me to fall right into the trap of this ‘syndrome’. Similarly, it is often Senior Product Designers, not the users for whom they design, that employ Junior Designers, again this seems to fall into this same paradox.

Further on in this chapter, Rawsthorn writes about how designers in industry so often have to compromise their designs because of contrasting views of other members of the cooperation that they’re working in. Rawsthorn sites a number of designers who have been ‘gifted’ enough to ‘combine raw talent with the necessary diplomatic skills and strength of will to steer their ideas through corporate bureaucracy’, not least of all the design icon ‘Dieter Rams’. This put me in mind of some of the tutorials we have in university, especially those where on occasion arguments are made by our tutors for us to modify, or reconsider our designs. I now wonder whether this is a test in itself, perhaps a ploy to replicate the likely meetings in industry where part of the team might push a designer to compromise. Could this be an act to see if we have the ‘necessary diplomatic skills and strength’ to continue working down the route we first intended prior to the meeting? Are the tutors perhaps looking for an undergraduate to show the confidence and self motivation to take the risk to try and prove them wrong, just as those like Rams have done already?

On another note, this book has affirmed the notion that the role of the designer is ever changing. We are no longer the people who just solve issues by making things, but also by applying an expertise in communication and problem solving to suggest ideas for solving issues. This is no more clear than in the chapter; ‘What about the other 90%’?’ where Rawsthorn asks us to consider those who are ‘not the richest 10% of the world’s consumers’. It also affirms that the majority of real design issues lie in helping this large majority.

This book has opened my eyes to a wealth of new designers, but one stands out more than others to me personally, and that is the french designer; Mathieu Lehanneur. He is an individual who went against the advice of his tutors and followed his own instincts, which led him to working with the pharmaceutical industry. He developed a range of products which aimed to ‘help people take the correct doses at the right time’. His projects have since been adapted for production, and by now he is a well regarded, highly respected and well acclaimed designer, who works in a number of industries, including medical and pharmaceutical design. He is also a leading example of how the role of a Product Designer is changing to more of a solutions designer, be that product based or otherwise.

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One Comment on “Reading: ‘Hello World: Where Design Meets Life’, by Alice Rawsthorn.”

  1. Ken Allum says:

    A mature response – beyond your years.


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