By Frederikke Aagaard, Architect MAA and TV presenter
Design is the signage that gets you through the airport, it is the defibrillator that anyone can operate, a way of teaching maths, a packaging material made from organic mushrooms and a file sharing platform for 3D printing.
Design is also the lamp that makes the most of LED light sources, an easy chair that you keep for life, a teapot that brews a perfect cup of tea and a warm beautiful blanket.The former category might get some degree of press coverage under News, while the latter falls into the Lifestyle category. But why is design hardly ever reviewed?
The daily press contains reviews of stage productions, music, art, film, litterature and sometimes architecture, but design is not assessed on a similar set of parameters, although we all come into contact with design far more often than we go to the theatre, for example.
Living with sensuous quality materials is important for our quality of life. Now imagine yourself sitting in a plastic lawn chair at a plastic garden table, eating from plastic plates using plastic cutlery in the greenish glare from a strip light – and tell me again that the design of our surroundings does not matter. I would claim that our surroundings are crucial – for our well-being, health, mood and efficiency. Throughout our lives, we need stimulation – from each other, from nutritious food and from our surroundings. Touching a well-worn wooden table, drinking wine from a beautiful glass, wearing delicately woven wool or typing on a keyboard with just the right degree of friction. These factors clearly contribute to our quality of life.
We call ourselves a design nation and continue to brand Danish Design, but what do we know about design? How do we talk about design? A few years ago, a journalist was banned from a fashion show after criticizing a collection – and pastel cushions, classics in a new colour or upholstery and yet another marble item cause the pages to overflow with adjectives like hot, delicious, cool, new, stunning and decorative. That is fine if we are talking about styling, but that is not design. I think the dialogue would benefit from rising to the challenge and reviewing design the way architecture is reviewed, for example. Not all is gold that is presented by Danish and other design firms. And shouldn’t we be able to say that out loud?
If we want to excel at design in Denmark, we should help each other and the industry at large by setting the bar a little higher while also offering a leg-up. Some might argue that design does not carry a message, a connotative interpretation the way art does. Neither does all architecture, film or music, but perhaps architecture critique currently holds more appeal because there are so many talented architects right now, and it is a field where Denmark has a strong international standing.
By putting design into words and enhancing the awareness of future generations of design students and design users, we can help raise the level in the industry. For how can we pick a lamp based on other parameters than ‘cool’ if we do not know that light can be direct, diffused, indirect, or that the colour and quality of the light depend on the light source itself? After all, the industry benefits from having insightful and critical consumers.
As part of an education, you receive guidance and counselling as well as critique when presenting a finished project – all as a means to help you excel. It is naïve to think that you with a degree in your hand only create brilliant and flawless products.
In my view, design includes form, function, material, texture and colour, sustainability in production and durability, economics, identity and ergonomics. We should be able to address some of these aspects in the description of a new design product. Why is this chair hot?
I try to make my own modest contribution. My ambition has never been to communicate to a narrow, elite audience. I find it a far more exciting challenge to convey my professional knowledge in a language and form that is accessible to everybody. Of course, my TV shows are all based on compromise, because they have to make good TV – and appeal to a wide audience. Although I might like the idea, I don’t think a show where I give a 28-minute lecture on a particular ism or trend in interior design would get very high ratings.
Could we add more substantial content and argumentation across the board? Could those of us who work with design articulate what we create or see – from corporate product presentations to magazines – or might we even develop courses in design critique? That would help expand and develop a vocabulary that we can all contribute to and benefit from, and which would be essential for a field that is starved for words.