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Design Philosophy

Most, if not all, professionals willing to make a change within their fields work around a philosophy. Designers are not the exception and in fact, given the extent and reach of the field, are usually expected to have one. From sustainable design, to minimalism, to human-centered design, the trends keep emerging and evolving in different directions. In this sense, a design philosophy becomes a frame of mind; a guide to make sure the intended design serves a deeper purpose.

Unfortunately, a design philosophy is not an easy thing to pick, and from my point of view it is not even something to pick. It is the result of diving into different fields, getting hands on experience, understanding the purpose and impact of an object or a service, but most importantly understanding ourselves. In this sense, a design philosophy solidifies while the designer grows both personally and professionally , and might be the result of years of expertise. In this regard, a design philosophy is not compulsory in my opinion, at least not when one has been minimally involved in the field. The presence of a chosen design vision, style or branch might be apparent in our design process; however, they are constantly evolving. Personally, keeping a design philosophy undefined has become a great relief; it keeps my mind ready to think critically everytime a new project has to be developed, while broadening my horizons with multiple perspectives.

This does not imply that having a design philosophy is a bad thing, but rather the need for an open mind while designing will not be limited. A design philosophy can become a useful way to keep our professional goals consistent and coherent, but it also can make us turn a blind eye to a need for change.

We should be able to question the personal values that support a design direction, while also willing to accept when to take a different direction. It might sound easy as an ideal, but it becomes more difficult in practice, especially as it is difficult to accurately pinpoint all the factors that influence our learning process. It is helpful to realize that we all know at least one designer that thrived in his or her field by being able to recognise that things can take a different direction for the better. Among these, Alejandro Aravena, known for his architectural designs for communities with scarce human and financial resources, which had been neglected as it was believed that what is socially functional cannot be visually pleasing. Similarly, Coco Channel, whose brand is recognised around the world for its simplicity, was highly rejected by the fashion trends of its emerging time.

In contrast, some designers strongly believe that you have to define your design philosophy and values before starting the design process. Each designer will have a different perspective on design philosophy once more experience in the design world is gained, however for starting your path in design, one should be aware of the fundamental principles of design. This does not mean following design philosophies restricts your freedom per se. Naoto fukasawa, one of the famous design icons in Japan, describes one of his design philosophies as design without thought.

“My ideal of design is of something powerful that cannot be seen, but only felt .” – Naoto Fukasaw

His designs are usually identified by the simplicity of their appearance, evident nature and joyous modesty. Fukasawa is well-recognized for his designs - which are imbued with a quiet power that embodies peoples’ hopes and expectations - as well as his design philosophies. Conveying them using such terms as “design dissolving in behavior”, “center of consciousness”, “normality”, “outline” and “archetype”, he continues to put these philosophies into practice in his designs.

Toshiyuki Kita, another Japanese industrial designer, believes in Shizen design philosophy or the soul of design. Kita expresses his feelings through a product.

“Always, when I design, I think of the product as a friend and I try to put this feeling into it, very subtly. Function is very important, but this function doesn’t have to be cold. Function can be friendly. This is where form is very impotent. Form expresses feelings. And color is also very powerful. Form and color transmit a message and this message affects our feelings.” – Toshiyuki Kita, Interview with LADF ( Latin American Design Foundation )

He personally believes that designs should be well balanced to achieve “harmony” between people and things. This harmony equates to the balance of nature. A strong supporter of recycling, Kita uses only the raw materials (for example washi paper) which can either return to nature by a natural process of decay or by solar energy.

While there exists definitions and guidelines for design philosophy, one should keep in mind that every design philosophy arises from experiences and interests. There are no concrete design philosophies that suit every designer whereas each individual has its own perceptions over design.


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