Design as survival tool for the 21st century

Forgive this: a quick and dirty theory that I’ve been working on passively as I read Novecento this weekend lounging in a metal chair in the jardin Luxembourg in Paris and later as I flicked through this month’s Marie-Claire Maison in one of Brixton’s fashionable cafés.

I wonder if design as an activity, a field of practice and an economic lubricant is a way for us to survive. If we assume that desire is a fixed element in society, desire for others first, but then desire for wealth, glory, recognition, happiness, is desire of objects not an intellectual extension of that? Another mirror? Another way to tell a story about the lives we live? Another way to help us achieve the story we want to tell about ourselves?

If I am unable to connect with others in traditional ways and my social reference points are no longer in tribes, villages and local geography, is it not through the Ikea catalogue that I construct a sense of what home should be? In London, you barely get to see people’s houses, the way they live, but you can imagine them through the windows of Habitat. You can decide what your home should look like through the colour choices that Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road made on their second floor for Christmas. “That’s who I should be”, you think to yourself. In the same way, we consume fashion based on what we think is hip or what we want to communicate about ourselves, why shouldn’t it be the same with the objects we surround ourselves with? Psychological survival, the ability to chose who we are through what we show, what we buy, what we desire and what we design. The epitome of that thinking being “design art” that has emerged as its very own field of practice. Art is no longer enough, design and everyday objects need to make statements, call out to us, invite us for me, because we desire more meaning from them than they could initially give us. We long for “the other” whether that is a person or a new pair of curtain rods.

If we didn’t have that desire, if we were perfectly happy with what we had, would we not be empty? And would that be sad In the same way that lack of desire in life is seen as a bad thing and often associated with teenage angst?

Will think about this some more as I don’t think its anything new but it has been said that Pleasure disappoints, possibility never and I think our ability to recognise our dependancy to design, our addiction one might say, might be the key to separating one century’s thinking from the other.

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Founder of designswarm & the Good Night Lamp. Ex CEO of Tinker London, Head of Bulb Labs till May 2019.