Terence Conran: quotations from The Way We Live Now

This quotation from Conran is a simple, powerful principle that drives many design businesses. It delights me to see design well explained to the kind of inquisitive public that will go to the Design Museum.

Terence Conran: The Way We Live Now is at the Design Museum now. See the previous post for a closer look at Conran’s exhibition. Here is a selection of the inspirational quotations from the show.

This one reminds me of that William Morris quotation – ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’

I’m at the life stage where I’m experiencing all those service jobs before I can make money from my career: the answering the phone jobs, the bar work, the customer service type ones, where you get treated as if you’re invisible even if you’re the most wonderfully interesting person. Here’s another person who started out doing that – and he’s achieved great things. I don’t have any real role models, but bits of information like this spur on my hopes.

What’s design? Common sense? Hmm. It’s not quite as simple as that. And it’s not 2% aesthetics to those who have styling jobs – it’s at least 50%. I’m afraid I’m a little scornful of those designers that restyle existing design, without an ounce of innovation, simply for the cash. We could devote our powers of design to actually make the world better.

But then I guess if you mean the design industry as a whole, that quote might be true.

Actually no! Think about the shoe design industry! How much common sense is there in stilettos? And how many shoes are stilettos? Probably more than 2%.

At the moment I think design is a blend of engineering/strategic planning with styling, and good design involves a deep understanding of the user and awareness of social context.

This sums up traditional design to me. Terence Conran knows how to make stuff as well as design it, which is great. Some might say, however, that his mind is limited by what he knows to be possible. Has he ever designed something impossible, then made it possible? I don’t know, but it seems unlikely. It is possible to design that way if you can collaborate with difference disciplines – sharing knowledge can make the seemingly unthinkable into reality. Look out for the post on Designs of the Year 2012 coming up soon for good examples.

For me, education seems to be the best answer for so many of life’s problems. Crime? Educate and empower the young with aspirations so they don’t grow up to become criminals. Death from low sanitation levels? Educate and set examples. Prejudice against other races? Educate through mixing with a range of people. The gravity of education’s power is far greater than Conran has explained.

And this last, hopeful quotation – let me give you more hope by saying that where I study, we have a very optimistic outlook and we still feel that we can reshape the whole world for the better. I think designers do have this power – we shape material culture, which has a great influence on people, more than they realise. I don’t think some designers realise that either. Each generation of designers shapes the world in their own way.

If you really want to shape the world, become a design educator!

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Filed under Design show, Designers, Ideas

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