George Nelson, designer and Design Director for Herman Miller from 1946 to 1972, has written that “every design in some sense is a social communication.” So what is design saying? Nelson spent a good deal of his life answering that question, along the way skewering those “social communications” that weren’t worth listening to.
Nelson’s writings on design predated a phenomenon Steven Heller notes: art schools teaching writing. That’s no surprise, says Alice Twemlow, who with Heller co-founded the MFA Design Criticism program at the School of Visual Arts. Design is all around us, so it’s important that there be insightful writing on the subject.
Few have been as insightful as Ralph Caplan, another friend of ours and recent recipient of the AIGA Medal for contribution to writing about design. When he wrote that it is “a process for making things right,” he could have been describing Herman Miller’s approach. Solving a problem that people really care about in a way that improves on other solutions is the way another pretty good writer, Clark Malcolm, put it.
So if solving problems by design is so important, why bother writing about it? The world has plenty of intransigent problems that could benefit from design thinking. For the answer, we give Caplan the last word: “Thinking about design is hard, but not thinking about it can be disastrous.”