Designers excel at thinking about form and function. They are less adept at thinking about objects as cultural expression, says Prasad Boradkar, an associate professor of Industrial Design at Arizona State University and author of a new book, Designing Things: The Cultural Meaning of Objects.
“It’s not a part of normal design discourse to talk about theory—to talk about how we [designers] think about objects,” he says. He hopes the book, which is an interdisciplinary look at the cultural meanings of the things we use every day and the designer’s role in that process, will be the impetus for more discussion.
The book also explores the worth of things, the making things, the greed imperative, planned obsolescence, and even fetish objects, all the while using product examples from companies like Nike, Bling H2O, and Herman Miller.
He was inspired to include Herman Miller in the book not just because of the iconic nature of some products but also because of the company’s values, including the way it embraced design early and for the right reasons, its emphasis on durability (the 12-year warranty), and sustainability. And he admires the way the company engages external designers. It’s a great way, he says, for the company to get “a fresh perspective every time.”