Published in Spanish in Arte¿?Diseño, Gustavo Gili Publisher, 2004
Art manifests itself in different ways through human oeuvres, singularly through music, poetry, sculpture, painting, etc. Each one of these different art forms need the intervention of the human being in order to manifest itself. For example, for music to become manifest it needs a composer to write it, an interpreter to play or a singer who gives it the voice. And so with the other arts. The art of painting needs a painter or an illustrator to make present in the form of a visual representation on the canvas or paper, an objective and existing reality, or, in the case of non-figurative painting of the 20th century, new figures or forms not necessarily subject to objective criteria.
In the middle of the 19th century, artist-painters such as Toulouse-Lautrec and others, were asked to create posters in order to promote the sale of one or other product. The poster, as a substitute of the canvas, is the first example of what came to be known as advertising art, that is, applied art. The process which led the so-called free art (freie Kunst) to be converted into applied art has been described and explained in different publications. What is of interest here is that at a certain moment, this new activty of the artist-painter led to the development of professional disciplines which, later on, were grouped under the generic concept of design.
With the passage of time these diciplines profiled their own identity according to the social, commercial and industrial requirements, and in this way evolving into special disciplines: graphic design; industrial design; textile design, etc. Each one of these disciplines projects different “objects”: signs, images, typefaces, in graphic design; three-dimensional objects in indutrial design; textiles and fabrics in textile design, etc. The signs, objects and materials serve different ends but they have in common to be the fruits of design and that they are utilitarian objects, whose essential characteristic is that they all serve humans to attain certain specific ends.
Given the provenance of these disciplines it is comprehensible that this relation between art and design has given cause to much discussion, some affirming that design is art, others who reject this relationship. Of all the different disciplines with the denomination of design, it is in graphic design and its oeuvres that this relationship with its origin is most clearly visible, since, like in painting, it uses colours, images and signs of all kinds as a means of expression and creating meaning. In its origins this design discipline was a manual craft and the projects were elaborated and materially realised in a very similar fashion as the artist realised his oeuvres. For this reason, no doubt, the graphic design projects were evaluated by the same aesthetic criteria as the one applied to works of art, since there were no other evaluation criterias at hand than this one. During the sixties and seventies in Barcelona one could see graphic design projects painted on canvases and framed just like any artistic painting.
Nevertheless, different circumstances, sociological changes, technological revolutions such as the emergence of the new medias, affected and transformed the ways of doing and thinking of this profession. Until about the sixties and seventies of the past century, the assignment to a designer was made without any briefing. One expected simply something original, creative and beautiful: a work of artistic creativity with a commercial function (in the USA a designer was called a commercial artist). The designer enjoyed a creative liberty similar to the one of the artist painter. In the 80ies the economy flourished and the enterprises endowed themselves with new resources to favour the sales of their products or services. This is the period when marketing makes its appearance and which from then on is in charge of questions related to design and communication.
To start a design project of a product, an object, a packaging or a corporate identity, plus the manufacture and distribution or implementation, requires an important financial investment on the part of a company, and she of course hopes to locate its object-product in a good position in its market and to make benefits with it. In order to achieve these ends, the object-product became the center of attention of the marketing departments. New criterias for the evaluation of a design proposal were introduced and the artistic consideration passed on to a second plane. Now a design had to attend to all kinds of conditioning factors, not only to its physical realization but also to functional and communicational criterias. On many occasions the design of an object or a sign was even submitted to a public poll in order to ascertain if that which is pretended with it, is postively understood by the market segment it is aimed at. This compelled the designer to have to adapt to a new reality and to think his activity in a different way. Design was not anymore a means to express oneself as an artist. Nevertheless, even though they felt constrained in their creativity and did not have the same liberty as the artist painter, very many designers considered, and continue nowadays to consider themselves as artists: they believe that to design is to produce art.
This question with respect to the relationship of art and design had been much discussed during the sixties in the legendary Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm. There they established a clear difference between the two. They dilucidated if painting was the “mother” of all the other visual arts, a position defended by Max Bill, the first director of this school, a postion which was quite comprehensible since he was, apart from other things, a famed painter in the line of concrete art. At last, it is significative that he abandoned the school after having directed it during one year, when a more pragmatic criteria became the norm, a position defended, apart from others, by Otl Aicher, who understood design as an activity detached from the proper preocupations of art, and more specifically from painting. They understood design as an activity with its own problems and singular requirements, characteristic of its exercise and the specific ends it pursues. They considered, furthermore, that this profession had reached its maturity and did not need the concourse of art in order to manage itself.
Years later this same question of art-design was discussed in a publication whose title significantly was Art and Graphics1. The discussion turned around the question if graphic design, and not design in general, is art, which is comprehensible since, as commented, this discipline was the one which in its beginning was most closely related to art, to painting. Though this book has been published over 25 years ago, the subject has not lost interest. The relation or no relation between graphic design and art always comes up again in conferences, interviews, discussions, in the client-designer relationship, and not even between designers is there a unanimity about this question. And this, without mentioning those schools of art and design who with this title suggest that both concepts seem to be sufficiently akin so as to be able to teach them as synonyms.
Art and Graphics consists of a large introduction by Willy Rotzler, co-author of the book together with Jacques Garamond, of the opinions of ten well known designers on this subject, plus reproductions of the works of each one of them. The introduction consists of a historic retrospective about the role of the artist-painters and describes their historic dependency on their church and royalty “clients” up to their gradual process of independence until they achieved their status of free creators. It also explains the historic reasons why painters, since the middle of the 19th century, dedicated themselves to advertising art. From here on the discourse raises the question about free art and applied art, and, consequently, if design is art. The author of this introduction pretends to doubt the differentiation between the two, though at some moments he sees himself obliged to admit that a design project has to be subject to different conditioning factors than in the case of a work of art. This admitted, the subject is somehow floating in ambiguity: it is admitted that the starting point for a work of art is different from the starting point of a work of design, but it is considered that the creative process is the same. This is the predominant attitude in the opinions of the designers quoted in the book. They are synthetically represented in the words of Herbert Bayer: “The so-called free arts are generally put on a higher level than the other forms of configuration. However, if one is of the opinion that the creative process is more or less the same for the artist and the designer, then the designer must also be considered an artist. As a consequence, the free artists, the designers and the architects should be valued the same way. Since free art is determined from the inside and design from the outside, there can only be a difference in the quality of a work but not because there is initially a different starting position”. This affirmation raises the question: how can a work of “free art” be evaluated in the same way as a work of “applied art” if, precisely, the initial conditions for their realization are different? It would certainly seem that it is different to start working on a project with imposed conditions than from freely elected conditions. While no explanation is given in the book as to which these conditions are, the internal and external ones, and in which way they are similar or different, such an affirmation has no validity. Just as meaningful as the answers given by the designers are their works reproduced in the book. The great majority of these are “free works”, “art works” and which don’t correspond to any assignment from a client. In other cases the reproduced works are posters, generally designed for some cultural event (again the poster as substitute for the canvas). But none of them shows projects typical for graphic design: a packaging, a logotype, a corporate identity. Some of these designers admit that they prefer to work for cultural events because then they can be more “free”. They seem to have no doubts: a designer is an artist.
Then, in the eighties of the 20th century the question came up again with the debut of design in society. Until then design lived pretty much in the shade of public attention and the term was only used when one was mentioning one or other of its disciplines. But design became famous when the so-called “design objects” started appearing on the public scenario. They called attention to themselves because they were very different from the traditional objects everbody was familiar with. Many of these novelties had unusual forms, they were coloured and very modern. For many people they became status symbols and design became a subject of social interst. Articles and commentaries started to proliferate in the press and on television, the word design was installed in the daily language and many things adopted the attribute of design. Design and designers were sudenly everywhere. Those traditionally called modists changed their denomination to fashion designers. The press, after an election won by the Spanish socialists, informed that Felipe Gonzalez, then prime minister, was designing his cabinet. The children born through artificial insemination were called design children. And, with regards to design objects, the reviewers and art critics naturally underlined its “artistic” character, establishing analogies with tendencies in art and, in this way, linked the concepts of art and design as practically synonymous.
Nevertheless, with the passage of time, the term “design” was acquiring a negative, even pejorative connotation. Design was seen as the “cosmetics” of objects and signs; it only creates beautiful outside appearance but behind that there is nothing worthwile. This change of meaning became manifest in the political debate, for example. In an election campaign in Barcelona, an important politician accused publicly an adversary to have “a design discourse, hollow and empty”. Or, in the press, an article in a reputed journal had the following title: “A centre of design”. Contrary to what it suggests, especially to a designer, the article was not about a Design Centre, understood as an institution which takes care of questions related to design, but referred to the “turn to the centre” of the Partido Popular, a right-wing political party which had proclaimed that it was going to move to the centre of the political spectrum. The article implied that this “centre” was a fake, pure outward appearance, it was not real because it was a “design” centre.
The use and abuse of the concept of design in contexts alien to what until then was understood as design, doesen’t seem to have been only limited to Spain. The German magazine Der Spiegel had an issue on transgenic food and its cover title was “Designer’s food”. In London one could buy “Designer’s socks; in Switzerland certain hotels offered “designer’s rooms,” and in Germany one could admire a poster with the image of a beautiful naked lady with the slogan “Body design.” And design was even related to sex, such as in a little advertisement of erotic services in a newspaper one could read that a young lady offered a “design coitus”!
With the aforementioned considerations as a background, we now have to consider two questions in order to elucidate the relationship, respectively non-relationship of art and design:
1. The question about the change of the original meaning of the concept of design to a negative perception of it which has installed itself in daily speech.
2. The question if it is precisely the relation of art and design as the ultimate responsible of the loss of prestige of design.
With respect to the first point the question is obvious: which is the cause that the concept of design has acquired this negative, even depreciatory meaning? The previous quotes, only a few samples of how this word has installed itself in daily speech with its negative meaning, are only some illustrations of a much larger phenomenon. It would seem consistent to reason to suppose that if this negative meaning has installed itself in the daily speech of people, it means that a community of users of “design-objects”, coincide in such a negative valuation and which has deposited in this word their negative experiencies with design.
The period of the 1980ies in which this change of meaning has ocurred, was characterised by a economic-financial euphoria which animated the consumption and the creation of new products, and by the change of the cultural reference with the advent of post-modernism. For most people this new reference made itself visible especially in the works of architecture. In these one could observe a complete rupture with the modern movement; many projects of postmodernism were sign-objects, architectural objects in which the “sign” acquired a predominant relevance, many times at the cost of other basic aspects of an architectural work. And design was not alien to the dynamism which this generated. On the contrary, design was recognised as the new pillar of the consumer culture and there were exhibitions and design awards to demonstrate it.
The fact to confer such a predominant and overaestheticised sign-character to the architectural and design objects, has its probable roots in the context of the transformations which have taken place in the arts. In a recent article2 about an exhibition in Karlsruhe, Germany, with the title Icon-collision, the author exposes what traditionally the history of art repeats, that “… the black squares and circles of Malewitsch’s paintings swallow the images which one could still see in the normal paintings, when painting was still representation; in suprematism the figurative art swallows itself so to speak […] To this explanation one has to add that the obects, which now are not “represented” anymore, exhibit themselves as real in the exhibition rooms… for example, the ready-made.” In other words: the objects, not being represented on canvases anymore, but being taken out of them in order to occupy their place on the pedestal of art, and having thus achieved the status of art, they were surrounded by its halo which fertilised the ground for the reception of the design-objects, which, in turn, were surrounded by the halo of design as the supreme value of modernity.
Now, it is obvious that the principal reason for the existence of these design objects was not to be the banners of a new design culture but, rather, the principal reason for an object consists in the service it lends to its user. Inasmuch as even a design object is an utilitarian object it will have to be submitted to the definite proof of its usability by their users. And it is certainly here where these objects, which previously had seduced the buyers, now defrauded them. The users must have become aware that they had not been conceived adequately to comply with its fundamental raison d’être. If the evaluation of these facts and circumstances is plausible, then, at the root of the problem, lies the classic antagonism between “aspect and use”, the old question of “form and function”. The negative qualification already mentioned which adhere to these “design-objects”, must have been aroused by the dysfunction observed between its aspect (sign, form, Gestalt) and its no-suitability to its use, a condition to which no utilitarian object cannot withdraw from. The aspect, the form of these objects sources of deception, did not indicate the use anymore which could be made of them, but signalled to themselves as the aesthetic sign-spectacle; they became self-referential and not objects with which to achieve some end or purpose. As already mentioned, the predominant relevance of their sign-character constituted its exclusive content.
Against this background we have to ask ourselves: inasmuch as the objects of our daily surrounding owe their aspect precisely to those who created them, that is, the designers, how come that they did not project them so as to comply with their first and essential purpose but, instead, designed objects which, in the last instance, conferred its bad reputation to design? Everything indicates that those who projected them dispensed with the questions relative to the use which a user is going make with them. On the contrary, they had the notion that these objects could be considered cultural supports to be converted into sign-representations in accordance with the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. Their models must have been the architects, who “culturised” the buildings they projected by introducing in them clear references to classical antiquity. In any case, what seems clear is that these designers relegated to a secondary plane the essential notion that objects have to serve or achieve some purpose. In this way, the use-function of the object was displaced by the sign-function, especially by the signs of the age. Design degenerated it this way to a passing fashion phenomenon, into something transient.
The bad reputation design may still have dates from that period, and the responsability that this concept has turned into such a negative perception, is in the last instance due to the designers themselves and to the intellectual environment which produced the cause of this bad reputation.
From what has been said up to now, the two questions stated at the beginning of this exposé have been answered. What remains pending for elucidation is the change of the concept of design to a negative valuation. And the context in which an object which used to figure as a representation in a work of art, now self-represents itself as art, constitutes the background upon which design commits adultery with art by not attending to the primordial prerequisites of an object but rather pretending to convert it into a work of art.
Having arrived at this point of our reflection, it will now be of interest to probe more profoundly into the possible relationship, respectively no-relationship, between art and design. To do so it is convenient to agree first on what we mean or understand by art and what by design, and then also, how is a work of art and how is a work of design being produced
What can be understood by art we can read it in the dictionary. It gives four different definitions:
1. Art is the ability to do something
2. Art is that which is being produced through the skill or ability of man
3. Art is the ensemble of the rules to do a thing well
4. Art is an act through which man imitates or expresses what is material or invisible making use of matter and its sentient properties.
Of these four definitions the first three are of such ample interpretation that almost everything can be admitted under its roof. If anything is done with ability, skill and with the ensemble of rules to do something well, very many things can be considered as art: paint paintings; produce happenings; manufacture sausages; build houses; publish newspapers; cook bread; make design and so on. This is how the Beaubourg Museum in Paris seems to have understood it. There (october 2001) an exhibtion on modern art was shown on one floor with paintings and sculptures of the 20th century until about 1960, and on another floor the works done after this date: paintings, sculptures, carpets, chairs, machines, computers, architectural mock-ups, objects of daily use of all kinds, etc. If all these objects, exhibited together and next to works of art, are also considered works of art as the exhibition seems to pretend, then one could affirm that everything in general is art, for where is one going to draw the divisory line between art and no-art? This perception of art coincides with the first three foregoing definitions of what is art. However, if this were so, that is, that everything is art, why then the concept of art? If the whole world, with everything it contains would be red, for example, what sense would there be in the concepto of “red”? It is obvious that it exists because it permits to distinguish between different visual phenomenas, “red” from the concept of “blue”, “green” or “yellow”. The same happens with the concept of “art”. The existence of concepts permit the differentiation of the phenomenas, it makes them intelligibles. In this sense the concept “art” means, therefore, that certain things are considered art and others not.
What we contemporaries can understand as art ist best expressed by the fourth definition:
Art is an act through which man imitates or expresses
what is material or invisible making use of matter and its
Here the word “invisible” points toward what we could call an “elevated” or “metaphysical”
character which is usually associated with the concept of art, inasmuch as it is beyond, “metá”, of what is visible, of what is physical reality. The great painter Paul Klee said in one of his writings: “Art does not reproduce what is visible, art makes visible.” According to this, art unveils what is invisible. Now, how is this “act” realised “through which man imitates or expresses what is material or invisible…”? How does an artist work, how does he produce his art?.
To the question of what does he do, feel or think when he stands in front of an empty canvas, a well known barcelonese painter answered:
“I am a non-figurative painter; a figurative painter might well answer differently. Every time I had mentally imagined something and then painted it, I found it unsatisfactory. I have learned that in front of the empty canvas I also have to empty myself of any kind of image or idea. When I believe to have achieved it, I take the brush, depose it onto the canvas and then the painting paints itself.”
This answer, which coincides with the experience of other artists, suggests that he should first of all achieve a state of “emptiness”, a state of abandoning any act of will before starting to paint. This state to which the answer is pointing, has a clear analogy with Buddhist thinking as well as
with a text in Martin Heidegger’s book Serenity. In this reflection he proposes that true thinking
is not a representation anymore, understood as a vorstellen, literally “to put in front of oneself” the thing to be thought, which would depend on a “wanting” in the sense of a “will”, but authentic thinking would consist in a “waiting”, though not an “expectant” waiting, in which one lets that which is to be thought come to reveal itself to understanding. The key concept for this to happen is “let go” (in German loslassen; the original title is Gelassenheit, which is translated as serenity, but is literally the state of letting go. Serenity understood in this way, is a state of no-intention. Such a state would therefore also be the one from which artistic creation takes place: the artist abandons any kind of will or concrete idea of representation so that “it”, (whatever this may be) may make use of him so as to manifest itself as oeuvre. Seen from this perspective, the artist would be a “means” or “channel” for something which does not proceed from his will, but from the “invisible” to manifest itself precisely as oeuvre.
A similar sense of “no-intention” is suggested by a brief commentary about the act of painting in the work of the Amercan painter Jackson Pollock:
“At a certain moment, the canvas seemd to appear to one American painter after another like the arena in which to act rather than reproduce, redesign, analyse or express an object, actual or imagined. What had to happen on the canvas was not an image but an event.
The painter did not approach the canvas anymore with an image in his mind; he went towards it with some material in his hand so as to do someting to this other piece of material [the canvas] in front of him. The image would be the result of his encounter.”
Harold Rosenberg, 1952.
On the other hand, the Swiss painter Helmuth Federle, is of the opinion that art should be “a place of orientation of the human being. And this is, in the widest sense of the word, a philosophical-spiritual magnitude – the work of art as a place of orientation of being in the view of death.” And to a question with regards to his way of working, he said that he encounters solutions through “no-intention” (Absichtslosigkeit). This no-intention also takes place in other areas of art. Borges, poet and writer, says in one of his essays: “In art nothing is as secondary as the intention of the author.” And Mozart himself mentioned in one of his letters, that music “comes to me”, it sounds in his head and when a work is completed in his head, he limits himself to transscribe “it” on paper. This may be the reason that there is apparently not one errata or correction in his musical scores. There is no intention in these cases either. It seems that the work of art has to occur through the human being without him having a specific intention to configure it. He is only the executor.
All these commentaries coincide in different aspects. The artist seems to void himself of any idea or will of representation: he works from a thematic void and puts himself in a disposition to realise his work without bearing in mind how or what will be the result. From this letting go of the will and the corresponding no-intention, the artist produces an oeuvre where all kinds of events are taking place. If the art is visual, painting or sculpture, there occur forms, volumes, materials, colours, lights, textures, contrasts, relations; if it is a musical work, sounds, rythms, harmonies, etc. Such a work of art is not used as an ordinary “object”; it is destined for contemplation or audition and can affect an spectator or a listener in his intellectual or emotional texture. It has no practical end in view, such as a tool, for example. It is generally a unique oeuvre which cannot be repeated. The meaning of a work of art, if it has any, is not predetermind but appears and is formed in the process of becoming a material-visual object and, furthermore, this meaning may mean different things to different persons.
The artist is not bound to any exigence of communicability. This doesen’t mean, naturally, that art does not communicate, but what the artist pursues first of all, is to produce an event. And he can express himself in his work without conditioning factors except those he chooses or those which the technical means will impose in its realization.
The artist does not deal with clients who, for example, present him with a problem of communication with a briefing and, furthermore, indications of how to proceed according to his desires. The artist is his own client and he is the one who determines the rules of the game. And he doesen’t realise his work for a preexistent market with competitive products; he, his work is creating its own market. Each artist creates his own, therefore he doesen’t have to take into account if those who buy his art are going to be men or women, young or elders, he is therefore not bound by such conditioning factors when he is creating his work.
When a painter wants to put up his work for sale, he exhibits it in a gallery or a museum. There his works will be exhibited alone, without competitors. In this case, whoever goes to visit the exhibition with the intention to buy a work, will not have the election between one or other artist, but only between one or other work of art of the same artist. The works produced by an artist are considered in many cases as cultural, even cult objects, and enjoy high esteem. In the case of the work of a painter one could maybe say that that his cultural value resides in its unique character, in the quality of its execution but, especially in its aperture and revelation of new perceptions and of new visual universes.
Having elucidated the meaning what is being understood by art and how a work of art is being produced, we have now to ask what we understand by design and how a work of design is being produced. The dictionary gives a very brief definition of this concept: “Design: delineation of a building or of a figure”. This definition is obviously insufficient since it limits itself only to one aspect of design. Therefore we shall quote two definitions by two persons, both located in both worlds of design and art.
What can be understood by design, understood in its universal meaning, is explained by Victor Papanek in a text titled “Design is the conscious effort to impose a meaningful order”. (1947)
“All people are designers. Everything we do almost all the time, is design, because design is fundamental to all human activity. The planification and structuring of any act towards a desired and foreseeable end, constitutes the design process. (Emphasis added). Any intent to separate design, to convert it into a thing in itself, goes against the primary matrix which underlies life.
On the other hand, Dieter Rahms, the ex-chief of designer of the well known electrodomestic products of the Braun enterprise, explains in a more concrete manner what according to him is design, in a text titled “Omit what is not important”, (circa 1984):
“One of the fundamental principles of design is to omit what is not important so as to emphasize what is. The moment has come to rediscover again our surroundings and to return to the simple and basic aspects, for example to the items which have an obvious functionalism, not restrictive either in a physical or psychological sense. The products should therefore be well designed and to be as neutral and open as possible, leaving space for the self-expression of those who use them. Good design means the least possible design. (emphasis added). Not for convenience or reasons of economy. To achieve a harmonious and convincing form is certainly a difficult task. To do it in another way is simpler, though it may seem paradoxical; sometimes it is even cheaper but lacking reflection with regards to its production. Complicated and unnecessary forms are nothing but escapes from the designer which function as self-expressions instead of communicating the functions of the product. This is due to the fact that design is used in order to obtain a superficial redundancy… Design is the effort to make products in such a way thet they may be useful for people. It is more rational than irrational; more than resigned, cinical and indifferent; it is optimistic and projected towards the future. Design means to be persevering and progressive instead of escape and abandon. In a historic phase in which the external world has become less natural and more and more artificial and commercial, the value of design increases. The labour of designers can contribute in a more concrete and efficient way to a more human existence in the future”.
The previously indicated phrase by Victor Papanek, “The planification and structuring of any act towards a desired and foreseeable end, constitute the design process”, signifies that there is intention and will in this process (these two concepts are underlying the notions of planification and structuring). As has been exposed before, this is an entirely different case with regards to the artist. On the other hand, the concept of intention coincides with the ethymological meaning of design. This word has its origin in the italian disegno which, in turn, derives directly from the latin designio, the intention one pretends to realize. This last word contains design, which in English means design as well as intention, and it is always the context in which the word appears which will clarify which of the two meanings is the correct one.
From the text of Dieter Rams we underline the following statement, “good design mean the less possible design”. Design is not something which is added to an object, it is not a process in which art is being applied. Design must solve a problem and should disappear in its solution; it must never be the protagonist of an object. A designed object is a means to achieve some end and, as Papanek says, it must never be an end in itself. The object which is being designed is an object for something, to achieve some specific end, so it should be conceived in such a way as to facilitate its attainment in the most satisfactory way.
If we start from this notion of design, then we have to ask, as we did before in the case of the artist, how does a designer work in order to configure this kind of object? At the start of a project, does the designer also void/empty himself of any image and does he abandon any will of representation, such as the artist?
A design project always presuposes an assignment, which implies some kind of briefing in which the demands with which a design has to comply with are explained: the market in which it will be inserted; its competitors; its price; the material with which it will be industrially produced, etc. Another of the requirements is the communicability of the object to be designed. It must be able to transmit or communicate some specific concepts through its formal aspect. These concepts are expressed through words in the briefing and have their meaning in the area of language. But design has to express these verbal concepts through its colours, signs, forms, materials, textures, etc., so that they are evoked to the receiver. In other words: the designer translates these verbal concepts to is corresponding visual signs, just as a translator translates a text from one language to another.
Apart from very few exceptions, a designer does not work for himself but for persons or companies who have the necessity to produce an object, a product, an image of some kind. These persons or companies resort to a designer so that he may develop a solution for them. In order to do that he needs to know all the information and problems related to the object to be designed. The situation of a designer in front of a problem to which he has to find a solution, is not at all comparable to the situation of an artist who, as has been mentioned before, has to void himself of any will, image or idea. The contrary happens here in the case of the designer: to approach a project a designer needs much information, he has to understand the problems which a given design has resolve. What the designer has to conceive is the model of what shall be then produced, respectively reproduced in series. This also means that its viability as object also depends on the technical means for its material realization. To produce means series, serial production, all examples equal to the model. Here there is no unique work or oeuvre as in the case of the artist.
As has already been mentioned, a designer does not create a project for himslef, but for a client and this means an enterprise and a specific market. Any design project is done for a given market and this market can be for men, women, children of one or other social class, with specific cultural levels, incomes and habits. All this necessary information conditions from the beginning the focus a project has to start with and which determines and delimits the creative liberty.
Then, the design object, once inserted into the pre-existent market, will confront the competition of other design objects, with similar or same forms or functions, directed at the same target-public. It also has to be taken into account that the products of a specific market segment usually share certain sign typologies. There are pre-existing visual languages, with its own grammar and syntax, such as, for example, wine labels, perfume packaging, pharmaceutical products sold by medical prescription, etc. The great majority of them have in common the use of certain signs (roman typefaces, capital letters, heraldic shields, drawings, etc.) as well as the use of certain materials (kinds of paper, gold or silver stamping, embossings) which make comprehensible at first sight what they are and its appurtenance to a specific species of products. There are other visual languages: the flascs and packagings of perfume products; the corporate identities of banks; banknotes, etc. At the beginning of a design project the designer must take into account the existence of such pre-existing visual languages and adapt his project to these basic language-characteristics.
In conclusion: contrary to the quoted affirmation of Herbert Bayer, that the creative process of the designer and of the artist are “more or less the same”, in view of the arguments exposed here, it has become evident that the starting point of the processes which produce either a work of art or a work of design, are completely different. And this difference is determined precisely by the different starting points en each case, therefore, to make art and to make design are two different activities with different functions and purposes. Art is art, design is design.
These considerations on the subject of the relationship art-design, point to the fact that at a certain moment of a given economic and cultural context, such as the eighties and the bad practice, or a erroneous concept of the design profession, has brought it to the situation described before, a grave situation inasmuch as it affects the credibility of design as such in society. Here we have pointed to a probable cause: the transgression of design by projecting objects which aspired to share the pedestal of art together with objects already having become art, with the consequent sign-confusion for its users (as in the case of the objects of the Memphis movement, for example.)
If one probes deeper into this question, travelling the road from the described effects to its probable causes, one reaches the fundaments of the profession: the formation of the designer. And here one confronts the question if the last and ultimate cause of this problem is how and, also, who teaches design.
Previously the concept of “translation” has been mentioned in order to describe what characterises the design process. The designer could then be considered as a translator. This perception could be a starting point to re-think what a designer does when he designs and would suppose to evaluate the consequences of this approach with respect to the teaching of design. It would have at least one salutary consequence: it would disentail design and its teaching from its attachment to aesthetics, to the “personal” and artistic expression, and would lead the design-formation to fields of knowledge which are not taught nowadays. A designer, now understood as “translator”, would certainly need a different kind of practical and theoretical formation from the one he receives now. He evidently should also receive a visual formation, but it should be subordinated to the requirements of the specificty of design. An “artistic” formation which conduces to the designer’s “self-expression” should be completely rejected.
What has been exposed here points to the possibility to rethink the profession and which could lead to a salutary change of mentality, not only in the professional designer or student, but especially in the teacher. Here is where everything starts, since it is in the professional formation where it is being decided what kind of designers are being forged and those who are responsible of it are those who teach. In this sense one could also cuestion who is apt, or not, to teach. A good measuring rod to establish the suitability to teach and learn, is expressed in the words of the philosopher Martin Heidegger in his book What is a thing, (Die Frage nach dem Ding):
“Thus, this true learning is a kind of taking, in which the one who takes only takes what he already has. To this learning corresponds also teaching. To teach is to give, to propose; but in teaching one does not so much propose what can be learned, but proposes to the student to take for himself what he already has. If the student only takes what is proposed to him, he does not learn; there is only true learning when he becomes aware that he already has that which he takes; there is only true learning when that which one takes is a giving-to-oneself and when is is experienced as such. To teach, therefore, means to let others learn: to lead each other to learn.
It is more difficult to learn than to teach, only who really can learn, and only while he can, only this one can truly teach. The true teacher differentiates himself from the student only because he knows better how to learn and wants truly to learn. In any teaching, the one who most learns, is the teacher.”
1 Art and Graphics, ABC Verlag, Zurich 1983
2 Neue Zürcher Zeitung, May 18/19, 2002
3 Diccionario ideológico de la lengua española Julio Casares, 2nd edition
4 Martin Heidegger, Die Frage nach dem Ding (What is a Thing), Max
Niemeyer Verlag, Thübingen