Catalyst effects of design

Andrew Blauvet: Towards Relational Design. I’m a big fan of his writing, it’s grounded in research, supported by contemporary examples and is always a thought-provoking read.

I found his typology of three phases in design particurlary resonant with my ideas on the future of, not only graphic design, but design as a pratice.


1) Design as form only: “isms” modernism, de stijl,constructivism, post-modernism, etc.


2) Formalism explored ad nauseum thus a new design trend emerges as a combination of form informed by content.

3) Design as a social catalyst, designers begin to think beyond the designed form and consider or preempt the idea of what will happen as a result of a design.

No. 3 is where we stand today, and as I flip through Businessweek, the Atlantic monthly, Innovation magazine, etc, etc. I see that people are all abuzz about design and design thinking as a way to innovate. It’s not design vs. business, it’s design with business that is the more exciting prospect for MBAs and struggling companies everywhere.  I see and experience that designers are thinking more about the needs of people and how they interact with products and services. It doesn’t start with a product or service and the business plan to force feed it to a consumer. Great design comes from great research into understanding the context of which your design will be created, used and spread throughout the people who will use it. It should feel like a seamless transition between the time a person discovered your product or service and imagining how they ever survived without it.


My top services that I can’t believe I survived without: Googlemaps. I’m practically paralyzed when reading a real map, and I’m hopeless when it comes to finding my cardinal directions. Googlemaps lets me plan a trip, see real LIVE pictures of where I’ll be heading, and that soothes some of my OCD anxieties about being navigationally challenged. That is the mark of a great product, easy assimilation into my lifestyle, and even a source of delight and comfort. (I was so happy when I found my new apartment that I googlemapped it every single morning, just to see that I was ACTUALLY going to live there before I finally moved into it)

Design is not about a beautiful product or service, it’s about how it relates to the life of the person using it. The success of design hinges on it’s ability to pinpoint great ideas and services in relation to a person’s life. We need to start paying more attention to the  catalyst effects of our designs, not the PMS color of it’s casing.

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