In 2017, if it's not “designer”, forget about it. We want "designer" furniture, "designer" equipment, "designer" vehicles; we sell "design"; we think "design". Where does this craze come from for a discipline that is high-risk for those who do it—and who are they anyway? Vincent Créance, project manager of the Université Paris-Saclay Design Center, tells us more about what it means to be a designer.
Designers are fundamentally curious people – tirelessly curious of everything and nothing. They are also people willing to daydream, to flit from one idea to another, to take inspiration from their surroundings, anything from a detail to a mountain, before they start to draw. The word design comes from the Latin designare, which means to draw, to arrange, to order.
But designers have many other qualities.
They must be able to take a global approach, casting a wide net well beyond their field of expertise, before catalyzing all they've discovered into a new form.
Designers must also be multilingual: they must understand the languages of technology, marketing, sociology, etc. and know how to communicate with everyone, understand their various objectives, before melting them down into a form that suits everyone's needs.
Making use of intelligence and emotivity
The designer's task is, first and foremost, to give ideas a form. And to be a complete success, the form they give ideas must not only speak to the intelligence of the people it is intended for, but also to their heart. Emotivity is the designer's kingdom, the supreme motive they use to win people over immediately and intuitively to the fruit of their efforts. This is just as true for digital interfaces or services as it is for physical products *. Heart, emotion, and intuitiveness: these words all highlight the artistic dimension that is integral to the work of a designer. "Art is the shortest path from man to man," André Malraux once said. This is evidenced by the attention designers pay to the quality of formalization, and I dare say its aesthetic quality.
In symbiosis with their time, what designers like most are beautiful things. While we may not be able to characterize beauty, it nonetheless exists and is always desired. Beauty is entirely related to the time in which it blossoms. Designers take the quest for beauty to heart and attempt to embrace it.
Achieving this requires a fair share of talent. Designers can't escape that; it's a critical aspect of the profession. Talent is a magical cure on which the public success of any creation depends, but no one knows the recipe and its chemical formulation is neither stable nor constant. Designers work without a net and are perhaps a little reckless. I prefer to think that they are brave: when they take a stand and propose their vision, they expose themselves personally through their product and have few tangible elements at their disposal to convince others of the merit of their designs. Failures are painful and inevitable, but the successes are so rewarding when a design creates value for a brand, meets expectations, sets a trend and speaks to the future.
Designers through the ages
Moreover, the first designer of genius is a famous figure who was curious about everything, imaginative, clever and precise, and took the risk of drawing what he dreamed of or what nature inspired in him. This genius combined technical mastery with artistic mastery at a time when everything was related. He pushed this approach as far as learning to master craft techniques so his new ideas could flourish; he invented new objects and new practices, and became emblematic of an entire period. You will probably have realized who I'm talking about: Leonardo da Vinci, of course.
For the contemporary period, in the United States, everyone knows Jonathan Ive, the internationally renowned Apple designer. Italian design is often summed up by the symbolic figure of Ettore Sottsass, whose heyday extended from the 1960s to the early 1990s. In the mid 1960s, Sottsass fought design-induced consumerism by creating, recycling, and combining uses. But there are many other big names like Gae Aulenti, Alessandro Mendini, Andrea Branzi, and Michele De Lucchi, and before them the Castiglioni brothers and Gio Ponti.
Similarly, in Scandinavia, Arne Jacobsen and Alvar Aalto (active through the 1930s to 1960s) tend to epitomize a trend that involved many other designers. Their furniture designs are classics and are still sold in large quantities today.
Among the great historic figures who have stood the test of time, there are, of course, some French designers: Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand, and more recently Roger Talon, not to forget the French-American Raymond Loewy, designer of the famous LU logo, for example, and the NEW MAN logo that reads both backwards and forwards.
That is the dream of any designer, to invent something that leaves its mark, that becomes a reference.
In short, to be of their time.
Vincent Créance, project manager for the Université Paris-Saclay Design Center
*Design is protean and covers an increasing number of disciplines: product design, space design, graphic design, interface design, service design, design thinking, packaging design, motion design, textile design, sound design, culinary design, etc.