Design

From the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, design plays a role in your everyday life.


Everyday Marvels

Explore some of the humble but revolutionary objects that have changed the way we interact with and engage in the world.


Plastic

Plastics made it possible to create lighter, more durable, and more affordable products.


Simple Machines

During the 1920s and 1930s industrial designers took a new approach in the look, style, and creation of commercial products.


Chairs

In its many different shapes and forms, a chair is an object specifically made for seating a person.


Design Is a Noun

From the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, design plays a role in your everyday life. Design makes ideas tangible, translating them into physical form. Someone is responsible for designing the things we consume, use, and interact with every day, be they objects, spaces, landscapes, or communications and transportation systems. Every moment, we encounter a set of solutions to a problem that has been considered by someone, or as Paola Antonelli, Curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA, has said: “Everything is designed, one way or another.”1

Charles Eames and Ray Eames. Full Scale Model of Chaise Longue (La Chaise). 1948.

Charles Eames and Ray Eames. Full Scale Model of Chaise Longue (La Chaise). 1948.

Prior to the 20th century, design was thought of mainly in the context of decorative arts, which emphasized unique and hand-crafted forms often available in limited quantity. Over time, the growth and complexity of modern society changed the way people interacted and went about their daily lives, which increased the demand for consumer products that met the needs of a broader public and were affordable. The Industrial Revolution and the emergence of mass production enabled designers to consider form, function, material, and affordability in ways that were not previously possible or viable.

Eventually, the classical notion of design expanded beyond the decorative arts into a broader field, subdivided into specialized areas of practice in design for the built environment, such as industrial design, interior design, and fashion design. The development of new technologies, materials, and user needs continues to spur new forms of design practice, such as interaction design.

Ray and Charles Eames working on a conceptual model for the exhibition Mathematica, 1960. © Eames Office (eamesoffice.com)

Ray and Charles Eames working on a conceptual model for the exhibition Mathematica, 1960. © Eames Office (eamesoffice.com)

Design Is a Verb

“Design” does not only refer to things and spaces; it is also the process of planning, evaluating, and implementing a plan or answer to a problem. The first step in the design process is often to brainstorm possible solutions. The brainstorm could take the form of words, sketches, or photographs that articulate the designer’s ideas. Once the ideas have been expressed, the designer chooses the best resolution for the problem. Sometimes, a designer will consult an engineer, who helps produce a prototype. The prototype is tested to ensure that the design is functionally and aesthetically viable.

As consumers of everyday objects, we play an important role in the design process. Designers often look to consumers to evaluate and respond to the appearance and functionality of things they create. From choosing a new shape or color for a cell phone to deciding how tall to make seats on a subway car, designers rely heavily on market research and consumer input.

Paola Antonelli, Humble Masterpieces: Everyday Marvels of Design (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2005, 1).

Human-made surroundings that provide the setting for human activity.

A term used to describe the design and aesthetics of functional objects with an emphasis on unique and hand-crafted forms often available in limited quantity.

An early sample built to test a concept or process.

A discipline of design that focuses on the functional and aesthetic aspects of indoor spaces.

The practice of designing digital environments, products, systems, and services for human interaction.

The development of industry from the late 18th century through the 19th century, made possible by advancements such as machinery, factories, and steam power. The Industrial Revolution marked a major turning point in the development of Western civilization and had profound social and economic consequences.

The production of large amounts of standardized products through the use of machine-assembly production methods and equipment.

A preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of manufactured goods.

Design at MoMA
In 1932, The Museum of Modern Art established a curatorial department devoted to collecting architecture and design. Philip Johnson, the department’s founding curator, and Alfred Barr Jr., Director of MoMA, were interested in representing all art forms of the time, including design.

Related Artists: Aluminum Company of America, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Fernando Campana, Humberto Campana, Earle Dickson, Charles Eames, Ray Eames, Carl Elsener, Art Fry, Spencer Silver, Kazuo Kawasaki, Margaret E. Knight, Charles B. Stilwell, Paolo Lomazzi, Donato D'Urbino, Jonathan De Pas, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Forrest Mars, Michael Rakowitz, The Stanley Works, Ray Tomlinson, Earl S. Tupper, UNICEF United Nations Children's Fund, Sven Wingquist, Tokujin Yoshioka, Arthur Young

Multimedia

Questions & Activities

  1. Design Journal

    Document the role of design in your life. Start a journal in which you record at least one interesting design object you encounter each day. Keep up your journal for at least two weeks.

    Make sketches, tape or paste down supporting images, and write notes to help document the experience of using each design object. Make sure your journal is portable so you can bring it wherever you go.

    Alternatively, you can start a digital journal using a social-media app like Pinterest. Just make sure that you’ve personally encountered and used each object you record.

    Reflect on your top five favorite design objects after several days of journaling. What did you like about the way they looked or how they functioned? What role does each of the objects play in your life?

  2. Essential Objects

    Choose an object that you think is very well designed. If you’re working in a group, have everyone bring an object he or she thinks is well designed to share.

    Consider what you value about your chosen object. Do you consider this object essential–in other words, is it something that you could not live without?

    Create: Develop an advertising campaign for your essential object. Sketch your ideas first, and then create the ad. Who is your audience? Think about the different formats that you could use to communicate your ideas. Will you promote it online? On the radio? In a newspaper?