i am always fascinated by designers who think they have something to add to the chair. really? four legs, a seat, back? will the world not be able to move on to more pressing matters until all designers have given us their version of that apparently un-perfectible object? perhaps, but i cannot help but be a bit sad when the need to clothe, bathe, feed, house and connect entire populations who still, to this day, cannot do so by themselves, is more critical than ever. the only course of action left, to my mind, is now protection from the consequences of our inability to act, protection from the elements as they will eventually crush our continents, our cities, our comforts, protection from our gluttony as the food supply shrinks; protection from each other as desired living areas become scarce and we have to fight for space, as is already happening in the east village. what an opportunity for design!!! a chair is not what i need, the next step in the evolution of human living is the understanding of who we have become, for better and worse, the end of complacency and commiseration. where is the designer who is working on a better nail, or a better screw, or a better way to synthesize lumber so that we may not have to deforest our planet to provide housing? where is the engineer continuously searching for better ways to cool a space other than by forcing freon through a vent? who is looking at the future of clothing, not clothes? nobody. with a few obligatory exceptions, few are looking at these issues because they are not sexy, not worth the press. because of economic circumstance and because of the aforementioned toy race, we do not pay any mind to products that have already been considered once and never again. from the nail to the constitution, for some reason, we hold these truths to be inalienable and we do not see fit to change them. why are the basic things of life not allowed to evolve with us? we matured from ape to australopithecus to cro-magnon to modern man and will to whatever comes next, yet haven’t switched most of our tools. the thing is, we are progressing a lot faster than we used to. there have been more advances in the last hundred years than there has been in the last million. we move ahead so fast these days, yet, still seem to concentrate on things that make us neither happy nor more efficient. why there are more scientists studying the sexual life of bees than those studying cancer is beyond me. that’s probably not actually true by the way, i haven’t checked… but it feels true. there is a reason why it is called “progress” in that each step must be ostensibly better than the one before, not merely commentary. have we done that?
ironically, the allure of creation once felt, which got us into this mess in the first place, is probably what we need to get started again: the need to create, not re-create, not re-invent but invent. we need to put ourselves in danger, to feel uncomfortable again, to take leaps without knowing whether there is sure footing on the other side, to bet the farm on ourselves as a species, on the fact that we, will, survive… how can we attempt such work when we spend time and resources on designing another ironic take on the mug, every year, all over the world. the answer is simple, we cannot.
and that’s because, simply put, we do not care enough.
admit it to yourself. it’s okay, i don’t care enough either. as salieri once uttered in peter shaffer’s amadeus to a priest whom he felt was less than he purported to be, “i will speak for you, father. i speak for all mediocrities in the world. i am their champion. i am their patron saint.” i think it is more than adequate to confess to one’s own un-remarkability for it is not what we do but rather who we are, or have become, that is less than exceptional. with such acknowledgment, we can tackle anything, the big problems, the small problems, and design is at the source of every decision made to that effect. not for beauty but assistance.
let’s all of us do just that this week, let’s assist our species and design something useful!