What You Model Is What You Get — Some Design Notes


"..the next order of business is to define design. The great American
modernist Charles Eames offered the following: ‘A plan for arranging
elements in such a way as to best accomplish a particular purpose’ (Eames,
1972). This definition situates design as a problem-solving discipline, with
problems here defined and solvable mostly within market contexts. The
1980s and the 1990s saw an explosion of ‘personal’ design to challenge this
problem-solving methodology, which brought about debates on everything
from legibility to the dissolving of the boundaries between art and design.
More recently, Serges Gagnon has referred to design as ‘the cultural
appropriation of technology’ (cited in De Winter, 2002); a phrase that,
while appealingly brief and particularly appropriate to a discussion of the
impact of the digital, is also so broad as to remind us that in many ways
design has become a category beyond categories. Marshall McLuhan used
the term ‘Gutenberg Galaxy’ to describe the effects of the printed book on
human culture (McLuhan, 1962). Astronomers group galaxies by clusters,
and I have claimed that now, we all live in the Design Cluster (Lunenfeld, 2003)"

"As computers allow us all to work beyond the page, we
will no doubt see a similar expansion and devaluation of industrial design
clusters as Glaser noted of graphic design. In other words, just as PostScript
printing software brought us WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get), a
three-dimensional era of WYMIWYM (what you model is what you
manufacture) will soon be upon us."

"In an essay on the early modernist de Stijl movement and its potential
impact on media design, Jessica Helfand notes that ‘the opportunity to
define – even celebrate – precision lies at the heart of what [designers] can
and should do’ (Helfand, 2002). This attention to rigor, the desire to make
as well as consume, the modesty of service, the belief in beauty and pleasure
as beautiful and pleasurable in and of themselves, even the acceptance of its
position within market economies – all of these and more really situate
design as an exemplar for getting past the unresolved disputes of the 20th
century, and exploring what could really be ‘new’ about media design."

"From WYMIWYM to the globalization of Disney World, one could
construct a depressingly banal catalogue of the market-driven manifestations
of digitally-enabled design. What of more sanguine effects? Within this
digitization, is there potential to revive some of the utopian aspirations of
early 20th-century design? Is it worth reviving the idea that design should
codify and clarify the stuff of the world, making it easier for citizens…to determine decisions about their lives? Modern design was supposed to guide the citizen…through the
complexities of science, public policy, ideology, and even consumer choice in order to render decisions in coherent and rational ways. There is much there worth rehabilitating… What the computer, linked to a network, does to these issues is to expand both the range of makers and the nature of design’s audience, potentially creating a real public that understands, and in fact demands, a measure of social and environmental responsibility from the Design Cluster."

This, from Peter Lunenfeld’s insightful and brief essay “Media Design: New and Improved Without The New” (New Media & Society Vol6 No. 1 pp.65-70) These nuggets are helping me consider design broadly and understand, however briefly, some of the various perspectives and definitions and approaches that design has taken. I’m particularly intrigued by Peter’s WYMIWYM formulation adjunct to WYSIWYG. It’s kind of perfect and deserves some more fleshing-out.

De Winter, K. (2002) ‘Thoughts on Originality’, URL (consulted June 2003): http://

McLuhan, M. (1962) The Gutenberg Galaxy: the Making of Typographic Man. Toronto:
University of Toronto Press.

Lunenfeld, P. (2003) ‘The Design Cluster’, in B. Laurel (ed.) Design Research, pp.10–5.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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