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words. images. artefacts.

Here are a few highlights from yesterday’s lecture, based on Guy Julier’s fascinating book The Culture of Design.

Design can be understood, and studied, as:

  • a way of doing things and creating value;
  • an active force in changing the practices of non-designers;
  • an activity that includes, but goes beyond, notions of ‘excellence,’ ‘innovation,’ or ‘best practice;’
  • a generalised setting for a specific and distinctive designerly ambience;
  • collectively-held norms of practice shared within or across contexts;
  • the way that context may influence the practice and results of design;
  • the way that physically distanced actors connect, communicate and legitimate their activities;
  • flexible, horizontally-networked, transaction-rich activities that deal in symbolic products like brands;
  • creative industries built on team-working, creative empowerment and innovation.

On design in cultural context:

“Design is embedded in the working systems, knowledges and relationships of designers, and in the everyday actions of design users. Design is fostered within discursive systems of power, economic structures and dynamics or social relations … Much of the history of design may be read as the history of individuals and groups who have striven to separate design from other commercial and cultural practices. In doing so, they have attempted to identify themselves and their practice as something which bestows things, pictures, words, and places with ‘added value.’ Design becomes the range of goods, spaces and services that are shaped by the intervention of professional designers. It no longer refers to the countless objects which are formed and consumed within everyday life and which do not, of themselves, carry that level of cultural capital. The study of design history…acts to reinforce very specific and restrictive understandings of what design is and how it should be carried out. It uses refined language to legitimate itself and a self-perpetuating logic which identifies ‘good design’ as against ‘bad design’.”

– Guy Julier

And here are a few more points about design culture he raises:

  • Historically, design has been a ‘minor’ and relatively ‘new’ profession;
  • As a social class, designers have belonged to what Pierre Bourdieu calls the ‘new petite bourgeoisie’ or those involved in the ‘symbolic work of producing needs;’
  • Designers work as mainstream ‘cultural intermediaries’ or taste creators while tending to prefer ‘marginal’ culture;
  • Designers desire to maintain a ‘creative’ drive unfettered by procedures and hierarchies while differentiating themselves through education, practice and culture.

What do you think?

If you’re interested in learning more about the professionalisation of design, you can check out the many books listed on our Resources page.


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