Archive for January, 2014


Solving Problems: New Areas of Engagement

Over the past few months I’ve quoted extensively from Design For The Real World by Victor Papanek. I’ve finally finished his book and it has become, without a doubt, one of the most fundamental books I’ve read on design to date. He cuts through the fluff and gets straight to the core of design: How do we solve problems.

Many of the problems we face today is still unsolved because of a vicious cycle that is subconsciously set in motion when a young designer chooses his first job.

…the choices facing a young designer seem mainly economic. Financial security is understandably of enormous importance to students and young designers. This brings a whole new dimension to designing for the poor and needy. The prime consideration now is a job.

Some have sold out to an employer and continue to design luxury items for a small privileged class. One may fault this approach, nonetheless it is a legitimate response to a difficult existential choice. Others have accepted my suggestion and contribute one tenth of their time or one-tenth of their income to solving problems of abject need, while continuing with their jobs.

Without realising it a young designer sets himself on a course where the luxury items for a small privileged class blinds him to the solutions that might arise by designing for the many instead of the money.

Even the most successful designer can afford to give one-tenth of his time. It is unimportant what the mechanics of the situation are: four hours out of every forty, one working day out of every ten, or ideally, every tenth year, to be spent a sort of sabbatical, designing for many instead of for money.

For in showing students new areas of engagement, we may set up alternative patterns of thinking about design problems.

I live in South Africa, a developing country in a Third World country with more problems we sometimes care to solve. Yes, some of them are way to scary to even think about, but engaging in some will lead to solving others. And this makes it worth pursuing…


Solving Problems Through A Second Language

On solving problems, Vicor Papanek states something very interesting in his book, Design For The Real World:

A new way of looking at things can be enhanced enormously through a thorough understand of a second language. For the structure of each language gives us different  ways of dealing with and experiencing realities.

It is perfectly reasonable to say I am going to San Francisco” in English. The same statement can be made in German (“Ich gehe nach San Francisco”), but it makes no sense linguistically. In German a qualifier must be added, for instance: I am flying to San Francisco, I am driving to San Francisco. In navajo and the Eskimo languages such statements must be even more specifically qualified to make sense: “I (alone, or with friends, or whatever) am driving (sometimes I will drive, sometimes my friend will drive) (by cart, by sled) to San Francisco (then I will return and my friend will drive on).”

By bringing  more than one language to bear on a problem, we obtain depth.

It made me wonder whether this is applicable to digital problems as well. Is it possible for a designer to solve usability issues easier (or better) by learning a programming language? Would it enable him to gain a new and deeper understanding of a problem by having a more technical view on the problem?

This is perhaps a good reason why designers should be able to code…