Excerpt from a conversation between Marcus Piper and John Warwicker.
Marcus Piper, digital self-portrait 2017. Inspired by a portrait of Jean Cocteau by Irving Penn.
The Commons, by Breathe Architecture, in Brunswick was a working prototype for the Nightingale Housing movement – responding to issues of affordability, sustainability and community.
Photograph by Andrew Wuttke.
Designed by Achille Castiglioni in 1958, for Flos, the Taccia table lamp forms part of a legacy that inspired some of the world’s most important designers – here and abroad.
Know the Difference - A Reflection by Marcus Piper
As designers, every mark we make represents the responsibility we hold for ourselves, our industry and to the future. It is something I refer to as a cultural legacy because nothing goes unseen and in today’s highly visualised, digital world, the influence of every image carries weight. As a result, it is important we know the difference between design for design’s sake and design that serves a purpose.
For me – as a multi-disciplined designer, writer and artist – there is one defining quote, taken from The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman, that forms the starting point for every mark I make.
“Design is actually an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.”
Think about that for a minute. And think about what it is like to communicate effectively with a complete stranger. It is a two-way street of listening and speaking, of understanding another person and observing the nuances that form an entry point for conversation. A psychological game of Jenga with a serious dash of commercial viability thrown in.
This might all sound a bit sinister but perhaps you are starting to get the picture – as modern designers we need to step into many different shoes to create something successful. We also need to keep our feet firmly on the ground and as I write this I am considering both, who I am speaking to and how can I communicate an idea.
So what does successful actually mean in the context of design? Today, it could be argued, that the answer is in problem solving because, really, do we need another chair, light or building? According to the headlines of our media we do but they need to respond to issues of affordability, sustainability, energy consumption and liveability to name a few.
Consider the architect-led Nightingale Housing movement – focused on affordable, sustainable and community driven housing development. It is a disruptive approach which is changing the way we think about apartment living though when we say affordable or sustainable perhaps we need to be more specific. Not everyone can afford the same things, and not everything we create is entirely sustainable but we can make a difference through our work.
In saying that, through the success of the designers of the last century, Australia is now home of the replica. Often poorly made and destined for landfill, with no return for the designer or original manufacturer, these knock-offs are the face of ‘design’ as most of us know it. A market created by mass-media and a loop-hole in our laws, ironically this ‘false chic’ was instigated by someone who couldn’t even get Matte Black right.
In all seriousness, in Britain, the import of replica furniture now results in imprisonment and in mainland-Europe it barely exists. But in Australia it presents the challenge for designers, like those behind Nightingale, to communicate the value of what we do while understanding that our audience might just have a better offer.
So this is the real-deal for designers, to create something truly successful we not only need to know the difference, but we have to communicate it.