Monthly Archives: December 2013

Why Design

design |dəˈzīn| noun

1. a plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is built or made: he has just unveiled his design for the new museum.

  • the art or action of conceiving of and producing a plan or drawing: good design can help the reader understand complicated information | the cloister is of late-twelfth-century design.
  • an arrangement of lines or shapes created to form a pattern or decoration: pottery with a lovely blue and white design.

2.  purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object: the appearance of design in the universe.

verb [ with obj. ]

decide upon the look and functioning of (a building, garment, or other object), typically by making a detailed drawing of it: a number of architectural students were designing a factory | [ as adj. with submodifier ] (designed) : specially designed buildings.

• do or plan (something) with a specific purpose or intention in mind: [ with obj. and infinitive ] : the tax changes were designed to stimulate economic growth.

Design is something I’ve thought about off and on for at least 20 years. I have no formal training and for many years the best that might be said of my efforts is that they were informal. I dabbled in it to the extent that I was often making flyers, zines and a couple of community newspapers. I also dabbled a good bit in gardening and permaculture and so it might be said that my thoughts on design were not confined to just thinking about page layout but how out-door spaces might be arranged. At some point around 1999 I began playing a bit with relational database design using FileMaker Pro which is design on several levels. An easy to use database must have a logically designed, functional interface which is, preferably, visually attractive. If it is to perform well it should also have a solid design underpinning the use and arrangement of fields, tables and layouts.

In addition to these kinds of dabbling I also began designing websites which was yet another kind of interface design which needed to be both functional, logical and aesthetically pleasing. I’d not planned to focus on website development, no plan to engage with it on a professional level but that’s what happened. I enjoyed it and it seemed to be something which took on a life its own, one which I greatly enjoyed.

In 2008 I leaped into a new realm of of design: Permaculture. I’d dabbled before but this time around I spent a good bit of time familiarizing myself with the principle of Permaculture design and put it to use around my homestead.

“Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.” – Graham Bell, ‘The Permaculture Way’

The challenge of Permaculture is that the design, at it’s best, is created at a variety of dimensions: horizontal, vertical, width as well as temporal. The relationships created with Permaculture design are dynamic and must take into account not just beneficial (or antagonistic) plant relationships but also the flow of energy accross a landscape: Water, solar and wind should all be accounted for and not just in the present moment. If I plant a food forest I need to plan for a future change in available sunlight at ground level. A line of trees or hedgrow can alter the wind, providing a future windbreak for plants or trees sensitive to wind damage. The list goes on.

“…design is a connection between things. It is not water, or a chicken or the tree. It is how the water, the chicken and the tree are connected. It’s the opposite of what we are taught in school. Education takes everything and pulls it apart and makes no connections at all. Permaculture makes the connection because as soon as you have the connection you can feed the chicken from the tree.” – Bill Mollison

What I enjoy about design is that it is a process of creation that, when done well, can make our lives better. Counter to this, if it is done carelessly it can cause significant damage at large scale. No doubt, forseeing the long-term consequences of design is not necessarily an easy task. Consider the modern practice of designing towns and cities around the automobile. A great deal of damage has been done the details of which are beyond the scope of this endeavor but many books have been written about the social ecological problems of automobile centered design.

Another example might be the design of modern, large-scale farming. Whether we are talking about the raising of cattle, poultry or food crops, our centralized food production systems have caused a variety of serious environmental and health problems. Scaling down such systems requries entirely different approaches to production with short-term problems but many long-term benefits.

Design is everywhere. From our systems of food production to social spaces to government (which is, after all, a form of political design) to the arrangement of our office work spaces to our devices to the apps that run on them. The last book you read? Your favorite magazine? The operating system on your device? All very carefully designed, some more carefully than others. If design is everywhere, if it has such an important impact on our lives, it’s probably worth considering. The more aware we are of design the more we can appreciate it and even and put it to use. Design is a part of life.

It is my intent to use this space to explore design. From web design to food forests to office space to logos to anything else of interest. My intent is to explore ways in which design can be beautiful, sustainable, resilient, functional and more.  I’m a proud amateur and jack of all trades, master of none so this exploration is not just about sharing what I  know but also what I am learning.  Come along for the ride why don’t ya?