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Simon Mari Pruys prize – Mieke Gerritzen & Geert Lovink

By 08-12-2019

Simon Mari Pruys prize
To celebrate design criticism, Archined and Designplatform Rotterdam irregularly organize the Simon Mari Pruys prize for design criticism and the Geert Bekaert prize for architecture criticism. For this edition, essays could be sent that touch on the theme ‘Worldview’. More than sixty texts arrived. Two different juries assessed the essays. The following were nominated for the Simon Mari Pruys prize for design criticism: Florian Cramer, Mieke Gerritzen and Geert Lovink and Alice Twemlow.

nominee Essay by Mieke Gerritzen and Geert Lovink

Made in China, Designed in California, Criticized in Europe.
Amsterdam Design Manifest

“We are a designing species.” Victor Margolin

“Humanity will become extinct. We need to design an elegant ending.” Paola Antonelli

When everything is destined to be designed, design disappears into the everyday. We simply don’t see it anymore because it’s everywhere. This is the vanishing act of design. At this moment design registers its redundancy: our products, environments and services have been comprehensively improved. Everything has been designed to perfection and is under a permanent upgrade regime. Within such a paradigm, design is enmeshed with the capitalist logic of reproduction. But this does not come without conflicts, struggles and tensions. Chief among these is the situation of design in a planetary procession toward decay. Our dispense culture prompts a yearning for longevity. The computational compulsion to delete brings alive a desire to retrieve objects, ideas and experiences that refuse obsolescence. Society is growing more aware of sustainability and alert to the depletion of this world. For the young, ambitious designer, it’s time to take the next step: designing the future as a collective relation attuned to life.

Design today is an incantation, it becomes a chant, a mantra, an invocation sprinkled across disciplines in hopes that it will work its magic. The simple beginnings of graphic designhave proliferated into design thinking, design research and design methods. Product design has been joined by transformation design, exclusive design and dilemma-driven design. Design technology strives to control the implementation and operation of technical systems and practices. The question with all of this “design” is no longer what it is but what it even means. To identify and transform the problem, that is the problem of design.

Design has transformed from discipline into idea – it has become a discourse. This means that design is no longer seen as a professional field with clear competencies and a straightforward output in well-defined products and services. Now, what matters is the story – products are mere illustrations. Design has turned into a magic term for vague, creative, preparatory activities, which we can’t assess completely yet. Design is intent. Design is strategy. Design prepares us.

We are designing the world, from the grand metropolis all the way down to the humble kitchen mug. Design schools pop up everywhere, and while a growing number of professions evaporate as a result of automation, mechanization and digitization, bullshit jobs, as David Graeber termed them, are emerging all around, not the least in design. According to Graeber, about three-quarters of all jobs in Western society consist of meaningless pastime; they do not contribute in any way to a better world. The creative sector is a beehive of bullshit jobs, in which everything goes down within a fashionably artistic matrix of brainstorm sessions and concept development by way of hackathons, expert meetings, sales pitches and prototypes. Co-working spaces are the endpoint of labour before the algorithm takes command.

Traditionally, design was set off against mass production. A consumer could have one or the other, but not both. In those days, you bought your daily necessities at cheap Dutch housewares chains like Blokker or HEMA, whose teapots, cutlery and kitchenware were clearly “un-designed.” The design versions of these were considerably more expensive, authored by famous designers and sold in exclusive design stores.

Design’s exclusivity has been canceled by the emergence of mega-design chains such as IKEA and H&M, with their permanent sale. Regardless of the joint ventures these chains occasionally undertake with contemporary designers (Hella Jongerius, Walter van Beirendonk, Pinar & Viola for IKEA, and the late Karl Lagerfeld and Viktor & Rolf for H&M), the focus is always on creating a cheap, mass-manufactured product for the masses. Available everywhere for an unbeatable price, design is extended to the hoi polloi. After all, design should be within the reach of everyone.

The termination of design as a distinct discipline was heralded when the business lingo Design Thinking started conquering the world as therapeutic management strategy. The term ‘design’ was transformed in two ways. On the one hand, it became a formulaic process, driven by technology. At the same time, it radically expanding its scope, becoming holistic and even healing. Design thinking is seen as a way to “creatively” solve problems by putting humans center stage as “users.” This places the process on rails, a fixed trajectory of defining, building and testing, all the way from prototype through to final product. Invariably the result is a technical solution. Such a model limits reflection to the pragmatic – and paradigmatic – procedural steps: making isreflecting. God forbid that our reflection leaves us empty handed.

Meanwhile, design is moving away from concrete applications in objects and industry towards immaterial and virtual outcomes for quite some time. In the process it has acquired a rather vague demeanor – a surprising turn for a discipline once famed for its hands-on, can-do, pragmatic character. Design thinking is not about design, but about management depleted of aesthetics, a managerial practice geared at unpicking the fatally entangled processes of businesses and industry. Over time this practice evolves from a focus on objects to become a way of working, a way of life, of thinking. But, unlike ideology critique, design thinking is a process that dispenses with the moment of critique. Design changes from a discipline into a belief, whose followers can perform miracles by transforming any mundane situation or thought into something special and exclusive. Bathe your product three times in the fount of design, and it emerges as something more luxurious and lucrative. We’ve moved from discipline to discourse, from discourse to ideology, and from ideology to pure faith — accompanied, of course, by our hallowed business models and revenue prospects.

Design is replacing a pack of verbs: At cooking becomes food design, leading becomes management design, organizing becomes process design, maturing becomes self-design. Incrementally, design starts to define a new societal order, ushering in the design society with designer babies and designer drugs. The design society is not content with a focus on innovation and capitalism anymore, but infiltrates every nook and cranny of the public and private realms, from climate change to wellbeing, from social intercourse to self-assessment.

Automation has afforded the affluent citizen of the Western world both more space to shop and more time to exercise their creative chops. Here, designer and consumer merge. The ubiquity of software has meant that suddenly everyone is a designer. How hard can it be? The discipline has been democratized from cross-discipline to anti-discipline. But what have we lost, now that craft doesn’t count anymore and design has become a lubricant for any social process imaginable? Design suffers from inflation, becoming absorbed into anything and everything.

We recognize the 21stcentury designer as a well-dressed personality who cares for his or her exterior, but cultivates most intensely the inner-self. In response to the tsunami of spiritual apps and gadgets geared at making life more comfortable, designers follow suit. Now that the outer built environment is done, the logical next step is to delve inward. The conscious citizen is done with shopping, leaving room for reflection and contemplation. It is time to redress the balance between body and mind.


Photos: Paul van der Blom