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Design

The alarm clock that wakes you. The glass for your orange juice. The toaster for your bagel. The newspaper you read and the table you sit at. Your clothes. Your house. Your car, the street, the shops you pass, and almost everything they sell. The computer you stare at, and all its programs, and every Web site you’ve ever seen. Every bridge and building, every machine and instrument, every piece of art and scientific experiment. The local park. The National Parks. Even the trail through the wilderness.

Every one of these things was designed. Somebody, somewhere, sat down and deliberated about the curve of the handle, the cost of the steel, the slope of the downgrade, the strength of the typeface. Why? Because that’s what people do. Humans are makers, of things and ideas, and design pervades our lives.

And it goes beyond mere functionality and aesthetics. Design is a way to take responsibility for the world we live in. Any given design can include or exclude the old, the poor, the disabled. It can end up in a landfill or point to a more wholesome way to consume. It can add to human knowledge or detract from it.

It can make the world more humane or more mechanical, wiser or more shallow, greedier or more kind.

But in a world where almost everything is designed, what does design mean? Are we all designers, as Caroline Payson ’84 asserts in “Designing the World,” or is design a special calling, best done by experts like David Netto ’92? Does the world need more, better design, or are we at risk of total design overload? What responsibilities do designers have toward the products they make—especially when those products are destined, sooner or later, for the landfill?

Read on, and decide for yourself.

Design page from magazine

Photography by Andrew Lichtenstein ’88