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Writing about design, is it designing?

Guest designer: Javier Díez, los díez.



I allow myself such a categorical statement for several reasons.

In the first place, because this article is an opinion article and therefore it is totally subjective and not obliged to provide contrasted and irrefutable data; therefore, whoever is looking for precise information should lose all hope, and would do better to desist from reading it at this point.

Moreover, because following the thesis of the best definition I have ever heard in my life about what design is -proclaimed by the mind of the Spanish design factótum, Juli Capella-, according to which "to design is to think before doing", and being a necessary condition to think, meditate or reflect both on what is going to be written and on what is going to be designed, both actions would be equated, especially when the object of such writing is the design itself.

On the other hand, because resorting to the philosopher and mathematician Ludwig Wittgenstein, who stated that "we can say that thinking is essentially the activity of operating with signs", both writing and design would be nothing more than the embodiment -by means of characters, words and texts in one case, and in the other, of the design itself, words and texts in one case and two- or three-dimensional, material or immaterial formal conformations in the other - of concepts, ideas and thoughts in a process that, according to Platonic theory, would mean the fusion of the cosmos noetós or ideal and intelligible world and cosmos oratós or material and sensible world.

And finally, because we will agree that both activities, that of writing and that of designing, have as a common nexus some instrumental antecedents that we can specify in the notes and drafts prior to the final drafting of a piece of writing, be it essayistic or fictional, poetic or dramatic, and in the sketches and sketches that outline the first phases in the creation of any designed object or product, be it a graphic element, an industrial or furniture product, an item of clothing, or -expanding and updating the field of action of an activity so transversal and indefinite in its limits that Zygmunt Bauman could very well have designated it as the 'liquid activity' par excellence- web pages, videogames, strategies, augmented realities and a long etcetera.

¡OH! DE IDEAS, 2010. Private collection. ©los díez

An example of the confluence of both programmatic tools could be found in the so-called design thinking methodology, in which the project development of the element to be designed is based in its early stages on the preparation of schemes and diagrams in which both written language elements (concepts and small sentences) and visual elements (circuits, arrows or icons) interact, albeit in a rather reductionist and simple way.


Having established, therefore -although in a particular, subjective and personal way- the parallelism between the act of writing and the act of design, taking into account the scope of perception and influence in which this blog is positioned and the profile of its potential recipients, there are some questions we should ask ourselves, such as whether designers should write about design.

On this question, and forgetting about blunt answers, the answer is yes -obviously I am thinking of those who have something to say and know how to say it-; I refer to the opinion expressed by Paola Antonelli, former chief curator of the Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA in New York in the documentary Objectified (2009), according to which she predicted a role for designers in the 21st century similar to that of French philosophers in her country during the second half of the last century, that is, that of 'opinionators' on any topic related to current affairs, whether or not it was related to their own professional activity.

ALQUIMIA DE IDEAS, 2021. Cosentino collection. ©los díez

As I already explained in my article ¡PRODUCE IDEAS! ¡CONSUME IDEAS!, I believe that designers, whatever our specialty and field of activity, could begin to colonize activities and expanded fields of action that until now have been scarcely contemplated in our daily professional work -at least in our country- such as those of essayist, article writer, exhibition curator, prologue writer, memorialist, collection advisor, columnist, talk show host, etc., either in relation to topics that are professionally our own or, as Antonelli pointed out, in any field or public sphere where, for example, the triad of technique/humanism/art has a place or a confluence in any field or public sphere where, for example, the triad of technique/humanism/art has a place or confluence in our professional work, whether in relation to topics that are professionally our own or, as Antonelli pointed out, in any field or public sphere where, for example, the triad of technique/humanism/art has a place or converges.

It is significant to see how, compared to areas adjacent to those of design - however much some would like to make them coincide - such as art on the one hand and architecture on the other, where there are numerous examples of professionals who, in parallel to their professional and creative activity, are capable of expressing in articles, essays and publications their opinion, thoughts and thoughts on the subject, essays and publications their opinions, thoughts and reflections on their work or profession, we find that within the field of design -despite the breadth, diversity and transversality of its field of action- there are few examples of those who habitually write, for example, journalistic articles or publish books on design.

Perhaps the explanation for this scarcity of thought and reflection in the field of design can be found in the answer to a question: are we designers prepared to write about our profession -or perhaps we should talk about professions-, about the fruits of our profession or about how they affect society and the world we inhabit?

In this case -and trying not to generalize or to be blunt- the answer is no.

And this is so -I believe- because in the pedagogical field of design there are few, if any, subjects in which the student is induced and stimulated to acquire knowledge and skills in the humanistic field of thought, writing or oratory, thus dismissing fields such as philosophy or literature, making the search for references and answers prevail either in the field of technique, or in the worst case in the world of the image, seeking the immediacy of the visual against the calmness of the written word.

This lack of training and predisposition towards the humanistic -yes, I don't think the term is misguided- would explain the scarcity of publications and publishing houses that approach the subject of design from the perspective of the essay, and of designers who dare and feel motivated to do so; As for the latter, I will not refer to any of them for fear of leaving some unquoted, although I challenge anyone reading this article to make a list of the professionals who come to mind -without the help of any search engine- who also write, although I will not ask them to do it well.

CONOCIMIENTO, 2014. Glória Bordons collection. ©los díez

I am going to dare instead -even if I am accused of being self-serving- to mention only one publishing house; it is Experimenta Libros, whose variety of topics, breadth of approaches and perspectives, and quality of the results is a kind of oasis in the Spanish 'design' wasteland -I request the recognition of the paternity of this term-.

Returning again to Wittgenstein, we should remember his famous "the limits of my language are the limits of my world"; Perhaps -although simplifying the dimension that this phrase has in the strictly philosophical field- we can understand that if we get used to using a merely visual language, the result of our work will remain precisely there, in the formal, in the external, on the surface of things, while if we expand the limits and complexity of the elements with which we express ourselves, knowing how to combine images and concepts, forms and ideas, the results will reach an unquestionably greater breadth and depth.

Today, when the greatest enemy for the professional and cultural activity of design -besides the client who does not know what he wants, unless it is cheap- is the threat of artificial intelligence -with its infinite capacity to assimilate and metabolize any kind of information, be it visual or textual, and to instantly offer products from a few minimal indications-, I believe, or I want to believe, that the only way to face it is by recovering the stillness and refuge of the word -first of all, read, to be then written-. Because, as my dear and remembered Alberto Corazón used to say, "creation is always an act of intelligence and there is no creation without knowledge", and let us not fool ourselves, the acquisition of the latter does not admit shortcuts and must necessarily be based on slowness -a necessary requisite for memory, as Kundera maintained- a condition that AI will hardly be able to embrace in its vertiginous activity.


Javier Díez

Javier Díez, los díez.

Industrial designer by the Escuela Experimental de Diseño (Madrid, 1992) and member of the studio los díez, along with his brother José Luis, dedicated to product design and, since 2010, also to the creation of visual poetry and object poems.

Since 2020 he collaborates as an article writer for the digital magazine «El Asombrario & Co.»; in February 2022 he published a compilation of his articles in different media titled OBJETIVO SUBJETIVO [Cuaderno de bitácora de tiempos extraños], texts, expanded and updated. He is currently preparing a second publication on design, art and aesthetics which will be entitled «Sobre ideas y cosas» and a volume on the filmography of Billy Wilder.


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