The power of design: 8 examples showing the increasing importance of design in today’s world

Twiggy basting brush by FRED - not your average kitchen utensil

Twiggy basting brush by FRED – not your average kitchen utensil

As I have mentioned, I’m reading “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel H. Pink and I’m learning A TON.  In his section on design, I was amazed at how much we are surrounded by design in today’s world and wanted to share his insight.  And these examples I’m about to share don’t even include the things that are constantly in front of our faces either – i.e. the typefaces of anything and everything we pick up to read whether it’s a newspaper, magazine, book, or flyer; the clothes in our closets; the houses we live in and the furniture within them, etc.  But all of these things, including the examples I’m about to share, are “part of your life because someone else imagined them and brought them into being,” according to Pink.  So I invite you to take a minute or two to read through the following post and become enlightened with me about the prevalence of design in today’s world.  You might be surprised, I know I was.

1. School’s are popping up around the U.S. that are known for their design-based curriculums.  One example the book mentioned is The Charter High School for Architecture and Design. CHAD is a tuition-free public school in Philadelphia with a curriculum centered on design – unique because it combines design with math, science, English, history, etc. to teach core subjects.  According to the book, CHAD staff members hold the belief that, “design is interdisciplinary … we’re producing people who can think holistically.”  While not every student that attended CHAD will end up with a career focused on design, CHAD’s deputy principal states, “We’re building an awareness in students of what design is and how it can affect their lives … I see the design curriculum as providing a modern version of a liberal arts education for these kids.”  Very interesting.

2. As Pink calls it, the “democratization of design.”  One example of this phenomenon that we all know and love: Target.  Pink talks about how back in the day, designer fashions and/or products were commodities for the wealthy and elite.  In today’s world however, companies like Target are making such design-oriented merchandise available for just about everyone.

3. The automobile industry.  According to Pink, there are more cars in the U.S. than individuals to drive them.  “That ubiquity has brought down prices and boosted quality, leaving design as a key criterion for consumer decisions,” Pink states.  If you’re still skeptical, here is an additional great quote I found that completely backs up this fact by BMW’s Chris Bangle: “We don’t make ‘automobiles,’ [BMW makes] moving works of art that express the driver’s love of quality.”

4. Your kitchen. Where I live in Madison, WI, there is a store named “Pop Deluxe” nearby on State Street.  It’s all about unique little things – including but not limited to kitchen utensils in the shape of animals or other objects, for example.  Why have these products become so popular you ask?  Well, it’s pretty simple and it comes down to this: “The typical person uses a toaster at most 15 minutes per day.  The remaining 1,425 minutes of the day the toaster is on display.  In other words, 1% of the toaster’s time is devoted to utility, while 99% is devoted to significance.”  SO, we see that toaster sitting on our countertop more than we actually use it.  The question you should ask yourself then, is: why not look great while it spends time sitting there not in use?  Answer: there is no reason it shouldn’t look great.  Therefore: toaster must look good.  BAM.

5. Health care.  According to Pink, “a growing body of evidence is showing that improving the design of medical settings helps patients get better faster.”  For example, there have been studies that have observed recovering patients (with identical ailments) in opposing settings.  I.e. dreary conventional ward of hospital vs. modern, visually appealing ward with plenty of natural sunlight.  Guess which patients ended up using less pain medication and were released from the hospital earliest?  Patients from the modern, design-focused wards.

6. Public schools.  A study at Georgetown University found that aesthetically/physically improving a school’s environment can “increase test scores by as much as 11%.”

7. Public housing.  Architects like Louise Braverman are focusing their energy on the idea of improving aesthetics in otherwise “abominable” settings.  For example, one of his projects – located on Chelsea Court in NYC – contains buildings with “colorful stairwells, airy apartments, and a roof deck with Philippe Starck furniture – all for tenants who are low-income or [formerly] homeless.”  Imagine what improving the aesthetics in these areas around the nation could do to decrease stereotypes and discrimination based on appearance.  What a wonderful movement.

8. Design and the environment.  This one is simple.  “The ‘green design’ movement is incorporating the principles of sustainability in the design of consumer goods.”  Obviously we’ll always need to put in an effort to preserve and protect our planet, that’s for sure.

That’s all for now, folks.  Can you think of any examples from your life that I haven’t mentioned and should be included on this list?  Please share them with me!! 🙂


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