On function

by Gonçalo Prudêncio

April 2008

Some recent, and others less so, developments on technology, materials, drawing tools, as well as the rise of new conceptual creative tools, originated a tsunami of new forms for nearly everything – “from the spoon to the city”. Both designers and manufacturers/brands though, and oddly enough, seem to be lacking self-confidence in relating to each other and succumbed victims of “premature ejaculation design”.

The subsequent stress resultant of these referred new developments, seems to have ignited designers and manufacturers/brands, as strange as it can be, on a much teenager-like rush towards the climax. Charm, flirtation, romance… and preliminaries of all sorts, all seem to have become obstacles on this puerile race for achieving this supreme moment of pleasure – the new form – and the more the better!

The design process has become extremely quick and very much self-indulgent. Physiological rather than Humanistic. Woody Allen once defined masturbation has the act of making love to the person you love the most. This couldn’t be more appropriate to describe the contemporary design process. Designers love themselves more than ever and, for the better and for the worse, are now in possession of means that give them the chance of achieving the end result – the new form – alone for their own full self-satisfaction.

Designers and manufacturers/brands, united by a dandyistic orientation, delighted as they are by their reflection upon the mirror, develop products in order to empower a certain (reflective) image of themselves, becoming themselves the (produced) object. In such a closed-circle context, form is naturally liberated from content, and function becomes exclusively the production of a convincing reflective image of the creative self. This sort of autistic process, is degenerating a widespread (social) misunderstanding of design, which is generally perceived as a tool to empower Personal Social Identity.

Even if one does not recognize oneself in the description above, we are all part of it and have to find ways of being able to be oneself in it. It is rather interesting to observe though, how also design is going from a social discipline towards a means of expressing individuality. This transition doesn’t have to end like parodied above though, and hopefully it won’t!

If one accepts as correct that: it is not that the object is functional, but rather the relationship one establishes with one another through it that makes the object functional, it becomes quite obvious to conclude that, the (designer) focus should be on the relationship between subjects, rather than on the object alone, as the only way to avoid the object becoming too much the reflected image of the subject who created it, and therefore never completely an object but always partly (its) subject!

Unlike artwork, designwork (OBJECTS) have to be exactly that: object! Something completely independent from its creator (SUBJECT) in order to being able to trigger relationships between further subjects, and only then become truly functional. Art and design go hands in hands. They always did. But this is a fundamental difference between both that will always distinguish one from the other.


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