Design: the bridge between technology and human experience.

Cricket - May 10, 2010

Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art spoke April 26th at Madison’s Museum of Contemporary Art to close out the Humanities without Borders Series put on by UW-Madison’s Center for Humanities.

“Designers take the revolutionary and bring it home”,  she said.

And she’s right. Designers are the folks who take new technological advances and along with the technologists work to find ways to make the technology useful at a human level.  Designers create the interface for the technologies and allowing them to make our lives richer, easier and more meaningful. She referenced many talented individuals and firms for their imaginative thinking including the work of Participle from London bringing design to promote social change through projects like Get Together.  She also showed sculptural works of leather tissue culture done by Symbiotica, a group that investigates the art of the biological sciences to promote learning and understanding of new technologies and their implications on our world.

Paola presented summaries of her work as curator and her process of pulling designed objects and designers together to reveal the world of design to a wider audience and to celebrate luminaries in our field. She also discussed the importance of design and called for a higher appreciation of the importance of design at a technical, social, political and cultural level. As part of that call she cited the lack of successful design criticism in the U.S. as a major gap in the appreciations for design (specifically the lack of a Design Critic on staff at our fair New York Times).

Of course I’m always hungry to see more good design coverage, but I also take issue with her on this point.  Does David Pogue not discuss design every time he reviews a new electronic device for Circuits?  Isn’t design also woven into Frank Bruni’s restauarant reviews–both the design of the dining environment and the design of the menus? And then there’s Thursday’s whole House and Home section–which feels like it’s own weekly homage to design with a capital D. Thursday’s pretty much my favorite morning of the week for that very reason.

Which brings me to this question: Isn’t design too broad a category for a single critic?  And isn’t almost every cultural critic at some level also a design critic? And isn’t the application of the design the important thing to be analyzed–its utility and the message that it sends to the users.

In other words: isn’t it all about how design shapes the human experience in context?

SIDENOTE: I need to give a great shout out to this year’s speaker series that included three of my heroes: Jonah Lehrer (often referenced here); David Eggers, founder of McSweeney’s, 826 Valencia’s writing program and the most awesome Pirate Store; and Michael Pollan, pragmatist, foodie and environmentalist. The whole series was thoughtfully curated and Paola’s talk about the process of curating design exhibits was a fantastic finale. Thanks so much Sara Guyer, the funders of the Humanities without Borders Series. I’m really grateful that these talks were available and free to the public.

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