Design, Desire & Desperation










Image Credit: WORKMAN – Chip Kidd

It’s been some months now since I started on the garden design journey I decided to take in the summer. I am enjoying it, but I have to say it’s been something of a rude cranial (re)awakening around the ticklish and (highly subjective) subject of design.

Does form really follow function? Well, as one of those engineering-trained left-brain rooted folks – I’ve been (ever so slightly) inclined to always believe so – yes. However – most people do NOT (and I may have to repeat this a number of times) possess wholly left and right hemispheric control of their brains and sensibilities. I read somewhere many scientists are religious and many engineers (Leonardo daVinci amongst them) were a reasonable dab-hand when it came to art.

If you were to ask the question: “What is great design“? What would happen?. Well – when you grow tired of asking your smallish circles this question – that’s what Quora was invented for. On there is everything from; “human beings“, “the egg“, “paperclip“, “a woman“, “Pilot M90 fountain pen“. All of them FANTASTICALLY well reasoned and (if needs be) argued. Slightly disappointing no-one mentioned a plant leaf, the jet engine or Flaminio Bertoni’s 1955 Citroen DS, but I suppose even the mighty Quora can eventually run out of steam.

To say design is subjective is almost as emollient as saying ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. It’s a tidy way of side-stepping any kind of discussion that could get ugly really quickly. I’m not sure design is ‘form over function’ any more that it’s desire being supplicant to circumstances. It’s where the whole process can become really desperate.

Function is critical – but wow – it’s such a moveable feast. “Necessity is the mother of of invention” rang in my ears so many times from parents who were a glorious (but disruptive) merging of right and left cranial dominations. Maybe that is why in all these (albeit sometimes trite) tests to ascertain whether you are left or right brained, I usually come in slam on the 50-50 line.  Does it matter which side of the left and right divide you are on? I’m increasingly thinking it does not.

We should perhaps not be aiming to project ourselves as ‘creative’ or ‘functional’. We should perhaps be seeking to see ourselves as crafting a solution to something, for someone(s), somewhere in some kind of manner that ticks as many deeply rooted desires for fulfilment as possible from those we are seeking to serve with the circumstances that they possess AT THAT MOMENT? Is anything else not just….clutter?

These discussions raged when I was studying photography a good few years ago. They smoulder & crackle in technology companies, fashion houses, retailing operations, and in automotive design labs. Tragically – along the way – form, function, desire and circumstances  hijack, distort and destroy as much good design as let slip through the net.

By way of example (for those of you in your middle years and living in the UK) what I am about to share next may come as a shock. The early 1970’s designed Austin Allegro started life as something really quite beautiful and wonderful. Due to a bizarre mix of belligerence and cost constraints – between drawing concept and production – it ended up one of the few cars ever made that was actually more aerodynamic going backwards in reverse than with any of it’s forward gears engaged.  It emerged out of the factory gates to an awaiting British press who’s collective gasp sucked in more air than an advancing bush fire. For me – it remains one of the best examples of where the whole end to end process of design really broke down.

So – in order for your design to not become desperate, I’d suggest visiting the three ‘C’s’. Clarity, Communication and Constraint. I can help you with that. I cannot set all the knobs, switches, levers and levels for you, but it is the process of refining all those elements (however you chose to define them) that avoids so many slippery descents into a bad and expensive experience.

Unless you loved your Allegro of course – in which case I really probably cannot help you at all…








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