It’s the most exciting time in history to be a designer. Never before have we had access to such a powerful set of tools. We can now wield algorithms to create the most complex of shapes. Anything from cell growth to perfectly relaxed minimal surfaces are just a few components away. The most precise objects ever are forming out of liquids in front of our very eyes. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. And I have not even started talking about LEDs and the whole electronics industry that has developed highly sophisticated building blocks and made them accessible to the creative world. Arduino [the open-source platform used for building electronics projects] is no longer a simple teaching tool but a huge ecosystem, a world standard for electronic creativity. And since LED is an electronic component, light and electronics is a match made in heaven, offering an infinite world of opportunity for innovation.
You would expect a whole industry going into innovation overdrive. You would imagine a new set of design superstars to come through, one that has mastered a new toolset and is creating concepts and design classics with shapes and uses never before possible. And you would hope to open your favourite design magazine or webpage to read about the cutting edge of aesthetics.
The reality looks strangely different. Any given gallery show is a guaranteed ticket back in time: to the 1950s or the 1800s, or to the Stone Age, depending on which booth you look at. New designers are admitted based on their ability to unearth an ancient craft technique and execute it poorly in the name of luxury. The furniture fairs are based on 256 shades of grey and LED technology seems to have peaked in the Edison replica bulb, so light designers don’t have to worry about moving away from their grandparent’s lampshades any longer.
Where did it all go wrong? Is it Brexit, Trump and the Russian state sponsored hackers that are getting us down? Or dare I say it: is it the accountants that have turned the whole design industry off from innovation, like they have done to so many other industries so effectively? Le Corbusier, Charles and Ray Eames et al were the innovators of their time, what would they make of the constant back referencing of their designs? I’d imagine they’d be horrified by the lack of innovation.
A true celebration of their philosophy is not another overpriced auction of their pieces but the chance to sit down, learn a new skill, master a new art and push the envelope until a new masterpiece is born. To do this with passion is contagious and will spread beyond our small design world. Hopefully it will create a spark that will allow us to leave this dark period behind and sail towards a brighter future.