You might be wondering by now why this site is called “Of Media and Design” when I barely post about that second thing. I have already talked a little about fashion, which heavily incorporates design concepts, but that’s about it. I will probably eventually talk about interior design as well. The fact is, design is the driving force behind most of the subjects of my posts, even if it’s not explicitly stated. It is always hanging around in the back of my mind asking, “Is my experience what this thing was designed to produce?”
As a concept, design is kind of difficult to define, but I will try my best. It is the principle that an object should easily fit into a person’s life without much thought or consideration. If something is well-designed, it is thus easy to use even for beginners. Dyson vacuums are well-designed. The iPhone is as well. I once heard design described as the science of art, basically why it works the way it does. Understanding how it is incorporated into the things we buy, use, and consume can help you think more analytically and improve routine actions. Plus, incorporating design principles can make you feel more relaxed as things will function as they were intended.
At this point, I think it’s worth mentioning a show on Netflix that really got me thinking about this concept. It’s called “Abstract: The World of Design” and covers a different area of design in each episode, from sneakers to font to architecture. I recommend people watch the series more so that it will open their eyes to how much thought goes into product functionality that is often taken for granted. As such, a person can start to see design in everything they interact with, even themselves, and figure out ways to use that design to live a better, less stressful life.
So now you are aware of design, but you still just don’t see it or how knowing the way something is designed will help you. That’s fine. I can give you some examples so you know the kinds of things you’re looking for. One of best examples of design is street addresses. In the United States, they are by and large set up in a very predictable way. As an example, in DC if you were given the address 1234 M Street NW, you would know the location is between 12th and 13th Streets, on the north side of M Street, in the NW quadrant. Knowing this, how addresses are designed to work, can relieve a lot of stress when delivering pizzas. I speak from experience.
Each place may have its own specific rules, but even numbers are generally on the north side for streets that run east-west and on the west side for those that run north-south. Many times, the number will also tell you what block it’s on as well as it corresponds with the name of the last cross street, whether you’re in the city or in rural areas using county roads. These roads are usually set up in a grid-like pattern with all names and numbers being based on a center with four quadrants, an east-west main street, and a north-south main street. I will say that of the places I’ve lived, Charleston, SC isn’t really set up like this which is probably due to the fact that it’s such an old town. Regardless, you can see how identifying a city’s design might be useful.
Another example is in interior design. Now while positioning your furniture in order to promote movement is a great way to relieve stress, I’m actually referring more to the individual furniture and ergonomics. I bought a sofa recently that looks amazing and makes my living room look more inviting. However, the way it’s built provides no support at all and the result is people either hunching over, laying back and sliding down, or sitting all the way back with legs crossed or perched on something else, none of which are very comfortable. Many sofas these days are made similarly with a low back and an extended seat, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. This is an example of terrible design, and I made an expensive mistake because I overlooked it.
The last object that is subject to design is one you should know well: the human body. No, I’m not necessarily talking about intelligent design, but if that’s your thing, the result is the same. Our bodies were designed, either by a greater being or by 6 million years of natural selection, to be able to process nutrients, visual input, and various other things a specific way. Upsetting that design is what leads to disease and chronic illness, so figuring out how we are supposed to live according to our DNA and applying it to today’s world is the key to living a happy, healthy life.
This principle is what led to the Paleo Diet’s inception, the idea that we should try to eat foods that are as close as possible to the foods we ate when we evolved into humans–i.e., meats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, things that don’t need to be heavily processed in order to eat. Everything else upsets our systems and could eventually lead to issues because our bodies didn’t evolve to be able to handle it. There are studies that have shown indigenous peoples living healthier lives and not developing chronic illnesses like cancer and Alzheimer’s as a result of their hunter-gatherer type lifestyles. Unfortunately, we can’t replicate the lives of our ancient ancestors in modern times, but we can use this design as a blueprint to build off of.
Being able to identify and understand design can be very beneficial. My examples are just a few, but you can also gain a lot from analyzing the design of businesses, like how Farfetch works versus Mr. Porter. Thinking about the concept can even help you with simple things like figuring out the best way to load the dishwasher. It may sound nerdy, but I think about design a lot. I always ask myself, is this the best way to do this, the way I’m supposed to do this? In that way, I feel like I’m designing my life, giving me more of a sense of control in this increasingly chaotic world we live in. How can you incorporate design into your life?