What’s the difference? (I swear this isn’t a rant about HGTV.)

I’ve now started and deleted this post twice, because I keep meaning to talk about two different approaches in design, and it keeps turning into a rant about HGTV. Now, if I *start* ranting about that (and I will. Oh, I will.), I won’t stop until I’m about a dozen paragraphs down. My keyboard will have turned into molten slag, and I still won’t have talked about what I actually wanted to in the first place. Trust me- I have enough HGTV rant material to write an almost limitless number of posts. I suppose it’s good to know I won’t run out of material any time soon.

Anyway, refocusing on what I *DID* want to talk about, whilst muttering about HGTV under my breath…

This is about (generally) what television does, and does not teach you about design.

Okay, let’s start with this lamp:

Dog Collar Lamp

First of all, this is a lamp with a design flaw, but I’ll get to that in a minute. This lamp, once you take care of the minor flaw, will work just fine. You can make one your very own self, with a stop at any pet supply, and a stop to your local big box hardware store. Assuming you have a drill, that’s pretty much all you need here. If anyone really needs to desperately know how to make this lamp, let me know, but otherwise I will assume that how it’s made is reasonably self-evident. The flaw in the lamp as it appears in this picture btw, is that the light bulb (standard 60-watt A lamp) will melt the bowl because of the heat it generates. This gets solved by using a compact fluorescent bulb which won’t do that.

This is an example of an adaptive (re)design(or re-use, but I didn’t really reuse anything here). That is to say, I took a whole bunch of components that may or may not be normally used for making a lamp, and I created one. I adapted the original components and created something new. Like when someone takes one of those huge wire spools and makes it into a coffee table.

It’s sort of like a combination of design and an episode of McGuyver. “All you have is a bubble gum wrapper, a drinking straw, and a paper clip. You have to build a catapult that can breach the Great Wall of China. In an hour.”

Avoiding the rant that I swear, could fly forth from my fingers at any old moment now, this is largely the kind of thing you learn from watching design shows on television. First of all, like I said, it’s a combination of McGuyver and design- it’s already television. But secondly because it often tends to be a way to use junk that people either already have or can easily obtain, and utilize it inexpensively. There’s nothing wrong with that on its face. It’s just not really how the *industry* tends to work, and the problem I have is that shows like those which use real, actual designers (on occasion) never get to show what we do *most* of the time. Because *most* of the time, design isn’t a handicraft project. Sorry folks, but it isn’t.

To show the difference, let’s look at this chair:

A boingy inspiration.

The image on the left is a chair(well, obviously.) The image on the right is what inspired the design of the chair. If you don’t recognize it, it’s a Hippity-Hop toy. They were popular in the 70’s. But the chair isn’t made OUT OF a Hippity-Hop. It’s just inspired by one. It’s not like a toy has been carved up to make a chair (first of all, you couldn’t do that, as the toys were filled with air anyway.)

This is an abstractive design. The Hippity Hop has been abstracted. Sure, you can see how you hop(ha!) from point a to point b here. But there’s no question that the chair is not made out of a toy, any more than the toy is made out of a chair. And THIS is what they don’t teach you on television. But it is the *vast*, VAST bulk of what design really is. I think this is why clients who have watched WAY too much “design” programming on tv make actual designers crazy. Because sure, once in a while you turn a spool into a coffee table, or a few dog collars and a bowl into a lamp. But that’s not really how we do our jobs, and I think that misunderstanding causes both confusion and resentment on both sides of the client/designer line.


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