FORMS AND FEELINGS
We are into honest design: straight, no chaser, no ice, no water, as is, no make believe, no hiding, of honest material to make honest forms, rough, direct, brutal, up front. A chair is a chair, a logo a logo and text is text. It’s clean design in its form and meaning. We are into clear lines, frank colors, non-composite forms. The joints are distinct. Materials are pushed to say new things in an honest way. We don’t belong to a movement, or any school of thought or action.
Making things that work is ultimately about changing living conditions. A well-designed blender on a well-designed table makes people feel better, more intelligent and more independent. “Meaning of use” is important in extending the mechanical view of design (so it doesn’t hurt you) to include a psychological view (so it doesn’t depress you).
We combine two types of activity: “problem-solving” projects we are asked to do by and for specific clients, and “I have an idea” projects we develop for no one in particular. But for both, the process is as analytical as it is intuitive. We don’t do research, we experiment, we make, we discover, we create - we find. When you “just do it” your trash bin is your most important tool. Design should not be precious. It’s about experimentation and trial and error. To go further, you have to know what is good when you see it, and then throw it away in favor of a more interesting one.
As an act, design is the constructive translation of ideas into concepts, concepts into forms, forms into materiality. But it’s a client’s messy problems and frustrated desires, the inconsistency of intention and bluff that springboard us to the most interesting solutions. The process of exploration is revealing, often laborious and almost always rewarding. In an odd way, client companies and institutions often grow in other areas as a byproduct of the design process. Objective clarification, decision management, the creativity / innovation experience, idea to material feasibility… have far-reaching impacts in company organization, development strategy and working environment.
While we were taught that all you have to do is attack the problem from the right angle, experience has shown that however logical it may seem, there is no way to deduce originality from existing things. All creation, however applied it may be, is as much induction as it is deduction. The process is not linear - we have also found concepts for projects and problems for solutions - the beauty of the human brain is that it is multi-directional and multi-task.
A concept is not just an idea for a thing. It is a more general, almost invisible thread, which pulls a project out of normality, as a connection to other objects or systems or other dimensions.
Singular materiality becomes only a momentary incarnation of the immaterial continuum. In turn, form and production processes radiate implicit meaning when they are conceptually conceived. The numerous decisions needed to design a chair: material, shape, rhythm, composition, symmetry, color, shape, proportion, relationship to other chairs and other objects, cost, longevity, position the end product as a statement about the world in which we live.
Design takes time to invent and even more time to accept, and there is no way of knowing how fast it will go. Some projects last so long they have to be redone numerous times, while others are almost instantaneous. In “faster and faster” life, there is “less and less” time to understand, to create and to appropriate.
In this messy world of economic instability, political hysteria and illogical economic shifts, the pressure on companies and institutions is increasingly erratic and irrational. Responsibility is precarious, decision makers are hesitant and the investment in design is difficult. However frustrating this may be, we are at home in this context of complexity (not necessarily the complicated or contorted), of difficult projects for contradictory clients. While design once preached the modernist dogma of consistency (museums full of beautiful alienated things – perfect but cold, thin, meaningless, hard, expression of masculinity driven to its absurd), companies and institutions are now seen as being as inconsistent, contradictory, susceptible, and paradoxical as human beings. We are caught in the contradiction between the site-and-time specific reality, and the search for an ultimate form beyond the fashion of the moment, a timeless perfection. It’s the absolutism of design that plays an essential role in the process of elimination, of purification and simplification. With one’s head in the absolute and one’s feet in the here, now… and how, we tend to be stretched pretty thin.
We have had to learn to surf on these same instabilities, to push over the conventions and to orchestrate the dynamic modulation of design complexity: to play the qualities of originality, humanity and interactivity off those of organization, simplification and optimization… to create value out of the struggle for survival.
Under these conditions, identity and originality have become slippery. Mass produced, overly abundant, low quality and culturally stupid objects and images have become the expression of personality. The junk information overload has reduced diversity. In the “I consume, thus I am” conception of society objects are valued more as propagators of the brand value then as tools for quality existence. Identities are bought to insure one’s initiation into a brand-tribe. Where objects are made to die fast, selves are appropriated as copies (even individuality is mass produced and consumed), as prefab “prêt a porter” packaging void of any authentic originality or divergent drive.
By being outside-driven, identity has become handicapped thus jeopardizing human individuality. In the global village, visual and product design is caught up in a difficult struggle to produce originality and identity. Authentic design language and method, however solid they once were on their functionalist base, have now been recuperated and abused by ad agencies to produce poor copies with a sophisticated song and dance (noodle logos with noodle furniture for cities…).
Consequently, “difference” is abundant but superficial (no distinction, no contrast, thus no value), and hysterical (frenetic, thus no appropriation). Almost identical function, materials, components and interfaces in products and services are transformed by advertising to give us an impression of abundant choice. Diversity is worldliness… but we are all shopping at the same store… the global village has a monoculture. As a consequence, there is an increasingly obsessive demand for creating really new things. At L design, we ride this wave. We have to be on the lookout for the real players, the concrete problems, and the clear objectives while maximizing the implicit impact with minimal nonsense.
Great projects always result from the meeting of a designer with a great client, the convergence of visions, the establishment of a common language and objective. Clients usually want someone else’s solution to someone else’s problem, forgetting their needs and warding off the risk. “I want to exist: make me a yellow logo”; “I have no room in my office: make me folding chairs”, “I’m unknown: I have to have a .com”… New clients aren’t quite sure what role to play in the process, they often have the hard ware and soft ware to “do it fast” and a secretary who just loves yellow. So we either send them off to do what they really want to do, or turn off the flow of recommendations and dig down into the nitty gritty guts of the problem. The right solutions aren’t discovered in magazines and chosen in catalogues. Clients usually have to learn how to participate in the process of innovation.
L Design is built on Arik’s and my abilities to meet each other’s boundaries and to court, to coexist in a dynamic space of dialogue, to welcome and swim in chaos. Chaos is essential to creation and relationship. Ideas are part of the process, a pleasure among pleasures, and not an end in themselves. We are here in Europe because it has become messy and complicated and that’s good. Being “foreign” is important, not belonging, being free of the codes. For us doubt is the privileged partner of creation. It might be different for others but I doubt it. We are driven by the necessity to realize gut feelings that are the basis of the way we think, create one form as opposed to another, translate and construct.
We reveal our gut ideas in form.
Pippo Lionni, Paris 13/10/03