October 2, 2023

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MoMA | Design

MoMA | Design

Design Is a Noun

From the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, design plays a role in your everyday life. Design makes ideas tangible, translating them into physical form. Someone is responsible for designing the things we consume, use, and interact with every day, be they objects, spaces, landscapes, or communications and transportation systems. Every moment, we encounter a set of solutions to a problem that has been considered by someone, or as Paola Antonelli, Curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA, has said: “Everything is designed, one way or another.”1

MoMA | Design

Charles Eames and Ray Eames. Full Scale Model of Chaise Longue (La Chaise). 1948.

Prior to the 20th century, design was thought of mainly in the context of decorative arts, which emphasized unique and hand-crafted forms often available in limited quantity. Over time, the growth and complexity of modern society changed the way people interacted and went about their daily lives, which increased the demand for consumer products that met the needs of a broader public and were affordable. The Industrial Revolution and the emergence of mass production enabled designers to consider form, function, material, and affordability in ways that were not previously possible or viable.

Eventually, the classical notion of design expanded beyond the decorative arts into a broader field, subdivided into specialized areas of practice in design for the built environment, such as industrial design, interior design, and fashion design. The development of new technologies, materials, and user needs continues to spur new forms of design practice, such as interaction design.

Ray and Charles Eames working on a conceptual model for the exhibition Mathematica, 1960. © Eames Office (eamesoffice.com)

Ray and Charles Eames working on a conceptual model for the exhibition Mathematica, 1960. © Eames Office (eamesoffice.com)

Design Is a Verb

“Design” does not only refer to things and spaces; it is also the process of planning, evaluating, and implementing a plan or answer to a problem. The first step in the design process is often to brainstorm possible solutions. The brainstorm could take the form of words, sketches, or photographs that articulate the designer’s ideas. Once the ideas have been expressed, the designer chooses the best resolution for the problem. Sometimes, a designer will consult an engineer, who helps produce a prototype. The prototype is tested to ensure that the design is functionally and aesthetically viable.

As consumers of everyday objects, we play an important role in the design process. Designers often look to consumers to evaluate and respond to the appearance and functionality of things they create. From choosing a new shape or color for a cell phone to deciding how tall to make seats on a subway car, designers rely heavily on market research and consumer input.

Paola Antonelli, Humble Masterpieces: Everyday Marvels of Design (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2005, 1).

The science, art, or profession of designing and constructing buildings, bridges, and other large structures.

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

A rendering of the basic elements of a composition, often made in a loosely detailed or quick manner. Sketches can be both finished works of art or studies for another composition.

Human-made surroundings that provide the setting for human activity.

A term used to describe the design and aesthetics of functional objects with an emphasis on unique and hand-crafted forms often available in limited quantity.

An early sample built to test a concept or process.

A discipline of design that focuses on the functional and aesthetic aspects of indoor spaces.

The practice of designing digital environments, products, systems, and services for human interaction.

A person who conceives and gives form to objects used in everyday life.

The production of large amounts of standardized products through the use of machine-assembly production methods and equipment.

The form or condition in which an object exists or appears.

Modern can mean related to current times, but it can also indicate a relationship to a particular set of ideas that, at the time of their development, were new or even experimental.

An element or substance out of which something can be made or composed.

The shape or structure of an object.

A person whose job it is to research and manage a collection and organize exhibitions.

The perceived hue of an object, produced by the manner in which it reflects or emits light into the eye. Also, a substance, such as a dye, pigment, or paint, that imparts a hue.

Relating to or characterized by a concern with beauty or good taste (adjective); a particular taste or approach to the visual qualities of an object (noun).

Design at MoMA
In 1932, The Museum of Modern Art established a curatorial department devoted to collecting architecture and design. Philip Johnson, the department’s founding curator, and Alfred Barr Jr., the Museum’s founding director, were interested in representing all art forms of the time, including design.

Related Artists:
Aluminum Company of America, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
Fernando Campana, Humberto Campana,
Earle Dickson,
Charles Eames, Ray Eames,
After a design by Karl Elsener,
Art Fry, Spencer Silver,
Kazuo Kawasaki,
Margaret E. Knight, Charles B. Stilwell,
Paolo Lomazzi, Donato D’Urbino, Jonathan De Pas,
Charles Rennie Mackintosh,
Forrest Mars,
Michael Rakowitz,
The Stanley Works,
Ray Tomlinson,
Earl S. Tupper,
UNICEF United Nations Children’s Fund,
Sven Wingquist,
Tokujin Yoshioka,
Arthur Young

Questions & Activities

  1. Design Journal

    Document the role of design in your life. Start a journal in which you record at least one interesting design object you encounter each day. Keep up your journal for at least two weeks.

    Make sketches, tape or paste down supporting images, and write notes to help document the experience of using each design object. Make sure your journal is portable so you can bring it wherever you go.

    Reflect on your top five favorite design objects after several days of journaling. What did you like about the way they looked or how they functioned? What role does each of the objects play in your life?

  2. Essential Objects

    Choose an object that you think is very well designed. If you’re working in a group, have everyone bring an object he or she thinks is well designed to share.

    Consider what you value about your chosen object. Do you consider this object essential–in other words, is it something that you could not live without?

    Create: Develop an advertising campaign for your essential object. Sketch your ideas first, and then create the ad. Who is your audience? Think about the different formats that you could use to communicate your ideas. Will you promote it online? On the radio? In a newspaper?

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