The Design Museum, London

On a recent visit to the Design Museum in London, I was struck by the clarity and strength of their permanent exhibition. The curators deep reflection on design was clear, where the overall message is that design has power, and the influence of the design can sometimes be unpredictable and even at times insidious, going way beyond a designer’s original intent.

I have always known without too much conscious thought that design can be powerful, but both the written work and the design product on display in the exhibition magnified for me the impact design plays in our world.

Below I have shown quotes of what touched me and a brief encapsulation as to why. I had initially thought I’d rewrite what had been written, but in the end I decided it was best left to the experts.

Succinctly put,

"Design is a process carried out by people, for people. At its heart it is a dialogue between three key people: the designer, the maker and the user.”


Therefore it is the responsibility of the designer, the maker and the user to consciously choose products and services that are aligned to our values and to consider the pathways that design might go on. The exhibition further states that

“We are all users of products and services and all of these things have been designed. We chose products that help us carry out specific tasks and express our identities. Design gives us the freedom to live in the way we choose, and to express ourselves in whichever way we want. At the same time, design changes the world around us, and our place within it, in ways that we may not expect."

"As users we have the power to influence design. Our choices will make some designs succeed and others fail. However, the reasons we choose one product rather than another are complex. Some of our decisions are clear and deliberate, based on cost, efficiency, comfort or need. Other choices are less conscious, prompted by an emotional response, a perception of value, or in some cases, the manipulations of manufacturers and advertisers. Understanding the things that we live with helps us make informed choices.”

As an architect, all building designs require thousands of decisions - from the small ones to the the big…often first-time clients are amazed by the sheer volume of decisions required by them. Each decision shows up the values of both the designer and the clients, and perhaps more potently the suppressed values, as often decisions are made that override the team or member of the team’s integral values.

My questions to all of us are - if we continue to suppress our values for a more expedient or cheaper option, will there be a world in which to work in?

And secondly, how long can we all work this way? What is the impact this has both on us as individuals with the whittling loss of self with each decision, and as importantly, how do these decisions reflect the true cost to our earth?

It is time that we understand the responsibility of these choices and make a commitment to informed choices. This is where one of the values of an architect comes into its own. With all those decisions to be made, working with an aligned team will help make those numerous decisions a joy rather than a task.

Taking this into account, one the key roles I see architects playing this century is in the role of agents of change. Knowing how hard suppliers work to keep us specifying their products we have the power to ask the hard questions and bring about positive change.

“Design and designers can act as powerful agents of change. Innovative products, new services and fresh ideas are all capable of helping us living longer and and more fulfilling lives.”

Therefore, if we go full circle and return to the first quote, where design is a process carried out by the designer, the maker and the user, it becomes clear that it is vital that the team understand the values of the design. Highlight the agreed values all over our work areas, fridges, wherever, play with them and keep them alive, as they can act as a touchstone throughout the project, so each decision is aligned to the espoused values. If we all did this, the world would be a more conscious one…and hopefully a better place for all.