Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:
Bruce Archer, the influential Professor of Design Research at Royal College of Art once wrote, “Design is that area of human experience, skill and knowledge which is concerned with man’s ability to mould his environment to suit his material and spiritual needs.” It is a good general definition, but it lacks specificity. Maybe the old Modernist credo “form follows function” is more direct. From that perspective, the purpose of design is to understand the function of an object and then make sure that the form of that object is as perfectly tailored to the function as possible. Think of an Eames molded chair from the 1940s. It is impossible to look at the inviting and simple curves of the chair without wanting to sit down in it. Good design is what works well; great design is when something that works well feels as if it couldn't possibly be doing anything else.
In recent decades, the “form follows function” credo has been challenged from all sides. The pure pragmatism of the credo now seems insufficient to the depth and complexity of our relationship to things. A contemporary person's interaction with manufactured things goes beyond the utilitarian. Here's something Paola Antonelli (a senior curator the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Architecture and Design) wrote in her essay for the new MoMA show about contemporary design, “Talk to Me:” “The bond between people and things has always been filled with powerful and unspoken sentiments going well beyond functional expectations and including attachment, love, possessiveness, jealousy, pride, curiosity, anger, even friendship and partnership — think of the bond between a chef and his knives.” According to Antonelli, it has always been the case that the functionalist approach to design leaves behind the important bond between people and things. Recent developments in technology and design scream out that truth all the more.