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Nothing new under the sun

Nothing new under the sun

Please file this blog post under the category “Dunlop catching up with the rest of the class” as it plays the role of part-reflection part-confession on the origins of design thinking as we understand it today.

Allow me to share with you a list of design principles (first articulated by someone else) and a short explanation of each (based on my personal experience.) When do you think the principles were written?

  1. No border between artist and craftsman – design is a team sport which includes everyone involved in designing and building something
  2. The artist is an exalted craftsman – design is everyone’s job, not just that of people whose job title says “designer”
  3. Form follows function – design is not just how it looks, it is how it works too
  4. Gesamtkunstwerk or the ‘complete work of art’ – the best design can be both highly practical and very beautiful
  5. True materials – the materials on which design is carried out should mimic the real world as closely as possible
  6. Minimalism – obvious always wins
  7. Emphasis on technology – advances in technology regularly provide us with opportunity for transformation and doing things better so we must always be alert to those possibilities
  8. Smart use of resources – importance of working to lean methodologies, to time and budget parameters
  9. Simplicity and effectiveness – make the solution as simple as it can be, but no simpler
  10. Constant development – everything can always get better all the time, so constantly pursue measurement and improvement

They were written just over a century ago, by Walter Gropius, the founder of the German art school Staatliches Bauhaus. The school (more commonly referred to as simply Bauhaus) became famous for its approach to design, which attempted to unify the principles of mass production with individual artistic vision and strove to combine aesthetics with everyday function.

It is credited with inventing graphic design (by merging photography, illustration and typography for the first time), with designing furniture which is still instantly recognisable today and for those of a certain vintage, Top of the Pops motion graphics are instantly recognisable as Bauhaus-inspired.

You could be forgiven for thinking “Smart use of resources” came from Jeff Gothelf’s excellent “Lean UX” book or that minimalism is a summary of Luke Wroblewski’s “obvious always wins” mantra or that “form follows function” is a Steve Jobs legacy. These principles, like all of the others listed, pre-date our modern-day design leaders by many decades.

I have no doubt that a more widely-read and worldly-wise reader of this blog may be able to connect these thoughts back yet further to the renaissance period, or the ancient Greeks. In truth it doesn’t really matter how far back we go, as long as we take a moment to reflect that the UX (or product design, or service design or experience design) industry stands on the shoulders of giants.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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