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The untrained designer as expert

May 27, 2010
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I often think about how in earlier times design&making skills would have been so incredibly important for survival and for building a good life. Everybody needed to be able to identify a problem or articulate a need, figure out a solution and implement it – with whatever resources were at hand. And how that is still the case in many parts of the world.

(Here illustrated by (the brilliant) Richard Scarry’s Uncle Willy, who, having been dumped on a deserted island by a wicked band of  pirates (and forced to watch them munch down his lunch-pie) gets himself out of his tricky situation with some quick thinking and wicked skills involving branches, sea-shells and some long beach grass.)

It is something appealing about the idea of being well-rounded like Uncle Willy; he’s got life-skills! I think with specialization we’ve lost something important – designer/maker/end-user used to be the same person, but now the designing of products and systems that has to work for all of us is done by a few select, professional designers, often in offices far away.

But good news:

Emily Pilloton talks about The untrained designer as expert.

In Design Revolution she says that “More citizens worldwide are taking solution making into their own hands…The untrained designer – whether a professional from another field, a farmer in rural Africa, or even a child – has become more than a client or a user, now serving as a co-designer and expert on her own environment. Creations from untrained designers can often shed the most light on what a functional and user-accepted solution to a real problem might look like.”

I find that not only inspiring, but humbling. It gives me hope for a better world.

(All images from Richard Scarry’s Funniest Storybook Ever)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Emily permalink
    May 28, 2010 5:25 pm

    Actually, I think the author of ‘guns, germs and steel’ made a similar case when arguing that small, tribal societies actually produce more actively intelligent people than do our sedentary, centralised, ‘civilised’ model. We are not constantly engaged in problem-solving for life-or-death stakes on a daily basis.
    And hooray for richard scarry!
    Keep up the kickass blog. xxx

  2. May 31, 2010 1:37 pm

    Thanks Em – that was the last little piece of evidence I needed, now I’m finally gonna pull up my socks and go get that classic – I’ve long meant to but there’s just been a lot of reading Mr Scarry lately and then collapsing into dreamland without nourishing the old grey matter any further!
    You know.

    Thanks again!

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