Thursday, July 19, 2007


Não há teoria sem prática, do mesmo modo que não há prática sem teoria. A prática é o objecto da teoria, o “corpo “ que ela deve orientar; a teoria, por sua vez, é, enquanto agenciamento específico de uma determinada praxis, o seu sujeito.

Parece-me claro que aquilo que pode estar envolvido sob a expressão – potencialmente errónea – de “teoria “ deve fornecer ferramentas operativas para o exercício eficaz do projecto.

Tendo presente estas premissas o REACTOR questionou designers e historiadores acerca da importância do conhecimento da história do design para a prática profissional do design.

Ficam as perguntas e as respectivas respostas:

1. How important is the knowledge of design history for a good design practice?

2. How important is the knowledge of design history for your own work?


1. Not just important but vital: I cannot conceive of a good design practice in which its members are not well informed of the history of their subject.

2. Very important, of course. My own interest goes back as far back as cave-painting, reminding me that the skills of graphic information pre-dated the invention of writing.


1. In answer to 1. below is the answers I give to my 1st-year Design students:

it broadens your understanding and practice of design

it makes you appreciate the efforts and skills of past designers

it provides a benchmark to help you critically evaluate contemporary design

it challenges your assumptions and encourages you to be receptive to different ideas about design

it provides a cornucopia of design ideas, methods and products to inspire and inform your imagination

it stops you reinventing the wheel

and, yes, you might still be able too impress your boy/girlfriend/family at Christmas time

These answers are a bit glib but I believe that design history is a valuable lense and primary research method for assisting with design. By this I mean that if you can identify the relationships and significance of historical events and present a critical argument, this will assist you develop fundamental research skills and hopefully alert you to some of our rich design heritage.

I also like to use the legal metaphor of "precedent." Knowledge of past cases of design judgment helps us to make decisions in the present and about the possible future directions. (Richard Buchanan has written an excellent article called "Children of the Moving Present" that makes some of these points much more articulately.) You need to remember here that legal precedent (and, by extension of the metaphor, design precedent) is not binding i.e. because someone designed in a certain way in response to a certain context in the past does not mean we should continue designing in that manner. Regard has to be had to the present circumstances, facts and context of the present design problem. Also, in terms of scenario building, an understanding of the historical trends lessens the likelihood of utopianism or dystopianism.

Art historians tend to be interested in yesterday's solutions, but designers should be interested in how the problems were framed in the past as a method of reflecting on current problems and contexts and how these might change in the future given our the hindsight advantage of historical knowledge. Put simply, knowing where we come from helps us to understand where we are today, and where we might go in the future. I believe the following quotataions have something to say to design historians and practising designers:

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
“History is the only laboratory we have in which to test the consequences of thought.” - Etienne Gilson

2. Very important obviously because I am a design historian and design educator.
As a curator who has, and continues to work closely with exhibition designers, I always look to both my own history of exhibitions, and good and bad exhibitions of the past in order to evaluate, critique and refine my next exhibition.


1|2. In my personal view and experience, a knowledge of history is essential because it can not help but enrich your sense of where things came from, broadening your understanding of the larger cultural world in which design, as an essentially humanist discipline, must by its very nature exist.

I am always outraged when designers think that history is the enemy, that the value of design is only what is new and yet to be invented. Yesterday is not the opposite of tomorrow, but very much a part of it.

Plus, any real designer knows that doing research is a critical part of making anything new. That activity is something like being an archaologist:
you dig and dig and dig some more, and if you´re very lucky, you discover something that you never even dreamed existed. And then, like a fine wine with a rare vintage, you drink it in: and it re-emerges in your work as
something deeply resonant and most extraordinary. And indeed: new.


1. A knowledge of design history is necessary to know the potential of good design.

2. It is an important part of my design process but always a balancing act. I want to know enough design history so I'm not reinventing the wheel, but I don't want to get so involved in design history that I sub-consciously copy things, or get frightened to try something new.


1. Every designer should have some awareness of design history. Even the recent past has a history. To know nothing of design history would be to design in a vacuum. It would be to lack self-awareness, professional awareness and a sound basis for making decisions. Conversely, the more designers know about the history of design practice, the more information they will have to make informed decisions. I'm curious, though. Are some designers seriously arguing that it is not useful to know anything about design history? Or to put it another way: assuming that most answers to your question are likely to be in the affirmative, who are we trying to convince of design history's benefits? Surely the case has been made by now.

2. This question seem to assume I'm a designer. I'm not. As a writer, design history is sometimes the subject of my work.


1. I think it is very important for a sound design field or discipline, and in the long run. May be its necessity seems more cultural than actual for the daily
practice. However, without history the field whithers our time. Practically, you may of course invent the same things again and again! Without history, including
the recent history or contemporaeity, you have no basis for telling whether your solution is good or bad, anticipate its effects and consequences in time etc.

2. Very much so, but as a foundation of my practice more than in the every day.


1. Como historiador, defendo que o ensino da história do Design é absolutamente essencial à formação de todos aqueles que desejam assumir qualquer tipo de profissionalismo nas diferentes áreas do Design. Pois só uma formação estruturada em torno dos desenvolvimentos observados na disciplina do Design poderá ampliar o leque de referências para uma criatividade mais consciente e potencialmente valorizada.

2. No meu caso particular, acredito que a história do Design terá contruibuído para uma mais ampla formação e consciência no que diz respeito às formas e aos métodos criativos desenvolvidos desde o século XIX até à nossa contemporaneidade - época onde em que tenho vindo a investir ao nível de uma especialização. Entre as artes visuais, a arquitectura e o design, o valor da história, da memória ou de uma herança cultural complexa exerce sobre mim um fascínio inesgotável, traduzindo-se numa espécie de aprendizagem contínua.


1. Extremely important. But even more than the local / native country's design history, as many schools teach, an international history of typography and design needs to be taught much more in design programs. Students are graduating in the US without knowing, for example, about the incredible work done in the past (and present) in Latin America, Africa, Asia and much of Europe. Obviously I am speaking primarily toward American design programs, which are much too insular, because I think that many such programs in other countries can't help but be aware of American cultural expansion and design here (which is too bad).

2. My work is extremely formal as I work for a government agency and our house style evolves very slowly and much of it has not changed in 120 years. So I cannot give a good example to this. In my freelance work, however, I would say that knowledge of design history - specifically American and Latin American - is extremely important.


1|2 - É, naturalmente, importante. Muito importante. Mas não mais, ou pelo menos fica incompleto, do que o conhecimento da História em geral, da Sociologia, da Antropologia, da Economia, da Política, dos modos e culturas várias que pululam pelo planeta fora.


1. No inventamos ni creamos desde la nada. Todo lo previo influye, nos enseña y da pistas para crear, o "recrear", nuevas propuestas. Es importante, muy importante, conocer las bases, la historia, para poder avanzar mejor.

2. Creo que mi respuesta anterior responde perfectamente a esta nueva pregunta. Conocer la historia del diseño es clave para no repetir errores y para poder crear, a partir del conocimiento de la misma, nuevas propuestas que vayan más allá de un "revival" de épocas pasadas (algo que no se para de hacer hoy en día y que no me gusta nada).

PS: O REACTOR agradece ao designer Emanuel Barbosa o contacto com Fernandez Coca.

1 comment:

anauel said...

Pena que tão poucos designers/historiadores portugueses tenham respondido ao desafio. Pareceu-me uma boa oportunidade para ficarmos a saber um pouco mais do que andamos por aqui a pensar (pelos vistos, ainda sem o dizer...).

A interrogação de Rick Poinor parece-me interessante. Devia dar direito a desenvolvimentos aqui no Reactor.



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