Design And Truth

Design And Truth

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Design And Truth
    Book Description:

    "If good design tells the truth," writes Robert Grudin in this path-breaking book on esthetics and authority, "poor design tells a lie, a lie usually related . . . to the getting or abusing of power."

    From the ornate cathedrals of Renaissance Europe to the much-maligned Ford Edsel of the late 1950s, all products of human design communicate much more than their mere intended functions. Design holds both psychological and moral power over us, and these forces may be manipulated, however subtly, to surprising effect. In an argument that touches upon subjects as seemingly unrelated as the Japanese tea ceremony, Italian mannerist painting, and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello plantation, Grudin turns his attention to the role of design in our daily lives, focusing especially on how political and economic powers impress themselves on us through the built environment.

    Although architects and designers will find valuable insights here, Grudin's intended audience is not exclusively the trained expert but all those who use designs and live within them every day.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16203-5
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
    • 1 Sen no Rikyu and the Paradox of Innovation
      (pp. 3-9)

      After the sixteenth-century warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi had established control over the bulk of Japan, he asked the celebrated Sen no Rikyu to join his court at Seikenji. Rikyu (1522–91) was the acknowledged master of the Japanese tea ceremony. He was already known as a great man and had received honors that even an emperor might envy. Rikyu accepted the invitation but did not show up at Hideyoshi’s palace at the expected hour. Hideyoshi waited and waited. What could be keeping the man?

      When Rikyu finally appeared, Hideyoshi testily asked what had made him so late. Rikyu answered that he...

    • 2 Good Design Tells the Truth
      (pp. 10-26)

      These two views represent polarities in the theory and practice of design. For Ettore Sottsass, design must make a statement that lends excitement and dignity to an implement’s use. For Charles Eames, a design is defined and dignified by use itself. Sottsass privileges form over function; Eames implies that expressed functionality is the purest sort of form. Although the form-function issue may seem academic, its applications can produce dramatic consequences, especially when the design involved is an expression of public policy.

      One balmy summer night in Paris many years ago, I motorcycled with a passenger through the short tunnel in...

    • 3 What Design and Truth Say about Each Other
      (pp. 27-33)

      What is truth? For our purposes here, a simple answer will suffice: Truth is the laws of nature as we experience them on Earth. Truth determines that our bodies do not take off into the air and float about like birthday balloons. Truth asserts, without fear of contradiction, that light of a certain spectrum makes things visible, that pleasure is sweet and pain is a drag. We may sit in a seminar and debate the nature of truth ad nauseam. But the truth lies in the rough but workable details of what we are and where we are.

      How, then,...

    • 4 Design as Tragedy: The Rise and Fall of the Twin Towers
      (pp. 34-45)

      When Sen no Rikyu defied authority and sealed his unique message with his own blood, he left his contemporaries with a design statement that inspired posterity for centuries. More often, however, designers strive to please their clients and alter their designs if the clients are not satisfied with them. The municipal and corporate architecture of our cities is less the result of auteuristic design conceptions—or general design principles—than of various down-and-dirty vectors in intersection: budgetary issues, profit projections, committee politics, competitive dynamics, and personality factors. In most cases, key players muddle through to agreement, and the product of...

    • Color plates
      (pp. None)
    • 5 Edsel’s Law: How Bad Design Happens
      (pp. 46-54)

      An excellent reason for staying in decent shape well into middle age is that you might have to prevent a man from getting crushed to death in your kitchen. To this cautionary adage, and how it relates to commercial design, I will return in a moment.

      There are two main sources of good design and three main sources of bad design. Good design happens when corporations care about design and designers care about users. Bad design results from ignorance, poor socioeconomic resources, and skewed professional priorities. The first two do not require exposition. The last three do.

      My experience with...

    • 6 Designs of Darkness
      (pp. 55-61)

      I have contrasted Sen no Rikyu, a philosophical designer who held firm to his artistic values, with Minoru Yamasaki, an architect who disastrously complied with the dictates of the local power structure. But Yamasaki, whose rationalizations ranged from gross exaggeration to outright lie, was still a well-meaning sort who never made the injury of users a career goal. Now we will take a brief look at this darker phenomenon: the infiltration of abusive power into the mind of a designer. For this we will revisit that most authoritarian and dismissive of societies, Germany in the era of the Nazis.


    • 7 Face to Face with Design
      (pp. 62-82)

      “Man is born free,” wrote Jean-Jacques Rousseau in 1762, “and everywhere he is in chains.” Rousseau could not have known of Sen no Rikyu’s progress in the quest for freedom two centuries earlier and possibly would not have agreed with Rikyu’s modest and decorous initiative. Nonetheless, the two thinkers can be seen as part of the same progressive project. Both worked along the axes of design, truth, and power. In the tea ceremony, Rikyu designed a social interaction that would empower his culture. Rousseau, along with contemporaries like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, produced a series of tracts, declarations, and...

    • 8 Giorgio Vasari and the Permutations of Design
      (pp. 85-87)

      Sometimes thinkers make their greatest discoveries while appreciating and interpreting the genius of others. It is as though, in the very process of doing justice to the superiority of another individual, we awaken something superior in ourselves. Nothing illustrates this phenomenon so aptly as the story of the Tuscan artist and historian Giorgio Vasari (1511–74). A competent but rarely inspired painter, Vasari found his own genius in the course of memorializing the achievements of his artistic predecessors and colleagues. This effort, articulated in his great book, theLives(1550, 1568), not only produced unforgettably evocative literary descriptions but provided...

    • 9 The Lady in the Picture: Design and Revelation in Renaissance Art
      (pp. 88-104)

      How long can a solo artist perform without exhausting both self and audience? Two hours perhaps—three at a stretch. For artistic recognition of this fact, we need look no further than Homer’sOdyssey. This epic poem is neatly divided into six equally long episodes—Telemachus’s travels, Odysseus’s arrival in the court of Alcinous, Odysseus’s narrative of his journeys, and so on—each performable in two to three hours. Homer thus offers a vivid example of how physical necessity can influence the design and ultimately the meaning of art. Why, then, is theOdyssey, like theIliad, divided into twenty-four...

    • 10 In Jefferson’s Footsteps: Modes of Self-Design
      (pp. 105-116)

      Human beings took their first lessons in design from nature. Our houses are hand-built metaphors for the natural shelters that we and other animals used before the age of building. Having noticed that wood floats, we set forth over the water in hollowed-out pieces of wood or rafts made of bound-together tree trunks. More advanced technical designs like stairs and the lubricated joint and the wheel took their inspirations from nature as well, as did modern wonders like the airplane and the space shuttle. We sought survival in nature by adapting its forms and exploiting its principles.

      Such a vital...

    • 11 Jefferson’s Gravestone: Metaphorical Extensions of Design
      (pp. 117-133)

      We meet with ideas in strange ways. In the fall of 2004, thanks to an invitation from Lynchburg College, my wife and I spent two months in the rolling hills of western Virginia. Without knowing it, we had landed in the heart of Thomas Jefferson country, only a few miles from Poplar Forest, the lesser-known of his two self-designed residences. Professor Tom Allen showed us the estate, where I became interested not only in the awkward cube-shaped room in the middle of the house but also in the most endearing structure on the property, an octagonal brick “necessary” (outhouse) that...

    • 12 Liberty as a Knowledge Design
      (pp. 134-149)

      When, after six years of struggle, George Washington succeeded in leading the American colonies to victory as a nation free of the English monarchy, a vocal contingent of fellow colonists suggested that Washington be crowned king of the United States. This ironic incident suggests the sad truth that liberty, the hardest political goal to achieve, is also the treasure most easily lost or thrown away.

      We need not look far to see why. Unlike other forms of government, democracies are run by the people; and the people’s greatest weakness is its tendency to devalue liberty in favor of wealth and...

    • 13 Corporate Redesign and the Business of Knowledge
      (pp. 150-165)

      Let us return to the concept, applied earlier to Jefferson and Brunetto Latini, of knowledge design. Metaphorically, the entire universe is a knowledge design, with particles and rays, in one configuration or another, telling substances how to behave and, on another scale, DNA molecules telling cells how to grow. In a roughly similar way, human agency can design systems of knowledge for a variety of purposes, including self-analysis and self-renewal. With this premise in mind, we may consider the possible effectiveness of knowledge design on those institutions most central to our economy: corporations.

      In September 2000, I flew to Los...

    • 14 Designing Time
      (pp. 166-177)

      How can we speak of the architecture of time? Architecture, as we all know, comprises three dimensions, while time is known as occupying only one. Time, as we understand it, does not wander or zigzag; so its architecture should be no more than a straight line. Thinking this way, however, we miss the point. In human terms, we know space and time only by what limits or forms them. I would not be aware of space at the moment were it not for the walls of the room I sit in. Analogously, time is limited and deformed by human experience...

    • 15 The Design of Private Knowledge
      (pp. 178-192)

      How do we manage the private thoughts and pent-up emotions that are the inevitable legacy of our personal experiences? To some extent, we can regulate our private knowledge consciously, the way trainers control and train a dog. But our inner energies are so volatile that conscious control inevitably proves inadequate. We can also try acting out our inner feelings, but expressing them can verge on the antisocial and the chaotic. Our private knowledge is a resident spirit alive within us, inalienable and unquiet. It is inextricably linked to emotions—grief, regret, resentment, distrust, fear, frustration—that strive to redirect our...

  5. Epilogue: Designing Truth
    (pp. 193-196)

    Nearing our destination, we turn back for one last look at the ground that we have covered. We look down a canyon of contrasts. To one side are arrayed the instances of poor design that we have visited: the top-heavy refrigerator waiting to pounce on its owner, the ungainly Edsel whining for gulps of gas, the “Regulus” software deliberately conceived in a vacuum, the pedanticLandschaftof the would-be dictator, his hulking and monstrous Hall of the People, the haughtily institutional facade of Maderno’s St. Peter’s Basilica, and the intimidating towers of the World Trade Center—all linked to the...

  6. Notes
    (pp. 197-210)
  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 211-212)
  8. Index
    (pp. 213-216)