The Designer and Design History

‘Design history’ should be understood not as a catalogue of styles or a canon of formal rules, but as a complex enterprise that engages political, economic, and intellectual culture.” – Ellen Lupton & J. Abbott Miller

One may relate to the designer’s duties in a historical perspective, seeing each designer as a bearer and cultivator of design traditions – knowledge that has evolved through the continuous development of media, tools and forms of expression over the course of hundreds of years.

How one ought to conduct oneself as a designer in relation to design history is of course a very personal matter, and it is ultimately up to each designer to find the answer for themselves. Questioning and even breaking with traditions and norms is every professional´s prerogative, but if you decide to go against something which you have not fully understood, you may be making a mistake.

It is worth noting that design traditions do not materialize out of nothing. They have been shaped by time, by millions of designers and the ever-changing conditions that new applications and technologies bring with them. Some principles and techniques will be directly applicable to your own work, while others may require an adaptation to modern circumstances.

The rule of thumb ought to be to never reject an established tradition until one has analyzed and evaluated it and judged it against the conditions shaped by your mission and your goals. Creativity is a great asset, but be wary of using it as an excuse for replacing youthful enthusiasm with youthful arrogance.

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