A discussion of award-winning and historic design often centers on creations far outside of the typical person’s budget and taste. Innovative design, however, can have an amazing influence on our lives as individuals and can mold our behavior as a society.
“It changed my life,” the food blogger announced. A new vision in culinary arts? A Wolf gas range? No, she was talking about a flat whisk, available on Amazon.com for $6.99. My favorite design feature? Grooves in the bases of Ikea mugs that allow water to drain off in the dishwasher. No more puddles.
Clean, functional design inspired by a special problem, can provide broad social benefits. The sidewalk curb cut, developed for those who use wheelchair, is now appreciated by parents with strollers, tots on training wheels, pedestrians using canes, and roller-bladers. Touchscreen technology for your phone or tablet was developed in part to help disabled users access computers.
What about the internet? Most common users have no idea how web design evolved so much in the last 10 years. Web design companies around the world are able to create websites so intuitive that we don’t even need to think when we are browsing them with our mouse or finger.
Green architecture offers a ray of hope to our increasingly crowded, energy-hungry society, as does urban design that promotes pedestrian and bicycle traffic. MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang led the team that developed the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, an innovative landscape design that provides a bio-diverse habitat, storm-water infrastructure, and refreshing public space.
On the home front, elements and principles of interior design, including color, shape, and texture, combine to determine whether a space is energizing or soothing, joyful or depressing. A skillfully designed kitchen, more than a showplace for cabinetry, is a masterpiece of industrial engineering. It provides maximum utility, while a poorly laid plan creates a frustrating and possibly dangerous workspace. Some interior designers focus entirely on kitchen cabinets, others on baths or on solutions for small apartments.
Are you sitting comfortably in your chair? Thank your furniture designer. More than 150 years ago, the French military introduced a padded camp cot that could also serve as a chair or chaise longue. Variations since then include the famous Eames chair, but Daniel Caldemeyer’s Rocket Chair, a favorite of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, is considered the father of the modern recliner. The importance of design in office chairs is recognized by many corporations, where it is common to have an ergonomics specialist that fits workers to chairs to prevent back pain and repetitive stress injuries.
Today’s auto is far safer than the one your grandfather drove. Thank the automotive safety designers, who in addition to teasing consumers into spending on trendy features (heated seats, anyone?), send you off in a cocoon of safety that includes airbags, shoulder harness, padded dashboard and crash-absorbing bumpers.
Next time you rise refreshed from a good night’s sleep, avoid a crash by applying your anti-lock brakes, or relax in an urban oasis, consider the role of design in your life. Some days, it’s the little things that count.