I don’t know which is more beautiful here – the photograph, or the building (a Norwegian museum, apparently)
I was delighted recently to be able to attend an address given by none other than Daniel Libeskind in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall. The event was a University of Ulster bash, however the night belonged to the guest speaker.
Coming across as slightly more unassuming (and shorter) that one might expect, Libeskind emitted passion and enthusiasm for his craft like all great practitioners. In a relatively short time (certainly less than an hour), he walked us through perhaps a dozen of his projects, and for each offered brief, but no less comprehensive insights into their purpose, the design rationale and the ground-breaking nature of each. Links below go to a few of the projects covered.
Listening to someone with so much experience, but still with so much fire in their belly reminds me what a privilege it is to be a designer, albeit the scale of works vary widely.
It also reminded us how envious I am of architectural works. These are projects that will last for generations; even when the buildings themselves come down, they will be remembered. Like great music, great architecture can be very much of its time, and yet remain relevant long after trends have moved on.
Architecture is something that will crop up again and again in this blog, and more specifically simple, beautiful architecture.
While you can read as much as you want online about the “rock stars” of the architecture world – Libeskind, Rogers, Gehry etc – you have to work a little harder to find the more modest stuff; little unassuming pieces of beauty that still manage to take your breath away. Take this, for example – the Slat House:
This – a stunning extension to an unassuming semi-d in a London suburb – is a great example of what we mean. Clearly a candidate for Grand Designs, this is a superb piece of work and demonstrates a way of approaching the “ordinary” that illustrates what good design (as problem solving) is all about. It also carries with it a kind of timeless simplicity that also tends to delineate good design. More images available here
In 2001, I had an idea. I would try this “blogging” malarky.
I started… then I stopped.
I’ve started. Again.
My father was a joiner, serving his apprenticeship in the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast. He took a simple pride in his work, going on to develop his skills in a number of construction firms across the city. I don’t believe he would have labelled himself a “craftsman” and I am confident that, while knowing no project he worked on would be complete without his contribution, he had a balanced sense of where that contribution sat in the greater scheme of things. We are fortunate to still have a couple of pieces of furniture that Dad made over the years as labours-of-love. They are simple, usable items.
When I first read Jon Tan’s recent blog post it resonated hugely. His thoughtful appreciation of our industry is a heartening summary of how quickly things have changed and improved. On reflection, and without any disrespect to Jon – should so much soul-searching be triggered by what amounts to a moment of awkwardness at a social occasion? Should it matter what others’ perception of us is?
The drive towards a craft-based approach to design for the web continues to gain momentum, something worth fostering. Craft implies care, thoroughness. If we are to be craftsmen, we also need to accept that dedicated craftsmanship is often carried out in relative anonymity. Our contributions, if they are effective, will go unnoticed by most. Intuitive usability implies a lack of conscious effort on the part of the end user which, in turn, suggests a lack of acknowledgement on the part of the user.
My Dad ended his working life as a Clerk of Works. You may not be familiar with that role. I don’t believe Dad would have minded and would quite happily have explained his job to anyone. As our profession matures and we struggle with perceptions and interpretations of what we do, we should prepare for nothing but a muted response from those outside the industry or elsewhere in the design community.
We do great things, but they are not made any greater or lesser by how others perceive them.
You’re either with us or you’re against us
During his years in trade, Dad came into contact with engineers, architects and tradesmen of all kinds. He took an interest in them and how they contributed to projects. It informed his own work. To the best of my knowledge he never took it upon himself to accuse others of not being genuine joiners. As in all professions, he knew there are two types of practitioners: those who are effective, and those who are not.
I have written before of being proud to work in a profession that places effective practice over showboating. However there has been a trend of late for loud, showy pronouncements suggesting what designers are or are not, depending on their approach. The defense is always that these statements are designed to “provoke debate” or similar. I really wonder. Because sometimes, just sometimes, the intention appears to be to create divisions in our field where there are none; to create a ‘them and us’ based on approach and technique, rather than effectiveness of output.
A situation where a relatively small number of (I should state – exceptional) professionals, with the biggest platforms, who shout loudest feel empowered to define what we should or should not be is one that I’ll call unhelpful. Producing great work sets the best possible example to
others in the profession. Sharing of the process gives something back to the community. Does proselytising really add any more value?
We want to attract the best possible calibre of people into our industry. A clear sense of ourselves and what we contribute as UI and UX designers is crucial to that effort. Promotion of best practice, which is always changing, is a positive. There are suitable ways and means to do this. I suggest that haranguing those with a different perspective is not one of them.
Reading much of our internal debate of late, I cannot help but hear Dad’s voice and what he said to me in so many situations over the years:
“Just get on with it, son”.
I commend this sentiment to the industry.