Don’t mention the d-word

Now everyone has ‘design’ in their job title, are we forgetting what it actually means?

I met someone the other day who, with a straight face, introduced himself as a hair designer. “What is it that you design around hair?” I asked, wondering if he was a trichologist whiz kid, developing a cure for alopecia perhaps. But no, he replied with irritation that he cuts and styles hair and is essentially a hairdresser. He’s the latest in a long line of people who believe they’ve elevated what they do by adopting the word “design” into their title.

I’ve come across flower and food designers (florists and chefs) and – my favourite – an

Information and Strategy Designer (analyst). It’s not just people, either. My bank offers savings plans “designed” for me. You can design your own lunch in a high-street food chain. Everything is being designed and staffed by designers. The world has suddenly become a very creative place. Except it hasn’t really – it’s just a fad to dress up everyday occupations with something that sounds more creative. My concern is that the more inappropriate the d-word’s adoption becomes, the harder it is for true designers to be heard above the din.

Design is a famously difficult discipline to define already. It’s not just making nice things or making things better or more beautiful, it’s not just solving problems and it’s not just discovering new things or processes, though it’s all of these and more. My favourite definition comes from Paola Antonelli, head of design at the New York MoMa: “Design is not style. It’s not about giving shape to the shell and not giving a damn about the guts. Good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need and beauty, to produce something the world didn’t know it was missing.” This, to me, does not include hairdressing or floristry, savings plans or lunch options, so my call goes out to anyone tempted: please give a damn about the guts and think twice before putting the d-word on your business card. — (M)

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