Design should speak for itself - Monocolumn | Monocle


A daily bulletin of news & opinion

1 May 2012

Today’s young designers are impressively versed in the art of branding across many different forms of media. Whilst in Milan recently for the annual Salone Internazionale del Mobile furniture fair, the stands dedicated to graduates and students were populated as much by new products as they were by videos, animations, cartoons, illustrations, graphics and sophisticated branding to promote them.

Designing a chair is only half the story for a student these days – designing the message and story that comes with it is seemingly as important a part of the process. I’ve returned with a small forest of printed material, a library of CDs and USB sticks. And going through it in an attempt to file it all I’m struck by how obscuring it is of the designs it’s all intended to promote. I have a 32-page manga comic devised around a single chair but I can’t remember what the chair looks like. I have a rather cheesy fashion magazine promoting a love story around a toilet. It’s not even tongue in cheek.

Sophisticated branding is of course brilliant. But I’m a little worried it’s getting out of control as far as young designers are concerned. Does a table really need a book and a short film to explain why it’s good design? The notion of good design is that it should speak for itself.

It’s not just that there’s a lot of material to wade through that’s the problem, it’s that young designers feel it’s necessary – and enough – to sell their design. After watching a mildly amusing animation about some dancing cutlery I asked one young graduate why his cutlery was an improvement on what exists already? That might sound harsh but he couldn’t answer. And if he couldn’t answer to me, how on earth would he persuade a flatware manufacturer to invest its precious budget in putting his cutlery prototype into production. What on earth is the point of the animation and printed matter, the logo, the packaging, if the designer himself can’t speak simply about why his design is valid?

Clever, creative branding should be supporting material, not a substitute for human communication, not something for designers to hide behind.

I mentioned this to a friend of mine somewhat further along the chain. He’s a successful designer who has recently launched his own company that’s taking the global furniture industry by storm, working with five different nationalities of designer, craftsman and producer in as many countries. And after less than a year, sales in all five continents are incredibly successful.

“Where’s your animation and coffee table book which explains the idea behind what you do?” I asked. He agreed collateral material and branding has got out of control. Instead he credits his time spent at the San Francisco Academy of Art University where instead of learning graphic design they were given acting and performance classes. At the time he said he hated it and thought it was a complete waste of time. It’s taken 20 years for him to understand what a blessing it was – granting him the gift of the gab – the power of the pitch.

What he might be lacking in the finer nuances of Apple Final Cut Pro, he makes up for in being able to talk straight about what he’s creating and why it’s important. And that translates to success.

Young designers take note – if your chair doesn’t speak for itself and if you can’t speak for it, an accompanying manga comic is unlikely to do the talking for you.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio


  • The Briefing