Music 256A Reading Response #1

On page 51 of Artful Design, the words “Design is experienced” are emphasized. Of the bolded words on that page, these remained with me the longest, prompting me to dwell on where I found design in my life. As I looked for design examples, as prompted by this week’s etude, I noted the many experiences that I usually take for granted. Automatic doors, tabletop charging outlets, guitar amplifiers that make good chairs in a pinch – I encountered so many well-designed objects in my day-to-day life, but rarely noticed them as marvels. Sometimes the objects are so function-focused as to seem dull. Otherwise, something aesthetically intriguing could seem so beautiful as to have little functional use. But the more I considered these things, the more I thought of ways in which they defied my ambivalence.

Perhaps a coffee coaster, at first uninteresting, turned out to be emblazoned with a memorable quote or question. Or maybe an apparently random mural on a building served to attract onlookers to a museum inside. So many things that at first glance didn’t pass my design litmus test were actually creative uses of form and function. These realizations were lessons in attentiveness, but I also considered the notion that most people may have similarly missed good examples of design. What, I thought, might lead a person not just to experience design, but to recognize it?

This question is not to suggest that design should always be blatant, nor do I discount the value of discovery in design. Unsubtle creative choices can be obnoxious, and a sudden, non-obvious spark of understanding can prompt an experiencer to vividly remember a design. But I wonder if, when considering how our designs will be understood, is it necessary for design to at least be visually/sonically/tactilely arresting? Should good design make an experiencer stop in their tracks and think “Wow, that’s well designed!” Or should our goal be to create seamless experiences that can go unnoticed and unrecognized, in the service of efficiency?

My intuition is that the statement “Design is experienced” is a prompt to reconcile those options, and perhaps not completely choose between then. I imagine that a good design could, for instance, allow experiencers to go about their day without interruption, while at the same time providing a brief “wow” moment of recognition. I suppose that it’s helpful for me to consider the distinction between the two values – subtlety and recognition. Sometimes what I consider immediately to be good design is a bit loud, a bit attention-grabbing – however, going forward, I hope to explore ways to achieve good design through subtle yet noticeable means.