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Designing for People – Chapter 1. The Early Days

…it is better to be right than to be original

Dreyfuss recounts his early days in practice, and addresses how the discipline has evolved, and his philosophy towards work. His first industrial design job offer was to improve merchandise at Macy’s — find items that lacked appeal and sketch out improvements. He declined the work because second-guessing the work of the manufacturers is unfair. He states, “An honest job of design should flow from the inside out, not from the outside in.”

And he’s adamant that a designer must appreciate all aspects of the business.

He does more than merely design things. He is a businessman as well as a person who makes drawings and models. He is a keen observer of public taste and he has painstakingly cultivated his own taste. He has an understanding of merchandising, how things are made, packed, distributed, and displayed. He accepts the responsibility of his position as liaison linking management, engineering, and the consumer and co-operates with all three.

And when it comes to the work of design:

The industrial designer began by eliminating excess decoration, but his real job began when he insisted on dissecting the product, seeing what made it tick, and devising means of making it tick better — then making it look better. He never forgets the beauty is only skin-deep…He brings to this task a detached, analytical point of view. He consults closely with the manufacturer, the manufacturer’s engineers, production men, and sales staff… He will compromise up to a point, but he refuses to budge on design principles he knows to be sound…

I don’t know about you. I find that inspiring.

He wraps up the chapter with a drawing that illustrates his perhaps-not-politically-correct sentence:”He must be part engineer, part businessman, part salesman, part public-relationsman, artist, and, almost, it seems at times, Indian chief.”
Designing for People Indian Chief

Reading this first chapter really wins me over to Dreyfuss’ point of view. A clear-headed marriage of pragmatism and enthusiasm, he aligns the realities of the business context in which design occurs with the creative delight that sparks us all. It saddens me to see how the word “designer” continues to be distorted, construed to simply mean “form-maker” and, typically “pretty-maker”, and that when non-designers speak of the “design” of something, it’s almost always about appearance. (Designers, graphic designers in particular, share a lot of the blame for this pejoration.)

  1. “his perhaps-not-politically-correct sentence…”

    Also perhaps a cultural reference that’s lost these days. What does he mean by needing to be part “Indian chief”? What ’50s stereotype is going on here? Mysterious shaman? Silent, but wise? Warlike heathen? Or does he just mean leader?

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