Why does design matter?

by Grace Wang in September 2018
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Art & design

London Design Festival is well underway, which means we’re currently surrounded by a strange and beautiful army of temporary additions to the city. But what does it all mean? It’s easy to get lost in the pretty pictures and cool brands, so we turned to some of our favourite design magazines to ask why design matters, and how they each add to the wider conversation.

Their answers range far and wide, covering politics, equality, the design industry itself and much more besides. Read on to see their critical and insightful thoughts, and follow the links to pick up copies of the magazines so you can get the full print experience…

Perrin Drumm, Eye on Design

Why is it important to think about and discuss design?
Everything in our lives is designed by a person or by an organisation with intentions, biases, and bottom lines. We may think we operate independently of those forces, but we are subject to them in subtle ways. The growing awareness of the manipulative design of platforms like Facebook and Twitter, for example, has finally gotten people to start reckoning with their built environments. This conversation isn’t always cynical — there is a lot of good design, of course, and design with good intentions — but if we choose not to think about it from all sides, we choose not to engage meaningfully with our world.

How does Eye on Design contribute to that?
Designers who want to make an impact on their world have to live outside the design bubble, by which I mean the micro communities in the design world that speak only to themselves. Graphic design is a prime example. If we took a break from bickering about the latest logo redesign we’d realise that no one else is listening. Eye on Design is all about connecting designers to the world outside the design bubble, to the global perspectives and broader issues we feel design can impact for the better. Yes, we write about fonts, but more often we report on stories at the intersection of design and politics, gender, mental health, education, and a host of other topics.

Why is a print magazine the best format for that discussion?
Big, meaty topics, especially those that design journalism hasn’t tackled before, need not just room to breathe on the page, but they simply need to take up some head space for a while. Eye on Design magazine comes out three times a year, so these are stories that have a shelf life of at least four months. We cover those topics online, too, but online we anticipate the infinite scroll and the way things tend to get buried under newer stories after a week. Secondly, the stories we run in the print magazine are published in the context of a larger, thematic issue, as opposed to living in isolation at a specific URL. When read as part of that issue, each story becomes connected to the kind of broader conversation we’re hoping to generate.

Order a copy of Eye on Design with next day dispatch


Rob Alderson, WePresent by WeTransfer

Why is it important to think about and discuss design?
Because design is the voice we hear everything in. We all know how changing the tone, volume and pitch of our voice changes the meaning of what we’re trying to say. But on a broader, societal level, we aren’t always savvy about the way design plays a similar role and shapes the way we consume information, entertainment and everything else.

How does We Present contribute to that?
We’ve talked a lot this year about where WePresent sits in the creative landscape – because there are so many sites and magazines doing great things already in this space. For me it comes down to three things – 1. We try and unearth really unexpected stories, that highlight a huge range of voices from all around the world; 2. We try to cover the 3am-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life-why-won’t-this-work-I-am-such-a-fraud part of the creative process as well as the celebratory moments; and 3. We try to push the definition of what a ‘creative person’ means. I think if we can hit all of those things we will differentiate ourselves in the design media.

Why is a print magazine the best format for that discussion?
Because nothing does serendipity and creativity as well as print. That thing when you turn a page and come face-to-face with something you never knew you were interested in is pretty unbeatable. Online, the culture is, you liked this thing so let’s show you more of that. Print breaks that grim treadmill of your own predilections, preconceptions and prejudices.


Kirsten Algera, MacGuffin


Why is it important to think about and discuss design?
99% of the stuff that surrounds us is designed, and we are inextricably connected to it. Sometimes it’s because objects are useful and just do what they need to do, and sometimes it’s because they unleash a memory, or strike us with their beauty. Against this backdrop, things can only be understood in terms of the complex relationship they have with our personal lives. In reverse, the objects that we value can reveal the details of our culture, our personal lives and the narratives of our world.

How does MacGuffin contribute to that?
Most of the design platforms and magazines are fixated by innovation, iconic objects and new things. We are more interested in design ‘beyond the new’: the afterlife of everyday objects, the way they are used and the narratives they tell. This is the reason we chose the title MacGuffin — the word Hitchcock coined for the objects that set the story in motion in his movies. We want to take a look at design and crafts from another perspective, exposing the intricate relationships between objects and people.

Why is a print magazine the best format for that discussion?
We think a printed magazine is the best way to sandwich long reads and image sequences, and create layers of text, images and graphic design that tell the stories we want to tell — like a portable exhibition that you can keep and carry with you. Over the last year we have also experimented with translating the printed magazine in educational models and exhibitions (or a combination of the two). Next week, for example, the Istanbul Design Biennial will host a presentation we made with students from the Ecal University of the Arts in Switzerland, creating a live version of the printed magazine. In December, at the Guangzhou Triennial, we will collect and present a series of MacGuffins that represent the changing lives of the inhabitants of China’s biggest city, Guangzhou.


LinYee Yuan, Mold magazine

Why is it important to think about and discuss design?
Design is a professional practice that aims to solve problems through a rigorous, interdisciplinary process rooted in research, skepticism and communication. We are currently facing complex social, environmental and political problems coupled with unheralded technological advancement that calls for this exact skill set to proffer products and systems that are not only functional, but that we’ll live with intimately in our day-to-day lives.

How does Mold contribute to that?
Mold is about designing the future of food. Each issue of our bi-annual publication focuses on how designers might create products and systems that will help address our coming food crisis and the challenge of feeding nine billion people by the year 2050. Whether it’s through designing new dining rituals through the products we use to feed ourselves, or designing systems for food production that are accessible and useful, design can have an outsized impact on how and what we eat in the future.

Why is a print magazine the best format for that discussion?
We’re interested in speaking to designers and what better vehicle for that than a thoughtful, provocative and rigorously designed magazine?

Mold magazine is available in our shop


Zuzana Kvetková, Backstage Talks

Why is it important to think about and discuss design?
Design is about making choices. What is important? What should we pay attention to? What are we trying to achieve? These choices shape the businesses we run and the society we live in. Talking about design is talking about our society.

How does Backstage Talks contribute to that?
We believe that to get to any real answers you have to scratch beyond the surface and read between the lines. In every issue, we talk to leading designers and creative business professionals from various fields about the way they work, think and run their business. We hope our magazine also inspires further discussions among our readers.

Why is a print magazine the best format for that discussion?
As we publish only once a year, all our content needs to have a long shelf life. So we print honest in-depth conversations on principles and approaches that stay relevant over time. Print works for us because it is not as ephemeral — and distracting — as digital. But we like in-person discussions too, so we also invite top designers to Bratislava for our annual By Design Conference.

Check out issue two and issue three of Backstage Talks in our shop


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