Literary Review

So here is my first attempt of my literary review. I feel now that none of my books work/relate strongly enough as I feel like i’m drifting down the path or aesthetics.


In the book William Morris on Art & Design, Morris speaks about his opinions on the difference between good and bad pieces of art and design. He believed that when creating work the “Designer should know all about the craft for which he has to draw” meaning that without proper knowledge of materials and processes the work would be compromised. He continued to speak about his thoughts on design and how you should “Have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Morris felt that these two points were key to good pieces of design. Bad design occurred when you let outside factors change your design rather than staying true to what you believed. Morris felt that this shift in the way that designers created and produced work was due to the industrial revolution.

His strong views are what made him a key member in the Arts & Craft movement. Another dominant artist in this movement was Walter Crane. His book Bases of Design talks about how design and art are all connected, he does this by trying to find “common ground” between the subjects. Surrounding the ideas of both subjects he mentions briefly, what feels to be like the early stages of functionalist “We may find the design wants simplifying, and have to strike out even some element of beauty. Such sacrifices are frequently necessary”. Both Morris and Crane believed ornamental pieces in design were beautiful, however Crane was more accepting of compromising an ornamental element than Morris seemed to be.

In contrast to the above Adolf Loos’s Essay Ornament is Crime believes that the simplification of design should be welcomed and that decoration was a waste of human labor, money, and materials. He also felt that decoration had no benefit to modern society and that people who are more intelligent understand the removal of ornaments signify the evolution and progression of design. Perhaps this is due to them understanding content over aesthetics, that mimicking nature was not necessary.

Crane’s thoughts on design also looked at truth and his interest in this area is continually expressed in Line & Form. These discussions about truth and design have continued today. In Paul Greenhalgh ‘s book Modernism in design, it also mentions ideas about honesty and truth but expands on this further to say that “Truth as a moral value was transposed into being an aesthetic qualtity”. This statement plays with the idea that perhaps aesthetics qualities can be built up emotionally/mentally as well as visually.

Continuing from Loo’s essay he speaks about his issues with decoration. This has been a constant concern with many practicing designers, including Paul Rand. In Thoughts on Design Rand talks about how fashionable work is temporary and that this kind of design is unnecessary, due to it being irrelevant with too many flaws in its purpose.

Rand’s work focuses on communicating with clarity, much like the work produced in the 1920’s. Functional graphic design in the 20’s by Eckhard Nuemann talks about how advertising was changing the way artists worked. The poor economic times forced “painters to handle the problems of advertising design”. With functional design it was thought that the lack of the artists personality would create an “easily understandable message to the consumer”. However this lack of the artist style created a style in itself, such as functionalism and minimalism.

Referring back to Greenhalgh also talks about this idea of a uniform style; the minimal ornamentation and removal personal styling that would ultimately rid all variants, which in turn would have a knock on effect that could rid the world of culture and difference.

Bruno Munari’s book, Design is Art expands on Rand’s ideas further about styling design being superficial. Munari challenges the idea of what design is. “Design if it is not neither style nor applied art? It is planning”. This statement links heavily with the ideas of functionalism and the idea that form can easily follow function. He goes on to mention that good design will always have pleasant affect upon the user. “Anyone who uses a properly designed object feels the presence of an artist who has worked for him”. This plays with the ideas of Dom Norman, that when look well designed they naturally work better.

Another writer who agrees with Munari’s ideas of the relationship between artist and designer is David Pye with his book, The nature and aesthetics of design.  The way Pye says, “Design is always and necessarily an art as well as a problem-solving activity” reinforces the view of balance between purpose and beauty, a large development from the traditional clear-cut divide between functional and aesthetic. In The Nature of Design, Pye challenged the ideas of functionalism, “Things simply are not ‘fit for their purpose’. At one time a flake of flint was fit for the purpose of surgery” These ideas surround how you can not use function as a rule to create good design as understanding what an items function is impossible as it is forever changing, each individual can decide the purpose of an item, therefore it won’t be relevant to someone else.

The ideas about planning and systems that Munari spoke of are similar to that which Ruth Lorand talks about in Aesthetic order. She describes the idea that organization could be the key to beautiful design. “Art is then the product of the attempt to master this order and create beauty” She then goes on to say that beauty and what it is considered to be is a kind of paradox.  To some up beauty there would have to be a common factor in all beautiful art works but they are not all the same. “The aesthetic experience is still a part of human experience and it needs to be understood as such. It must have… a common ground with other aspects of life. This common ground is order.” The idea of a constant for example functionalism, the consistent part of functionalism is that the key elements are remaining for the piece to work, uncomplicated due to no styling or ornamentation. Therefore this may have been what made the design pieces good.

Many people have tried to compare pieces of design to try and establish what it is that makes them good, however the idea of what is good differs between person to person. Terry Mark’s book, Good design, explores this question. However there is not one definitive answer, there is a variety of comments and opinions from different designers on what they feel makes good design. In comparison to Lorand’s idea of what “beauty is” there are common factors that occur frequently in Mark’s book such as, strong concept, or ethically designed. Even though many designers seem to have a general view of what good design is, none of their work is directly the same. Instead of a definite process or equation to what creates good design there seems to be a matter of opinion.

John Walker and Sarah Chaplin have looked at this question surrounding good design in terms of opinion in Visual culture. They questions whether good design can really exist or is their only groups of opinion. This is questioned further by Robert Clay’s book, Beautiful thing. Clay feels that a big part of design is culture, and culture is constantly changes therefore so does what is deemed as Good Design, “The changing values and fashions in culture and societies, all influence the direction of design today and tomorrow” This links with Paul Greenhalgh’s thoughts on the ideas of uniform design, the design that has no specific belonging. This brings up the question if good design should then be universal, that cultural barriers shouldn’t stand in its way if it is good. It seems that what is good design is something that is unanswerable as its values are always changing. He also comments on how our own preferences are what make it more difficult to decide on good design.


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