We all know that how we feel depends on many factors. One of those factors is how we react to the visual things that surround us. It would be an extremely dour person if not uplifted by a walk up the steps of our Opera House. On the other hand, walking past some of Sydney’s ugly roads would surely try even the sanest of us. Where to find the courage to go on? Kilometer after kilometer are those yawning car yards waving those sad little flags. Dante’s inferno couldn’t be worse and we worry about tourism being slack!
Why is that so?
Why can the visual be so important in shaping our moods? Does it matter how things look? Perhaps much of our way of reacting is that genetically we are disposed to feeling happy or not depending on how we have surrounded ourselves by the man made visual world. I am speaking of the world of how we have shaped things, how we have designed the visual and how we have given form to the everyday object, experienced and absorbed through our eyes. It is surely much better to look at something that is pleasing to the eyes than to view ugliness.
The world of pure nature cannot be blamed for any of the ugliness because in nature there simply isn’t any. (Ugliness) If nature deals us a rainy day or a drought, it generously and without fail, makes up for it in sunshine or abundant rains later on. If nature is ugly, it is because we made it so. Therefore, if all ugliness is man-made it makes sense to learn not to make things ugly by better and more beautiful design.
I often wonder why in some countries good design comes almost naturally and yet in other countries one searches with great difficulty and often in vain to find beauty in the everyday man-made world. I wonder why good design is not taught at all levels in our education system. Design in education? Well, many schools spent time teaching sport so why not design? Are we going through life without eyes?
I don’t want to bang on about the advantages of the Scandinavian world and in particular about Finland but it seems hard to avoid those Nordic countries and not be impressed by good design. Was our own Opera House not designed by one of them?
Good design might well come from good problem solving. Design on the run or ad hoc never results in good outcomes. Is this why the way we house ourselves is often mediocre if not outright depressing? I am not even talking about the architecture of our houses.
Why does it take driving large cars to take kids to schools or to go shopping? Why are our lives so tied up in isolation away from social infrastructures? How come we do not walk to work or catch the local transport? Could it be a result of bad problem solving and hence, bad design? Inexhorably our lives are tied to having to drive a car. We live in order to please the car. The car doesn’t please us.
How solid is good design embedded in our lives? Design in our lives is everywhere from paper clip to airplane. It’s found, in our education, public services, transportation, arts and culture, in sport and policymaking. It’s there even if we don’t always see it. Good design equals innovation in good problem solving which in turn can create happiness.
Does Australia have good designers? I am sure there are some but can we name just one that is truly outstanding? Ask a Finn and he will mention Alvar Aalto, Aino Aalto, Maija Isola, Tapio Wirkkala, Eero Aarnio, just to mention a few. They are all household names around the global design community. Good design in Finland is simply a way of life that kids appreciate from birth and carry with them for the rest of their lives. Good design is the driver behind all cultural, social and economic development of a country.
Is that our way as well?
Going back to how we house ourselves. Is it not just a matter of divvying up parcels of land in an ever increasing circle, devouring farm land put in a sewer and a nice asphalt ribbon and then build houses on it? Housing is a huge part of our economy and it is very often part of animated social conversation we have. Prices are keenly watched and newspapers come out with the latest suburbs that are ‘in and up’ and those that are ‘dropping and down’. We thrive on their monetary value but don’t give it much thought on how we can improve housing to fulfill social needs rather than just worry about the stats on rising or dropping values. How do we feel walking through our front door?
Coming to the aesthetics and workability of our cities, especially our far flung suburbs, and at best we might get polite murmurs of ‘lovely harbour’ and ‘nice views’ from any overseas visiting city planner or design architect.
How embedded is our concept of design to our goods and services, finding solutions to people’s needs through innovation and user-driven perspective? Of course, the best of design is also joined to sustainability, re-usability, desirability and its greenness.
It’s hard to see how our present laissez faire attitude to design and planning is making for the ‘best’. How are we shaping lives in our cities for our children, our grandchildren and their grandchildren?