Design as Art

Design as Art

Bruno Munari

Whenever possible one must make a choice of materials for the object and also a choice of techniques. For example, makers of motor-car bodies still produce thousands of parts and useless refinements simply to please the questionable taste of the public. The money they spend to gratify this taste (which apart from everything else changes each season) could be spent on making this workship of an ephemeral kind of beauty into a stable appreciation of authenticity. This would reduce production costs and lead to a simpler and more genuine product. An object stamped out in one piece, with the minimum of working hours needed for finishing, is the ideal that a designer ought to work towards. Clearly it will not be long before car bodies made of single pieces of plastic will replace the complicated ones now made up of many pieces, all pressed separately and then welded together.

By designing without any stylistic or formal preconceived notions, and tending towards the natural formation of things, one gets the essence of a product. This means using the most appropriate materials of the correct thickness, reducing working hours to a minimum, combining a number of functions in one element, making all attachments simple, using as few different materials as possible for each single object, trying to abolish the need for finishing off in detail, doing any necessary lettering during the original pressing, and bearing in mind that the object should take up as a little storage space as possible and should assemble itself automatically when ready for use.

So all this talk about sober harmony, beauty and proportions, about the balance between masses and spaces (typical sculpture-talk), about aesthetic perfection (classicism?), about the charm of the materials used and equilibrium of the forms, all this talk our French friends go in for, is just a lot of old-fashioned claptrap. An object should now be judged by whether it has a form consistent with its use, whether the material fits the construction and the production costs, whether the individual parts are logically fitted together. It is therefore a question of coherence.

And why is it the designer who is called upon? Why is the artist not torn from his easel? Because the designer knows about printing, about the techniques used, and he uses forms and colors according to their psychological functions. He does not just make an artistic sketch and leave it up to the printer to reproduce it as best he may. He thinks from the start in terms of printing techniques, and it is with these that he makes his poster.

The designer is therefore the artist of today, not because he is a genius but because he works in such a way as to reestablish contact between art and the public, because he has the humility and ability to respond to whatever demand is made of him by the society in which he lives, because he knows his job, and the ways and means of solving each problem of design. And finally because he responds to the human needs of his time, and helps people to solve certain problems without stylistic preconceptions or false notions of artistic dignity derived from the schism of the arts.

Natural forms are continually modified during the growth by their surroundings. Theoretically all the leaves of a single tree should be identical, but this could only happen if they were able to grow in surroundings completely devoid of outside influences and variations. All oranges should have an identical round shape. But in reality one grows in the shade, another in the sun, another in a narrow space between two branches, and they all turn out to be different. This diversity is a sign of life as it is actually lived. The internal structures adapt themselves and give birth to many diverse forms, all of the same family but different.

Anyone who uses a properly designed object feels the presence of an artist who has worked for him, bettering his living conditions and encouraging him to develop his taste and sense of beauty.

In the United States stylists are responsible for giving a new look to a car or other object that has flooded the market and is no longer selling. Leaving the vital parts inside the car alone, they dress it up in a new suit, launch a new fashion and spread the word that the old style is Out. So everyone who sets great store by his dignity rushes out to buy the new model for fear of being thought old hat.

What does fashion actually do? It sells you a suit made of a material that could last five years, and as soon as you have bought it tells you that you can't wear it any longer because a newer one has already been created. The same principle can be used to sell anything. The motto of styling is 'It's Out'. As soon as one thing is sold they must invent another to supersede it.

The stylist therefore works by contrasts. If curves were in yesterday, square corners are In today. Out with delicate colors, in with bright ones. It is well known that women's fashions work the same way. A fashionable color reaches saturation point and everyone longs only to see its opposite so that an excess of violet produces a desire for yellow. After a season of violet, then, one can fairly reliably predict a season of yellow.