“Designing Design” Book Review

Designing Design. By Kenya Hara. (Lars Muller Publishers; 4th ed. Edition 2015. 467)

Kenya Hara or rather Hara Kenya is a Japanese designer, his book Designing Design is about the next step in design. It could be design as a whole, or personally, either way it is about thinking past conventional thinking of what makes an object an object. For example, in the introduction he describes a glass, if one were to ask someone what a glass is more than likely that person would know. Now if one was asked to design a glass everything changes, the designing of the glass begs the question of how should it be designed, in what style or how functional should it be, in essence as Hara Kenya states “you lose a little bit of your understanding of ‘glass’”. Hara Kenya is really getting at the essence of what design becomes once you get past the basics. It is not just about making things functional and pretty, which ultimately is the end goal but in that process you must really come to an understanding of what you are making and why you are making it. This statement I think really holds true, often designers get bogged down in making things nice and convention but forget what they are doing. This creates the problem of people getting caught up in the loss of understanding that Hara Kenya describes. This book defiantly sheds the light on design in a way that isn’t quite ordinary.  Showing examples of Japanese design, something elegant in nature, well thought out, and impeccably crafted.

Hara Kenya Starts the book with his view of how a design process works when re designing familiar items, items that one would use every day without a second thought of why they are the way they are. He Starts to show examples of what he means not with just words but with pictures of what he is talking about. The first Chapter is an examination of a show he hosted called Re-Design. This show is a collective of designers from many different fields many of them architects, taking on design challenges. The challenge of this show was to take on ordinary objects and look at them as if it was the first time you have come across such an object and design them. This is only one example given throughout the book. He goes on to review not only the shows that he has put together but other peoples and his own work as well. With these examples he gives he further travels into the idea of really rethinking the things that one designs. One of the Objects that was redesigned was a simple match stick. The man to do it is Kaoru Mende or Mende Kaoru. Mende Kaoru is lighting designer; his specialty is designing spaces with light in mind. The redesign is simple, a twig with a Phosphorus tip on the top. This design makes us reevaluate human’s relation with fire not just the functionality of the match itself. While it still serves its purpose and works well. The design is thoroughly thought out from its packaging, to the name of the object itself. The Matches are called Anniversary matches because of the use will most likely be used for special occasions like that.

The book fails to really go into the process of the invention but rather focus on the object itself and a short synopsis of it. At this Hara Kenya decided that it was more important to show many rather than go into deep analysis of each object given. While going through each item in his show it slowly pieces the puzzle of his main idea together. At first the concept is interesting but semi unattainable but through his method of showing project after project in order to slowly show how one can be redesign design. The use of redesigning everyday objects into something different hones into this idea, because it primes the readers mind to start to think about the world in a different way than normal. The example above is just one of many given. The matchstick is a simple and effective way to rethink how a match stick works and what we use them for. The aesthetics of it is not as important as the idea behind it. The idea shifts from being an everyday tool to light things on fire to a special occasion where we uses these matches to signify the lighting of something special, almost ceremonial. By rethinking how the object is used Mende Kaoru redesigns the original design. This hits upon the idea of what design is, not only making something aesthetically pleasing but to show the function of a design becomes the main focus of the designer.

As every designer knows form follows function. This means that the function of a design is the most important part of design. Designers tend to get bogged down with this and tackle problems in one way rather than multiple. Breaking down the function of an object and really rethinking what the function is challenges the designer in new ways. Hara Kenya really pushes the idea that the designer should try to break down the idea of what they are working on down to what they think the essence of what it is in order to proceed. Like Hara Kenya states “Even if you lose touch a little with your understanding of design by reading this book, it doesn’t mean you know less about design than you did before.” This train of thought might feel as if the designer is taking steps back and losing understanding, it is exactly that which makes them better and more thoughtful designers.


Mende Kaoru’s Anniversary Matches


Gustav Klutsis

Gustav Klutsis Was born in a country called Latvia, He was drafted into the Russian army in 1917, fighting in WWI. After he served his time in the army he studied art and married his longtime collaborator and wife Valentina Kulagina. He also joined the communist party. This is important because the main focus of his life’s work is Russian Constructivism. Before Stalin rose to power Klutsis enjoyed making very revolutionary art where he explored the use of geometric shapes, photo montages, and Propaganda like images. He was known for making political photo montages and in 1918 he along with Hannah Hoch, Raoul Hausmann, and El Lissitzky were credited on inventing the subgenre of political photo montage. In the beginning of his career he was free to experiment but around when Stalin came to power he was pressured to be less radical and feature Stalin more. In 1938 he was arrested and executed on Stalin’s orders.


Gustav Klutsis “Spartakiada Moscow”

If we take a look that two different pieces we can see the evolution of his photo montage but also his freedoms becoming restricted. If we look at the piece above called “Spartakiada Moscow”. Spartakiada was an international sports event held by the Soviet Union. This is one of the posters advertising it. In the poster we can see the beginnings of his photo montage style. He uses multiple images of people participating in sports to advertise the event that’s being held. We can also see the remints of Dadaism in this poster. It looks a little like organized chaos, it has a grid system that helps organize it but the images help keep that chaotic tension. Some images being squares while others are cropped out to just the figures. This helps with the chaotic feeling. Another thing is each photo that is below the upper half is a fighting sport or a show of strength. They have wrestling, fencing, weight lifting, and two boxing images. This helps create tension because each image is of action. Another very important image is the women in the upper right hand corner. She is important because it represents a very important ideal of Soviet Russia, how everyone can be useful especially the women of society. The type lays along the lines of the grids and are made of cut construction paper helping connect the dada movement to this poster. However, if we jump forward in time we can see some changes in the art.


Gustav Klutsis “Under the Banner of Lenin for Socialist Construction”

If we look above, we see a poster called “Under the Banner of Lenin for Socialist Construction”. This is a propaganda poster made by Klutsis a few years after “Spartakiada Moscow” was made. We see an evolution of his photomontage techniques. His montage’s have become more complicated and complex. The main subject of the poster is Stalin and Lenin who are in the center of the poster. Each a photo of their head are meshed together with the eyes coming together. This is a very popular thing done at the time. This represents the Soviet Union’s one vision. A shared vision of everyone. The photos surrounding Stalin and Lenin are industrious in nature and represent the forward movement the Soviet Union is taking. This image does not push the boundaries nearly as much as the earlier image. This image doesn’t harken back to Dadaism but is much more in control and less random and chaotic. It serves it purpose of encouraging people to follow in the footsteps of the the communist regime.

Klutsis and his wife made many pieces of art some pushing the boundaries of Avant garde art and some more on the side of conventional propaganda. During his whole lifetime however the duo developed Photomontage to an impressive level of complexity and helped set how image and text relate together.

China What do they have to do with type

Johannes Gutenberg is always considered the guy when it comes to the Movable type. What I fine really interesting is the fact that the Chinese first invented movable type. Let us answer a simple question for clarification first, what is movable type. It is when each individual character, ligature, punctuation, and numbers are on a piece of material. They can be infinitely rearranged and changed to form infinite possibilities. They usually look like this.

China during the Song Dynasty were under much pressure to increase their understanding of technology. This Dynasty houses some of the most important inventions we have seen, a few examples would be movable type, the compass, and gunpowder. As with many things today most westerners even some easterners see the world through a westerner’s lens. If we look closely at China we see that movable type was first invented around 1040 C.E. for printing on paper. Usually made with porcelain. It was during the Song Dynasty in China innovated by a man named Bi Sheng. Bi Sheng was a commoner therefore nothing is known of the man, except for the fact that he conceived a way to make type and print them. He made clay models of each character and multiples of common simple characters so he could print them on the same page. He would bake the clay in order to harden the type for use. Bi Sheng did not have a press yet what he did was prepare a plate full of a resin and set his type on that. Once the page was ready he would heat the plate and the type would stick to the plate. After the end of the Song Dynasty into the Yuan Dynasty an official named Wang Zhen Innovated Bi Sheng’s type. He decided to make it out of wood. This was done around the 13th Century.  He not only changed the material which was previously thought unsuitable for type but speed the process up. He used a big round table that housed all the characters. It looked a little like this.

We think that the English language was labor intensive to make a type face, and the movable type, and to print it. We only have 26 letters to make, The Chinese character system has over 50,000 characters, now they of course more common characters than others so it can be narrowed down but that still is much more laborious than other languages. If you have trouble thinking about it think of the 50,000 characters something like words rather than letters. Each character can represent a word so that explains the plain magnitude of how many characters they have to make. After Wang Zhen made these innovations two centuries later a man named Hua Sui decided to use bronze for typesets rather than wood or ceramics. At this point in time Gutenberg has created the movable type printing press. Gutenberg did not event movable type but instead had grab other people’s inventions and innovated them into something that would be huge. Korea also made great strides in print technology before Gutenberg as well. In the 13th centaury The first book printed by metal type was created. It was called Jikji, it was a Korean Buddhist text. I hope you enjoyed my little history lesson of the origins of movable type.