Aside from the literal role design plays in the world today, which is to produce art to advertise industrial products, “Creating design theory is about building one’s own community, constructing a social network that questions and illuminates everyday practice” (Armstrong 7). “In contrast to the predominant modern concept of the designer as a neutral transmitter of information, many designers are now producing their own content.” (Armstrong 10). The shift in the focus of design has produced an array of work from designers such as their own magazines, theoretical texts, books, and products. According to author Bruno Munari in his book, Design as Art, design isn’t about serving a select group and producing masterpieces anymore. The role design should play in the world today should be serving the community and connecting art to life. Essentially, to humble the idea of what art is and bring it down from its pedestal into reality.
According to designer and author Helen Armstrong, one of the things that distinguishes the field of design from other creative occupations is how exposed the work of a designer is yet how little acknowledgement the designer and subculture of design get. “Design is visible everywhere, yet it is also invisible—unnoticed and unacknowledged” (Armstrong 7). The field of design was built upon the idea of anonymity, the goal simply being to deliver the client’s message. For example, the objective of the academy Bauhaus at Weimar was truth and clarity; they believed “…artists had to detach emotionally from their work in favor of a more rational and universal approach…cleansing visual language of subjectivity and ambiguity” (Armstrong 11). In her essay,“Dematerialization of Screen Space”, Jessica Helfand challenges the current design community to become the new avant-garde. “Helfand asks that we think beyond technical practicalities and begin really “shaping a new and unprecedented universe.” Just as designers in the early twentieth century rose to the challenges of their societies… Delving into theoretical discussions that engage both our past and our present is a good start.” (Armstrong 15). She believes it is important for designers to think theoretically in order to address the new challenges of society like designers of the past did in their time. Part of the prospectus of the Bauhaus read, “‘Thus our task is to make a new kind of artist…wish to make him conscious of his creative power, not scared of new facts, and independent of formulas in his own work’” (Munari 27). Even in the foundation of art design that Walter Gropius founded at Bauhaus, the goal was always to make the designer think and not succumb to fear of exploring new ideas.
Technology has been playing a role in design for a very long time, occupying the minds of designers with the same questions that past designers also had. Young designers have recently been taking the route of something referred to as “authorship”. They produce their own content, sign their work, and brand themselves; this being possible through technology. “Digital technology puts creation, production, and distribution into the hands of the designer, enabling such bold assertions of artistic presence” (Armstrong 9). Technology is allowing designers to create in a way that they couldn’t before, and it is changing the dynamic of the producer-consumer relationship. This is also removing the anonymity designers have in their field. They can now market themselves in large platforms with their name written all over their work, whether that’s on a website, a watermark, their social media, etc. “As a result of technology, content generation by individuals has never been easier… As more and more designers, along with the rest of the general population, become initiators and producers of content, a leveling is occurring. A new kind of collective voice…is beginning to emerge” (Armstrong 10). This collective creative voice that is being referred to has more to do with the subculture of design than with the individual designer itself. The platform of design is being used as an open platform to share ideas, tools, and intellectual property, moving the subculture out of the shadows of anonymity more into a world of leaders, and advocates for social issues.
An issue that remains present in the face of design today is the identity crisis design is facing. “Issues like authorship, universality, and social responsibility, so key to avant-garde ideology, remain crucial to contemporary critical and theoretical discussions of the field” (Armstrong 15). While ideas like authorship are new and evolving, universality is an old one that though designers are trying to move away from, they can’t help. Because of the use of the same technology being used by a lot of current designers, there is bound to be a universal component to a lot of designs. There is also social responsibility, which has all a history, present and future in the world of design. The field of design is figuring out a mix of new and old methods and ideologies while still theoretically questioning them. Designers are responsible for solving this problem in order to connect their art to the real world. Like Bruno Murani said, “The designer of today re-establishes the long-lost contact between art and public, between living people and art as a living thing…There, should be no such thing as art divorced from life.” (Murani 25).