Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, Vermont offers over 80 hands-on courses per year in design, construction, woodworking, and architectural craft and offers a variety of courses concentrating in sustainable design. Now in its 35th year, Yestermorrow is one of the only design/build schools in the country, teaching both design and construction skills. Our hands-on 1-day to 3-week workshops, certificate programs and semester programs are taught by top architects, builders, and craftspeople from across the country. For people of all ages and experience levels, from novice to professional.

Friday, November 22, 2013

What is Good Design?

Guest post by Charlotte Leib, Community Outreach Intern

It would be quixotic to assume there is one singular definition of good design. After all, Dieter Rams, widely regarded as one of the most influential industrial designers of our time, put forth not one, but ten principles for good design.  In the early 1980’s, around the same time that John Connell founded Yestermorrow, Rams published these principles, which have since influenced the designs of countless products, including Apple computers.

Why fixate on Rams’ “Ten Principles for Good Design”?  Because more than offering a rubric for product design, these principles value process over product, offering a durable and elastic system for design. Rams’ process-driven approach evolves from a design/build ethos, making him relevant to any discussion of “good design” at Yestermorrow.  Rams’ formative years were strongly influenced by his grandfather, a carpenter, and though Rams at first aspired to be an architect, he ultimately found his calling adapting industrial technologies for the home setting.

Rams’ most recent reflections suggest that good design must concern the creation of both better products and better processes.  “Today we need less but better products,” says Rams in this short film “The Ethos of Dieter Rams.” “We need new landscapes, together with new cities.  We need new structures for our behaviors.  And that is design…We have enough things…we can improve some things but it’s not spectacular to improve a television…”

Perhaps what we need are not more things, not more industrial designers, but more industrial ecologists, who study the “flows” of materials and energy through socio-economic systems with a view to optimizing their use.  Architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart issued a clarion calls for this regenerative approach with their books, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (2002) and The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability — Designing for Abundance (2013).

We need more inspiring work from industrial ecologists like Ariana Bain, who works to create positive change through innovative food systems, cities, and industry through her business, Metabolic Lab.  Bain delivered an outstanding lecture during the Yestermorrow Summer Lecture Series, “Symbioculture: Healing the Food System,” and returned to campus recently to share her design approach with Regenerative Design Certificate students.

After completing a four week program in whole systems thinking, these students are poised to create cultures of positive change that move beyond the creation of sustainable products to the facilitation of regenerative processes.

In order to better understand the emerging field of Regenerative Design, I asked the certificate students to answer the question, "What is good design?"  What follows are a selection of student responses, which expand traditional definitions of good design, turning the notion of “good design is timeless” on its side to suggest that design is not static but instead a product of evolving, dynamic design processes.

“Good design…interconnects the watershed, culture, community, people and their needs, place, the elements, and location, trees, roads, rocks and plant life in a regenerative way.  In the built design this entails both interconnection and the use of natural materials with minimum impact on the earth and modest, yet efficient construction that interrelates with its people and landscape.”
– Jesse LoVasco

“Design is the process through which we utilize all of our knowledge to create a solution.  Good and bad design don’t exist.  There can only be under-informed realizations.”
–  Ryan Galliford

 “It’s hard to define “good design,” because “good” is an abstract subjective word.  To me, good design is regenerative design – a process of designing [that] ensures that the final outcome is a design that is vital and viable to a larger whole.  The design would have the ability to evolve overtime.”
 – Monica Albizu

“Good design begins with good attention:
Listen, use your vision, smell, taste, and feel movement, seeking wisdom.
Ask and hold the space for questions.
Consider obstacles and greater ramifications of our actions.

Good design takes the time to dwell in and respond to context without judgment.
Sees what is - whole and simple.
Draws connections; makes a new way to rise above the challenge.
Manifests process, inspired by and spurring life.”
– Jesce Walz

We look forward to seeing the work of our first class of Regenerative Design Certificate students as they bring these definitions of good design into their next endeavors.

How do you define good design?  Join the conversation and share your definition below!