Objects of Desire (1986)

“Since ‘design’ is a word that will figure large in this book, it is as well to state at the outset what it means. In everyday speech, the word has two common meanings when applied to artefacts. In one sense, it refers to the look of things: saying ‘I like the design’ usually involves motions of beauty, and such judgements are generally made on that basis. As will already be clear, this book is not about the aesthetics of design. Its purpose is not to discuss whether, say, William Morris’s furniture designs were more beautiful than those displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851, but rather to try to discover why such differences existed at all.

The second, more exact use of the word ‘design’ refers to the preparation of instructions for the production of manufactured goods, and this is the sense meant when, for example, someone says ‘I am working on the design of a car.’ It might be tempting to separate the two meanings and deal with them independently, but this would be a great mistake, for the special quality of the word ‘design’ is that it conveys both senses, and their conjunction in a single word rightly expresses the fact that they are inseparable: the way things look is, in the broadest sense, a result of the conditions of their making.”

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