Let me first translate the title, it is important (as it usually happens with titles) How I Stopped Loving Design, now let me also add that Wicha is a graphic designer. You get the picture now, or a beginning of one.
In the first chapter Wicha describes how he struggled to find aesthetically acceptable urn for his father’s ashes and when this proves impossible how he has one fashioned to order out of a granite plant pot. The sad thing he mentions is that the only person that would appreciate his stubbornness is no longer there, or actually is there, to be put in the urn. He then moves on to tell us about his father’s permanent war with the ugliness of socialism, his refusal to accept bad design and allow it home. Trust me, there is no way this made life in a soviet state any easier. From here Wicha takes us on a journey through his life and his different adventures with design, he has plenty of anecdotes to share and his style is light and conversational, he is a good story-teller.
We get to know how fascinated his father was with Lego, how full of admiration for the simplicity of design and the perfect execution, and you must admit it is amazing that I can take out my Lego sets that are 30 years old and they will work perfectly fine with a set I would buy today. However what Wicha is disappointed about, as I am, is that Lego turns more and more in the direction of sets that result in only one or two outcomes, instead of the total freedom Lego used to give us. Do you remember having a pile of Lego bricks and only your imagination to guide you? It was fun!
Ok, let me go back to the book, Lego really distracted me here for a second. Wicha also shares with us some of the juicy anecdotes from his day-to-day work as a graphic designer, when clients are convinced they know best what needs to be designed, when they feel they can come and change or question every single aspect of the design, reading it I had to wonder why some people even hire designers if they are so convinced they can do it better. Wicha was born in 1972, so he experienced both the ugliness of socialism and then the more colorful and raging ugliness of democracy, he points examples of bad and good design in both periods. He also shows how design is often used to manipulate us and how we succumb to it, without even realizing, because let’s be honest who thinks about design when they try to get to work, or navigate another hard day in the office, we forget design is always around us, even when it’s so bad it seems there’s lack of any design.
It really made me laugh when Wicha dismantled the logical design of a ticket machine, and it does apply everywhere I’ve been so far. The main question is why is the slot where we pick up our tickets and change always so low that it forces us to bend in all sorts of weird ways. Really, why? Why does it have to be somewhere around our knees, why not higher? It’s not like the ticket machines are small and they just had to cram it somewhere, they are big machines. Yes, it made me wonder and look at ticket machines more suspiciously.
Another hilarious chapter was about the lemon juicer designed by Philippe Starck, Wicha quoted reviews from people who bought it, reading them one may think they bought a piece of art, not a juicer. Unbelievable how much emotions a juicer can cause, how much admiration, but it also shows how in our world design is not just a way to make things aesthetic and functional, it became a fetish, ‘designer’ now means special, better, more than just serving its purpose. Owning designer things is now a way to show off our social status, it starts disassociating itself from aesthetics.
And here’s the juicer, it is a nice design, but it still is just a juicer, not an object of cult:
I enjoyed the book, even though towards the end I felt like in the sea of anecdotes Wicha lost his message a bit, it felt like he started with pretty clear direction and then lost it in all the digressions. Still it was fun to read, maybe it didn’t change my life in any profound way, but when I get annoyed at inanimate objects I start taking a step back to think what went wrong with the design, what questions were not asked when the offending object was created.
Do you have any examples of bad or weird design? Please share.
P.S. I do still admire the design of the classic humble grater.