In 1966, Bruno Munari wrote the quintessential Design As Art. It’s a book that made me lust over words, laugh out loud, and talk incessantly to everyone (i.e., must read).
In it, Munari explores how mass manufacturing catalyzed a transformation of artist into designer:
And if the aim is to mass-produce objects for sale to a wide public at a low price, then it becomes a problem of method and design. The artist has to regain the modesty he had when art was just a trade, and instead of despising the public he is trying to interest he must discover its needs and make contact with it again. This is the reason why the traditional artist is being transformed into the designer. – Bruno Munari, Preface to the English Edition of Design As Art
The automation of production with the “aim to mass-produce objects for sale” caused the handmade to become machine-made. Ironically, mass production techniques dehumanized labor while humanizing the artist. With a need to create for many, the artist is forced to transition from distance to contact, from voyeur to subject, from outside to inside.
And as the artist descends into the depths of human contact and aesthetic empathy, she starts to dissect the woes of everyday life in utilitarian terms. Woes from the life-dependent to the mundane. The difficulty accessing clean water in large swathes of the world (Playpumps). The desire to stay connected but not constantly look at the phone during dinner (Ringly). The couch that just won’t fit through the doors of a small NYC apartment (NY Couch Doctor). The trouble of wet lettuce (salad spinner FTW).
Design is but a series of comical twists on solutions to daily problems. Great design a deep, silent knowing laugh; decent design a smirk after a joke heard one too many times.
The artist then, now designer, is in essence the individual capable of visualizing human need in form and function. And the lines are blurring: artist becomes designer, designer becomes consumer. As tools get easier and constraints get stricter, so too does the consumer become designer, become artist: photographers (Instagram), performers (YouTube), authors (Medium), sculptors (Shapeways).
Technology, the great democratizer, unleashes the artists among us, and within us.