Design the code

In 1964 the Swiss designer Karl Gerstner wrote in his book Designing Programmes: “instead of solutions for problems, programs for  solutions”. I read this in my BDes school times back in the 80’s, and  it was the very first time I suspected that visual communication design was more than visual arts, and design was about more than an applied art (and much more than I expected). Since then I am convinced  that Gerstner was a visionary. He anticipated in the 60’s the  conceptual frame of what in the 70-80’s was globally extended as visual identity systems, and gave the first signs of what we know as design of interfaces -first steps right after the personal computer was born and before the internet era bloomed.

These emerging fields demanded a new understanding of the role of  designers. Some designers from the 60’s understood this very well, as the case of Gui Bonsiepe (graduated from Ulm) who started using the  term “design interfaces” from a very early stage in the digital era. The end users of design were now active players in the process of making our design solutions successful. The “deliverables” were no longer “sent” but also “open” to the user, who can also modify and  adapt the “design” to its own needs. This “interaction” embedded in  the design purpose was a turning point, and since then has changed everything for designers and the public’s perception of design.

The user of our designs plays now an ultimate designer’s role.

While I’m writing these thoughts I realize that I’ve been using this pre-designed blog -besides my computer, its software and interface-  to design “my own version” of it. This personalization is just an  example of an ongoing process tangible everywhere, from setting  personal devices like smart phones, to personal spaces like facebook. This is happening now, design is moving from a monolithic metaphor into a polymorphic one. Designers have moved from designing the final  versions to designing “the code” that leads to many final versions, as many as the number of users of our design. New design problems demands now design “the DNA” for solutions.

As Karl Gerstner was, almost half a century ago, designers today must  be prepared for the time to come, a time which will demand not only  design tools and interfaces, but also the design of entire situations and environments. More than ever before, thinking design as the methodology for creating new programs for solutions, new systems to prevent problems, and patterns to follow these new systems, is the new paradigm for designers.

Design is being accepted now as a normal part of everyone’s life, like an achieved access to quality, and it’s been included more and more like a natural step in other non project-based disciplines. We designers are in a privileged position. In our training and education are the keys for this polymorphic era of design.

The end-user of our design work will play a design partner’s role, and  eventually will make our design work evolve. How good or bad can be this evolution? It is hard to envision in the long run. What is for sure is that in the short term it is going to be frantic and sometimes chaotic, in other words the perfect playground for design. We just need to be open minded and keep a holistic view, join change rather than resist it, because this can be a new opportunity for a good change, an opportunity to live what Gerstner could only dream of back  in the 60’s.

More about Karl Gerstner

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