Dr. Love examines the world of design

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New at the WDCD blog: a column by Dutch graphic designer and commentator Joost Overbeek, owner of designstudio Overburen. Brace yourself.

By Joost Overbeek

It seems that ‘just’ designing is no longer good enough. Now it’s all LED lamps, 3D printers, interaction, that kind of thing. And all the over-the-top enthusiasm with that silly Google Glass, which is so handy because you know where your friends are, and companies can serve you even better. All those clever clogs together in one place, haven’t they anything better to do with their time?

Oh well, let’s not chase after all that stuff too much as designers. Less is more, as we were told, and as we see in books on modern design. What design like that can do? Not much. At least not if we’re talking about improving the world. No offence, but if that’s what you’re after you’ve chosen the wrong profession.

We had a funny intern at the studio once and we seemed to disagree on practically everything. She was a fan of Dick Bruna’s Nijntje and listened to Céline Dion — great! She also wanted to travel and do something for people abroad, as a designer. I suggested China or Dubai, but she was thinking more along the lines of Nepal, somewhere like that.

Real help

My wife spends some time there each year treating children’s teeth. And to judge by the photographs it’ll be a long time yet before those people need any Dutch Design. Poor regions need real help of the technical and medical kind, shoulders at the wheel, forgetting about yourself for the sake of helping others.

Only thing, most designers have a lot of difficulty with that ‘forgetting about yourself’. They’re more into exhibiting, publishing, winning prizes. Why? As a way of legitimizing all the meaningless and expensive excess we’re ashamed of? Rubbish. As long as we all have money here, we should continue to spend it on senseless things — on all forms of art, modern mime, design, doesn’t matter what.

And if you still want to do something for the world, go design ugly things. With an ugly car, you’ll only drive if it’s absolutely necessary. You’ll only wear an ugly coat if you need to keep warm, and you don’t have to replace it every year. And so on. Put all your beautiful things online so that everybody can gape at them, and leave us in the ‘real’ world to focus on what is best, what does least harm.

But the ‘real’ is often designed into obscurity. Does milk really need to come packaged in carton that looks like an advertising column? Wouldn’t the word ‘MILK’ be enough, just so I don’t pour yoghurt into my coffee by mistake?

‘So where does milk actually come from?’ my son once asked me.
‘Goodness me, Lex, you know where. From a cow of course!’ my wife answered, shocked at such ignorance.
‘Yeah, it used to!’ the little fellow responded.
That’s what you get. The packaging and the cow are too far apart.

Inge Geilström

We were in Berlin, super city, and ‘real’ in some way or another. Anyway, for ages I’ve be a collector of photo albums, and we discovered this amazing flea market. As I was thumbing through a stack to see if it had anything that took my fancy, I suddenly heard by wife from the back of the stall. ‘Hey, look at this. You’ll love it!’

And I do. I think it’s some kind of ‘portfolio’ in which men can choose an escort. Just picture it: East Berlin in the 1970s, Inge Geilström in an oak interior, displaying all she has to offer.

Fantastic album, though there’s a small snag. I can’t leave this super find lying around at home. I wouldn’t like to have come across that in my dad’s office long ago! And I can’t actually leave it at the studio either, since half my clients are fresh-faced communications girls who, believe me, wouldn’t see the humour in it.

I could compile a nice book out of all the material. Tastefully designed and eligible for awards. That would turn it all instantly into Art or Design, thus making the photographs acceptable. For education and enjoyment, as they say. Oh boy — what design can do!

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