The Story of Design – Charlotte and Peter Fiell

The Story of Design is ultimately a story about us, and how we got where we are today through the power of design. As an omnipresent feature of daily life and an integral aspect of human existence, design has throughout the centuries quite literally shaped our manmade world. The Story of Design tells for the very first time the incredibly rich and multi-stranded story of how people over the centuries have harnessed design to convert raw materials into useful things and how these designs have transformed human civilization.

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The Story of Design not only reveals how the act of designing has since the earliest times been at the very core of human activity, but also explains why it will continue to remain so. By tracing the progressive development of design from prehistoric stone tools to today’s latest products through the introduction of themes, styles, movements and, of course, key pioneering designers, The Story of Design is the tale of how our material culture has evolved over the millennia. It is a story of innovation and ingenuity, of big business and personal creativity, of new materials and cutting-edge technologies – all being used in the pursuit of the better designed thing, whether it is a humble, handcrafted cooking pot or a mass-produced high-tech smart phone. The Story of Design is quite simply the story of stuff, for every manmade object has to a greater or lesser extent been designed and it is these objects of design that have made us what we are today and continue to define how we relate to the world around us.

“Design” is a slippery word, being both a verb and a noun – an action and its result. Its scope also spans the whole spectrum of human creative problem-solving, from pure, process-driven engineering to more creative craft-based approaches that can be artistic, poetic, symbolic or polemical. Design activities might include an engineer using technical procedures to create new mechanisms, a games designer developing new immersive environments, a graphic designer laying out a poster, a textile designer creating fabric patterns or a ceramicist moulding clay into studio pottery. Ultimately, though, whether a designer works for a large company creating industrially manufactured universal products or as an individual designer-maker crafting bespoke solutions, he or she is using design as a means of communication, and the work they produce embodies their different ideologies, philosophies and methodologies.

It is the unique ability of designed artefacts to tell both individual and shared stories that prompted us to write The Story of Design, for studying the development of design is a way of making sense of human history – its motivations, its triumphs, its failures, its contradictions. It is also a study of avant-garde pioneers, of visionary practitioners, risk-taking design-entrepreneurs, enlightened design-led manufacturers, revolutionary design schools and forward-looking stylistic movements, all striving to find better design solutions, which they believed would shape a better future – even if their instincts were sometimes misguided. The Story of Design is quite simply the story of how human civilization came into being – there is no bigger story, nor one that is more relevant to our own existence, for it is our own shared story.

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