Five principles for writing about design

September 7, 2018 at 9:00 pm / by

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

The quote above – cleverly emphasizing the difference between music, abstract and non verbal in its nature, and other, more factual arts – has been attributed to everyone from Frank Zappa to Thelonius Monk.
My experience in dancing about architecture is very limited (a few occasions only, always very late and in very select company) but from what I know about the other part, writing about music is actually quite similar to writing about arcitecture. In both cases the writer is concerned with issues of proportions and dynamics, as well as context and zeitgeist.

Don’t forget that the subject matter, no matter how interesting, isn’t your primary focus. The reader is.

With this in mind I’m proposing five principles for writing about design, whether it be architecture, interior design, fashion or cars. They are not meant to be used for evaluation or design criticism, but to provide a framework for telling meaningful stories about design.
But first and foremost, the fundamental principle of all commissary writing: The Love. Don’t forget that the subject matter, no matter how interesting, isn’t your primary focus. The reader is. Someone is taking time, maybe spending money, to find out what you have to say. Cherish that. Love your reader. Ok, here we go:

1 The senses How do we obtain knowledge? Let’s not get all epistemological here and agree on the simple fact that the most important source is observation. Your reader is not there to observe, but you are. Use your senses. Become the readers eyes and ears, sense of smell, touch and taste. (And if you believe your reader has a sense of humor – make use of your own.)

2 The detail You’ve heard that God is in the detail? Well, that’s true in more ways than one. Design is a narrative in itself, if you need it to be for your story. So where do you start when you want to make your own interpretation of that narrative? Look for the detail that defines the whole.

3 The context The human mind is hardwired to compare and categorize, that’s how we make sense of reality. Context is fundamental in all human endeavors. Look at the subject matter in context; in relation to its particular time and place, in relation to its competitors and its precursors. And look at it in relation to its own purpose: Does it fulfill its promise?

In the realm of the manufactured nothing just happens, there is always a reason why

4 The idea In the realm of the manufactured nothing just happens, there is always a reason why. And if you’re lucky, that reason isn’t the obvious one. The unexpected is a great starting point for any story. When it comes to the essential idea only one person will do as a source, and that’s the designer. Talk to the people in the know.

5 The references What other idea, creation, person or episode sparked the idea to your subject matter? In my experience the inspiration behind a design is often a great story in itself. Also, references can be a key to the readers understanding of the design. Just make sure the reader share the reference, or all will be lost in translation.

So what do you think? What did I miss? Use the contact form to let me know. And if you happen to represent a design school, a PR company or even an architectural firm and want to discuss a presentation or workshop, drop me a line!

 
 

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