June 17, 2011

Design As Art

Recently, I picked up a new addition of Design As Art, by Bruno Munari. First published in 1971, it is a design classic worthy of this reintroduction. Munari felt design had become the most significant visual art of his time. I find his way of thinking is still relevant in the critical design thinking process.

Munari shared the Bauhaus ideal that art and life should be fused back together. The designer’s job was to respond to the needs of the time and visual quality should be part of everyone’s ordinary experience. Only when the objects we use and the places we inhabit have become works of art will life be in balance.

Munari’s work ranged from “graphic design to industrial design, by way of children’s books, and his observations are similarly elastic – such breadth of thinking is now rare. The book is sprinkled with Munari’s sketches of faces, chairs and letterforms, diagrams of his “useless machines” (aerial mobiles), theoretical reconstructions of imaginary objects, designs for lamps, and photos of his experiments with projected imagery”. ICON Magazine

This is a review for the new edition of this book by Penguin:

Part social commentary in a world of design, part designerly musing, and part thoughtful criticism at a world filled with abused objects, Munari’s new publication by Penguin is a welcoming oasis of short essays (many merely one page long concisely argued and written) to the tyranny of cognitive science and user research tomes dominating design thinking today (think Norman and IDEO combined).

Clearly, Munari was writing in and for another period. That was a period spearheaded by designers-thinkers from the ranks of Nelson, Eames, Maldonado, Rittel, Bill, Aicher and Dreyfuss. Like Munari, these designers offer the insight that acute observation combined with thoughtful reflection of the material world is one of the most powerful forte of a designer.

In this book, I like the Munari’s insight of ‘wearing’ best. He asks us to look at how objects become worn in their everyday use. Should we design objects on the sole merit of personal aesthetics and upon the Platonic plane of Ideal Geometry? Or should we design objects according to a limited sampling of user-needs study? Or as Munari suggests, should we design objects according to how it has been worn across time?

Munari did not answer his question (neither would I!). But it is this pensive quality of his work that merits his presence in the mind of every design thinker–a mind that seeks to ponder the thoughts on design across time.


Desgin of Art will challenge the reader to think about design and how we engage with it in our daily lives. Munari is opposed to excess. Urging us to “Subtract rather than add”, and to look for simple solutions to everyday challenges, making the connection between beauty, function and simplicity.


Image courtesy of publisher http://us.penguingroup.com.


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