OK, with a show of hands, how many of you have ever tried to design something, anything at all? Ah, don't be modest; there is no reason to be ashamed. Come on, you do it; you know you do it. Everyone does it. Don't shake your head and tell me you've never designed anything, because it's just not true. We all design something everyday; most of us just don't recognize what we do as design. Maybe we see it as routine, mundane or inconsequential. And therein lies the truth of the matter: Most of the time, design is rendered inconsequential and without value because it is usually invisible.
I'm going to go out on a limb and guess everyone gets dressed to go about their day. When you open those closets and dressers you assess your available resources, conceptualize a vision you want to present to others based on your planned activities and the general outlook of the day, select the garments that you think will work best, self evaluate in the mirror, edit, refine, revise, re-evaluate and behold. You are dressed and ready to face the world. No matter it be pajamas or power suit, it was your first design exercise of the day.
Maybe then you decide you want a sandwich for lunch. Again, it's time to assess your resources in the fridge and cabinets. You ask yourself what sounds good. What will suit my mood and satisfy me? Ham and swiss on rye with brown mustard, or peanut butter and jelly? There is always that moment of suspension when you are in the midst of a decision like this. Once that switch is flipped though, you move to grab the grape jelly, then the crunchy peanut butter, then the gummy white bread, a knife to spread and cut. Boom, done. All that is left is to mix the chocolate milk, plate and serve.
So if you are awake, responsive to your environment and aware of your needs, you then are capable of evaluating, making decisions and executing a process of making - in a word, design. I think it is important to understand this process at this mundane level, because we take it for granted. We do it, and quickly forget about it, and as such, design as a process, in its verb form, loses its relevance at larger, more complex scales. In turn, design as an object, in noun form, loses its value and quality quickly erodes.
This is where design gets enmeshed with the idea of aesthetics, which is linked to the concept of beauty and why we usually equate design with the active pursuit of pleasant sensations. You see, in the examples above, desire for satisfaction and comfort plays into our day-to-day existence. If people did not desire satisfying stimulus, we would be very happy to run naked through the woods eating tree bark.
In its most archaic use, the word "aesthetic" simply means awareness of stimuli. Conversely, anesthetic means no awareness. Things we design, such as forks, cars, buildings and others, do not need to be beautiful to have aesthetic value; they just need a purpose that satisfies their user. How we interpret beauty in aesthetic choices is a function of geography, culture and education. This is why African tribal masks have a different standard of beauty than Greek sculpture or a Ming vase.
Strangely, some of us choose to design for a living. We actually think we can make a difference in the world by building and honing our innate skills and talents to be considered experts, and we hope and expect someone will value this expertise. You can usually pick them out because their job title comes with the appended moniker, "designer." So we have graphic designers, fashion designers, furniture designers, product designers, industrial designers and interior designers. But there is a whole host of professionals engaged in design activities you may or may not recognize as designers, such as architects, artists, musicians, florists, hair stylists, cosmetologists, contractors, engineers, plastic surgeons, chefs and more.
Just step back and think about that for a minute. Anything you can hold in your hand, look at, sit in, cover yourself with or walk through has been designed. There is a person, for better or worse, that used those mundane skills to create something useful and stimulating that holds meaning and purpose in your life. Imagine all the people in the world that do these mundane, ridiculous tasks in an effort to help us look, live, see and taste better.
If design is allowed to be done well, the world is simply more beautiful and desirable. By elevating the role of design above the mundane and throwing away personal choices of daily existence, we create opportunities for commerce and culture. How we consume design is a reflection of what we value as a community. Therefore, the best way to increase the value of how and where we live is to employ the power of design. The questions we face are, can we afford it, and can we handle the risk?
For now, I simply suggest you get to know the designers in your life and give them a hug. They help you be who you are more than you realize.