Design is the posh word for thinking a lot about how stuff looks A designed object is one whose makers worked long and hard to get it just right Most of the world has sadly not been well designed, it’s full of office towers, door handles, bed, lamps, and plates, that have been deeply unloved and were thrown together in a hurry by untalented people When many people around the world lack the bare necessities, it can be tempting to say that good design can’t really matter that much But we’re arguing that it does, desperately so, because of a weird quirk of our psychology We feel like, and are in a sense, quite different people depending on what’s in front of our eyes A dark brooding sky brings out certain feelings, a bright blue one others This kind of bedroom makes you feel one way, that one another Design matters because our identities and moods are fluid and shifting and it’s often the quality of the designed environment that determines whether we’ll feel confident or defeated, at ease or guarded, generous spirited, or alienated One of the great debates about how much design should matter took place in the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe between the Catholics and the Protestants Broadly speaking, the Protestants didn’t believe in spending much money on design They put up simple, functional churches, painted them plain white inside with minimal fuss and bother Nowadays, many Protestant churches continue to look extraordinarily cheap and basic The intellectual thought here is that what really matters is certain ideas and these enter your mind through your understanding, not through your senses You can get close to God by reading the Bible in a hayloft; you don’t need a fancy building But the Catholics beg to differ They invested so heavily in design: in stunning stain glass windows, beautiful carved angels, and passionate renditions of the life of Christ because they fervently believed that our environments do change who we are We may be further or nearer God, depending on what’s on the wall and how high the ceiling is Governments have always understood and respected the underlying idea that design changes us Nazi designers like Albert Speer paid a huge amount of attention to making sure the design world would speak of Nazi values like aggression and power Just as modern German architects have tried to ensure that contemporary Berlin will project an image of democracy, peace, and openness We mold ourselves to the spirit that emanates from the objects around us, we become a little as they are Even if we’re not always able to say quite how objects make us feel, we all sense a spirit, better or worse, that emanates from a given set of objects We’re generally good at playing that game where you try to imagine what sort of person the work of design would turn into if it miraculously became human When we call an object of design beautiful, what we’re really saying is that if it turned into a person it would be someone we liked, someone maybe dignified or self-possessed, intelligent or adventurous Beauty is a promise of goodness and ugliness is evocative of nothing short of despair and evil And that’s why beautiful design matters because it encourages our better sides, while ugly design stokes our worst ones We need to make sure the world around us is well designed, not out of some superfluous expensive taste, but because good design helps us to be the best versions of ourselves
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