Now also used to refer to a field or practice, the meaning of design is still ambiguous. There is arguably no comprehensive dictionary definition of the word. The most basic definitions, and still the most serviceable, are two 60-year-old classifications in Edgar Kaufmann’s What is Modern Design? He characterizes design as “conceiving and giving form to objects used in everyday life, while, in his words, “Modern design is the planning and making of objects suited to our way of life, our abilities, and our ideals.16
Though Kaufmann specifically mentions objects and seems oriented toward style, his two definitions represent a slight change in meaning, Home accessories toward design as a practice that involves making physical objects that are suited to the task of shaping lives. While this may seem frustratingly vague, it suggests the twenty-first-century idea that design can refer to all areas of practice. Meanwhile, designers and theorists continue to debate what the practice should be and search for an appropriate definition.
While the definition and discipline of design expanded and was greatly influenced by theories and methods of fabrication and functionality, visual quality and the teaching of visual literacy remained primary concerns. For instance, Rowena Reed Kostellow, who developed an important curriculum as one of the founders of the industrial design department at Pratt Institute,17 not only focused on the functionality of an object but also brought a high level of rigor to her teaching of visual literacy, with formal and well-structured exercises that helped to cultivate this skill; her teaching was thus germane to, and serves as part of, the foundation of all design disciplines. Kostellow, echoing to some extent Kaufmann’s definition, provided some guidance for integrating aesthetics with broader design concerns:
Not enough time and attention are given to the designer’s first responsibility to find and develop the visual solutions for living in our environment. Of course, a product is no good to anyone unless the function is properly worked out. The object should express what it is very directly, but it is possible for a design to express what it is and also be a beautiful object in its own right.18
While Kostellow refers to the designer’s responsibility – without differentiating the discipline – she does not directly address the role of function in directing form, a given for teaching industrial
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