Thoughts about design

”God knew, when creating the woman, the importance of attractive design.” I wrote this note some time in the early nineties. The idea was to use the phrase later when perhaps talking or writing about design. About what design actually is.
           This might well be a wake-up call for women, I guess, for religious fundamentalists and freethinkers, to start sharpening their pens. I know, of course, that you, too, might think that my view may be a little off the mark. But even so: let´s get on!
           My aim is to point out what the purpose of design truly is and how design demonstrates itself within nature and evolution.
           The Creator, the Great Unknown, who started the development on this planet, the development that we call evolution, seems to have been very well aware of that mysterious power of design, to use it cleverly and purposefully.
           The Father of evolution knew, at the first dawn of time already, the consequences of the power of design. And precisely therefore, that Great Unknown decided to add the irresistible charm of design to all the species he created. To people and animals. To birds and the fish. To flowers, trees and bushes. Not one single species, individual or detail was left unobserved.
           Everything was designed very beautifully, very carefully and highly individually.
           The Father of evolution decided to give some of the species a more aesthetic shape than perhaps to some others, a more attractive colour or a more delightful sound to some others.  Each and every single species was given their individual characteristics. No one was left out.

That Great Unknown presented every single species and every individual with a mysterious charm of their own. So that they can easily single out. Furthermore, he also gave them senses, with which to observe and recognize the attractiveness of the other individuals of the same species. To see the beauty. To hear the voice. To observe the form. Or to identify the scent.
           But why did the Father of evolution give all the individuals and species
that mystical power? He probably just wanted to ensure the continuity of life on this small planet.
           But how does the power of design affect between sexes within a certain species? They get charmed by each other and mate with each other. They get offspring and carry on with their family.
           The more attractive the shape of design with an individual, the more seductive the individual is in the eyes of the same species. And precisely therefore, that particular individual draws the attention of the others better, mates and gets offspring.
           This is how design is acting within nature. It is a power of the evolution
process. It is the power behind the choice of pairs, the competition for the best mates and reproduction, the fight for territories and the best living conditions.
           So design is not just an innovation by man – even if, according to traditional views, design came about at the early stages of human development. At a time when people started looking for better functioning forms of their daily tools, clothes and weapons. Or added mystical powers to their religious cult equipment. This tradition has been carried on with for thousands of years within different cultures. This is how the shapes and forms have developed even further and further.

But what kind of a power design actually is within nature and the evolution process? Design is a form of visual communications, a form which can be seen, particularly well, within nature.
           The elks will not grow their mighty antlers in vain. There is always a purpose involved. They are tools in fighting for the leadership of the flock. But they also are nature-shaped equipment for communications. For a young male, with just one little tine on the forehead, would be no point trying to fight a bull with a large antler, to gain the favours of the females of the flock.
           Male birds do not grow their colourful feather outfits and sing their beautiful songs just for fun. They want to look taller and posher than the other males when competing for the favours of the females, for better nesting places and for territories of their own.
           Even the flowers are acting most selfishly when they blossom. The larger the flowers, the higher their attractiveness for the insects, who, when gathering nectar, also act as pollinators and guarantors of reproduction. This is why the flowers with the largest and visually most attractive bloom are capable of reproduction better than individuals with lesser qualities.
           So design is a tool for communications. The individuals of any species are differing from the others by colour and form, sound and scent, movement and behaviour. These qualities are helping them identify themselves as unique individuals.
           Therefore, by nature, design always is a form of communications. A way to differ from the others. The purpose of design is to give the individual a competitive edge with keeping alive.
           Precisely this also is the basis for any corporate planning and design of products. The aim is to find the right identification for the product and to make it commercially attractive. More attractive than the rivals. This is why the bumblebees, the customers, fly around it and, eventually, end up buying it.

But then, what is design? It is contents and aesthetic added value with products and packaging, added value through form, colour, thoughts and visual ideas. Or with leaflets and brochures, advertising and the websites. Or with office premises and sales outlets.
           But design is not just aesthetics, generated by form-giving and colours. It is much more. Designing means thinking. It is all about knowledge and ability to express, to impress. It means understanding the needs of the companies and their respective clienteles. It means spotting new opportunities. It means seeing, finding new angles, exploring ways to take advantage.
           Even so, design is not, as such, the highest objective and/or value of any corporate activity. It is a tool with which the company can improve the quality and attractiveness of its products and its overall competitive edge.
           Design means a multitude of functions and dimensions. Design can focus on one single product. Or the whole company. Or the corporate strategy and the modus operandi, the operational method. In cases where design is focused on the whole company, we usually talk about designing and giving form to the corporate image.

When just one single product is at stake, we talk about product design. In cases of advertising we are always dealing with designing the corporate communications and that of individual corporate products. When talking about advertising, it is far too common to speak about ideas and messages only, not at all about design. Even if planning advertising is, essentially, planning corporate and product design.
           In my view, even the strategic planning and any concepting also mean design. Through all this, the platform for the overall guidelines and finding individual solutions in advertising can be created. Therefore, advertising should be seen as an essential part of the corporate image design. As well as all the brochures, the other printed matter and the websites. They all are included in the concept of corporate design.
           The corporate image never is just an emblem or a logo.  Or new corporate colours and typography. No, the corporate image is the combined picture of all communications and activities of the company. This simply means that the corporate image always is a much larger and wider concept than just a new company name or a new logo.
           Even so, we can see, repeatedly, headlines and news in the media, declaring: company X have renewed their corporate image – even if having just obtained a new logo. Such a piece of news can be seen as a most revealing one when it comes to standards of knowledge among journalists and the overall thoughts about design within the Finnish community.

But what does the corporate image design actually mean? My answer, in brief: The objective of design is to give the company a clear identification, to create an identifiable face for it. And to improve this image and the company´s competitiveness in the market. Thanks to good design, the best companies and the best products clearly excel themselves over their rivals with poorer design qualities.
           This makes design a strategic tool in the market competition. for the corporate management. And it is indeed a most splendid tool of communications.
           Design plays a considerable role in people´s daily lives, too. Even tonight, tens of thousands of women are designing their appearances, making up their faces, dressing up in their glamorous party frocks and heading for the city lights. And the men will be polishing their cars, tapping a few drops of aftershave on their cheeks and feeling fit for the mating rituals.
           I wish them all good luck.

Erkki Ruuhinen, designer,

PS. This article was first published in the book
”Suomalainen design” (Finnish design), in 2008.