Nicolò Luppino - Lucerne 2020
On the occasion of a design course about the topic "population aging" held at the Hochschule Luzern in the spring semester 2020, I had the opportunity to provide students with inputs related to the essence of design. Below a short extract from my lecture that represents my way of thinking
What is the real essence that distinguishes design from other disciplinary subjects? 
This apparently simple question engages designers, researchers and people involved in the design education since the very beginning. Furthermore, all papers, essays, speculations and more or less intricate reasoning about its identity collide with a still deep-rooted collective imagination concerning the pure aesthetic function of this discipline. What is sure is that design has grown and today is trying to make the big step into adulthood. The aim is to bring a new awareness to our socio-economic system about the necessity of its presence with the full acceptance and inclusion in the primary topics of human activities and organizations. A necessity that tries to bring the discipline beyond the mere consumerism reasons, through which design or its name is often exploited with the only aim to increase profits. 

If we take a look at its origins and the way it addresses the problem solving, design has always aimed at the development of meaningful synthesis within the complexity of the project. Design, taken in its essence, acts in a holistic way and sets the focus on the needs, problems and desires of people who are part of complex systems. On doing that design uses specific tools and methods which are continuously adapted and sometime created ad hoc for the different situations. What surely has changed over time is on the one hand the self awareness about its role and potential, on the other hand the wideness of its field of action. This has increasingly extended from the initial world of industrial production, that was and still is a constituent part of the discipline, to the world of services, management and even politics.

When we look deeper at its essence and its way of acting, we can see that design represents both the critical consciousness and the creative force of the socio-economic system. Design can be defined as a philosophy of thinking and making that constantly investigates the real problems of people through the related systems, services and products. Design puts people in the centre of the project and therefore in the centre of the decision making processes. In this regards it acts through that typical way that constitutes the most powerful and intelligent strength of human beings, which translates into the concept of love. Love is in fact an active process that can be generated only from a strong act of will. Love means, first of all, the ability of listening and understanding followed by the process of making and giving. These two actions are driven by the pleasure and the happiness that only an act of love can return. In this case a concrete contribution to the full individual and social development. Only when this process is conducted with a deep awareness we can talk about design in its real essence.
Erich Fromm in 1974 on the occasion of a seminar called "The art of listening" held in Switzerland, claimed that the actions of «understanding and loving are inseparable. If they are separate, it is a cerebral process and the door to essential understanding remains closed»

But as it happens for people, design is continually tempted by its ego, that tries to defend its superficial structure, concerning the aesthetic and seductive aspects. Design in this case expects to be watched, trying to find an easy shortcut that supplies its need of recognition and praise. This way it doesn't get rid of its illusory comfort zone and is hit back by the system through discredit and relegation to matters of marginal importance. These aspects, which are anyway central in the process of synthesis and the way design gives shapes to solutions, can be unfortunately misused and often bended to the power of marketing, whose aim is to build new dependencies in people through not always necessary needs. Design risks in this case to fall into narcissism and lose its real essence.

In the days we live in, it's not longer possible to foster and support this approach. Topics concerning sustainability, inclusion, equal opportunities and cooperation, to name a few, must become priorities on the agenda of every healthy socio-economic system. In this framework design has the big opportunity and I would say the responsibility to lead the market toward a sustainable and human-centered economy. Design, through its action related to the ideation and production of goods and services, represents therefore a powerful mirror of the inner consciousness of the system. For this reason it can reflect either separativeness and inequality or, taken in its virtuous and resonant form, unity and solidarity. 

Design has the duty to fully realize itself. Only in this way can be recognized for its real essence, purpose and competences. Issues like interdisciplinarity, cooperation and ability of listening become therefore fundamental for its full development and even survival. In this regard, the role of design education as well as the promotion of its interconnection with other disciplines becomes clearly crucial.

«it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye»
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
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