Saturday, 21 March 2009

What is a designer : things, places, messages

Norman Potter
Hyphen Press

This book is one of a number of design books that I return to frequently, in this instance it is mainly because each read reveals yet another insight into the role of the designer – an idea that finds little common ground among designers and their institutions in Britain. This is a central theme discussed in What is a designer. Importantly, Potter warns us that the description ‘designer’ can “become hopelessly abstract”, before offering us the following as a working description; “… whose work helps to give form and order to the amenities of life, whether in the context of manufacture, or of place and occasion.” While Potter himself admits to the clumsiness of this definition in doing so he manages to give the reader his first instruction in reading this particular book. The book is not one where answers are easily found – except in the ‘reference’ section of the book, which is perfectly highlighted by a change in paper stock and colour – but answers are indeed there and to the big questions in design; the role of the designer in the production process?; is a designer an artist?: and the role of method in the working life of the designer.

Potter was an English cabinetmaker, designer, poet and teacher. Inspired by and active in the modern movement, he makes no secret of his ‘libertarian left’ views and their influence on his thoughts, writings and methods, His book, now in its forth edition, speaks of a designer who brings a wealth of experience and a thoughtful, and thought-provoking, wisdom to the table.

What is a designer is a brilliant and challenging book that deserves a wide readership. It is a real back-to-basics tour de force and is a book that will earn its keep both as a tool for best practice and one that inspires to reach newer and greater standards in ones work.

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