Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century
We shape design, and thereafter it shapes us.2 The world we experience today has a limited resemblance to the natural world that existed before humans transformed it to their advantage. Instead, we are born, live, and die in environments whose every element has been designed by someone unknown to us. The basic tools and places on which we stake our survival have, to a large degree, already been determined by the distant hand of others. The human landscape, always perceived from within the frame of interior space, is an accumulation of premeditated situations and experiences. This can be seen more clearly through the long lens of history, looking to the events of our distant past with which this blog began. From this vista, broad patterns emerge, and the evolution of design can be divided into four eras, the last of which belongs to the future: the Intuitive Era, the Craft Era, the Design Era, and what may be best titled the Holistic Era.
The moment we entered the cave, we began to adopt design as the universal language of creative realization; Wall decor we can call this process the Intuitive Era. As society evolved, specific trades developed with skilled individuals who catered to the material needs of their community; this was the Craft Era. During the Design Era, this outcome-based creative act was adapted for industrialization and became recognized as design, separating design and making. Today, however, we recognize a disconnection between this era and the Intuitive Era from which it sprang. We must progress – and rapidly – from the soon to be obsolete Design Era, which is focused on style and detached from human concerns, by once again reconnecting our modern design problems with their earlier origins. Design now calls for big-picture thinking and strategies carried out by highly trained individuals to honor and detail the same basic needs and problems that faced our ancestors. Let’s call this future design epoch the Holistic Era.
The Intuitive Era began in prehistoric times, when humans shaped their shelters and tools with no formal concept of design. However, this instinctual creation of objects and environments was an act of design, even if it has not been recognized as such. There was no separation between the designer, the craftsper-son, and the end user. Design was practiced by all people collaboratively, in a mutual understanding of the stakes of survival. Mankind depended on design for its progress, but only so much functionality and beauty were possible without specialization.
Thus began the second era of design, the Craft Era, in which individuals acquired discrete areas of knowledge and design skills, resulting in more narrowly defined trades.3 In these trades, the craftsperson was able to create a far more accomplished and refined product than the users themselves could have made. In the Craft Era, design knowledge was highly codified, even though it was largely transmitted orally. The skills of master craftsmen were imparted through an extended learning period, the apprenticeship, which allowed very complicated design knowledge to be passed down over generations. During this era, users were separated from the creation of a work of design,
But the other two parts, form giving and the fabrication of objects, were accomplished by a single individual.