Title: Art - the common factor

Pages: 38 - 39


Author: Norbert Dutton

Text: Art - the common factor
by Norbert Dutton
The SIA is the oldest and the largest professional organisation representing designers for industry. From this it derives a unique influence and prestige. It is also the only such society embracing every branch of design for industry, from engineering to graphics. From this it derives, I believe, a unique strength.
The society's group structure brings each member into immediate contact with others in his specialised field, and at the same time enables him to collaborate on matters of common interest with his colleagues in every other field. To suggest that the two are irreconcilable is to argue that a man cannot be a Yorkshireman without ceasing to be an Englishman. The specialist groups (now represented by committees) have facilitated much useful work that could not otherwise have been undertaken; each group has something to show, and the total is impressive in its variety.
But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. All designers, regardless of their specialisation, have important interests in common: the need for recognition, for higher status and better prospects, for improved educational facilities, for more scope in their work and a wider opportunity to serve the community. That these objectives have been partly achieved is due to the efforts of the SIA as an entity; comparable results could never have been obtained by several small societies in temporary collaboration. Similarly, the society's initiative in the founding of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design and the International Council of Graphic Design Associations was made possible by its composite membership and the corresponding scope of its interests.
Just as certain branches of design are closely allied, so some others are necessarily far apart: engineering designers and book illustrators probably represent the opposite ends of the scale. The former resent being described as artists and the latter don't see why they should be called designers both, in my view, mistakenly. Is it stretching the meaning of words to refer to 'a design for an illustration' or to regard illustration as part of the overall design of a book? The engineers have a more legitimate case, in that they claim to find the term artist damaging.
They are, nevertheless, and whether they like it or not, artists. For their contribution to industry is essentially and primarily an aesthetic one. Aesthetics is the direct concern of the artist and of no one else. Industrial designers have in the past made valuable contributions to production techniques and industrial planning, as they will in the future; but this should not be mistaken for their primary function. Demoted to the role of industrial technicians, they will invite the direct competition of qualified engineers who, being more highly specialised, are apt to be more efficient. The industrial designer's job is the humanising of technology.
So far we have been arguing about words. It is of course possible to think of a name, and then alter the society to fit the title. But surely it is more logical to decide first what sort of an organisation we want, and then find a title to describe it. This means that consideration of its composition should come before a debate over its name. And this is where the real difficulty arises. If certain groups are to be judged ineligible, how does one isolate them ? The contrast between engineering designers and illustrators may be clear enough: they are at opposite ends of a scale running from black to white through every intermediate shade of grey. But at what precise point on this scale does one draw the line, and how can any such decision be other than arbitrary ?
Many attempts have been made in the past to divide the practice of design into tidily segregated compartments. All have failed because the compartments will insist on overlapping. (The segregation of two- and three-dimensional design is perhaps the most logical, though even this fails to find a home for exhibition design, which partakes of both.) Let us at least not fall for the current misconception that industrial design is concerned exclusively with hardware. Printing is also an industry. Notto mention textiles, ceramics and furniture. Every member of the SIA is a designer (including the illustrators) and an artist (including the engineers). And union is strength.



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