inspiration     Jul 20 2009

Design in the Dark

Mapos LLC

Here at Mapos, we have a self-serving saying: Design Matters. Since we are immersed in this culture everyday, it certainly feels like design can be more than a tool to produce tangible objects and buildings.  It can be a communication device to creatively approach and define complex issues – in multiple media, dimensions, and scales – to affect positive change in every aspect of daily life. Ok, ok, this is a little design obsessed. Or is it?

I read with delight Allison Arieff’s latest musings about the power that design can have. She goes as far to say that the absence of design can leave to confusion, bewilderment and at its worst, down right calamity. Put to good use, design can make meaning out of the mundane, present complex issues clearly and harmonize dissonance. Think of those mortgage applications. Or prescription medicine directions. Or zoning guidelines. Since Vitruvius, we’ve been trying to formalize our ambitions for firmness, commodity, and hopefully, delight.

Last week a friend took me through an interactive exhibit called, “Dialog (sic) in the Dark.” A series of galleries, depicting a cafe, a busy urban street, a supermarket and a park, were built without lights. We visitors were led through with white canes and a patient guide, allowing us to experience our environment as a blind person would, and essentially, to use and appreciate our other 4 senses. How could a better use of design help here? There are too many worthy issues to list. Sidewalks, shelving, automobiles, chairs. Each left a bit to be desired when sight was not a possibility. The biggest disappointment by far was our currency. Trying to buy a coffee, the great American greenback is just as deficient in the dark. In her post, Arieff gives a greak synopsis of it’s well-known visual demerits. All you have to do is buy something in Zurich. Or Sydney, to see how we lag behind in our design conciousnees. And without sight?  I can understand now why the single is the bill of choice for the visually impaired. Use anything else at your own peril. How about making different denominations different sizes? Printed on different paper? As our (blind) guide said, “being blind means putting your trust in others everyday and in everyway.” How can using design effectively empower people?