The beauty of the human language lies in the fact that there is always another way to describe things, especially when the alternative explanation is done in a much more simple manner. For example, Wikipedia defines Design as “…the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object, system or measurable human interaction (as in architectural blueprints, engineering drawings, business processes, circuit diagrams, and sewing patterns)”.
It makes reference to having “different connotations in different fields”, and how it “often necessitates considering the aesthetic, functional, economic, and sociopolitical dimensions of both the design object and design process”. That all leads to the statement that Design “may be a substantive referring to a categorical abstraction of a created thing or things (the design of something), or a verb for the process of creation as is made clear by grammatical context”.
While that is fun to read for some people, I belong to the category of people who prefer an explanation that is short and sweet. So, my “translation” for design will come across as “a plan or outline of how something is”.
And the way I see things, all of life is designed – because that is how we live our lives. For example, when I wake up in the morning, the toothbrush that I use is clearly the result of someone who put a lot of effort into making it – the shape was built with health functions and ease of grip in mind; the colour was chosen to appeal to someone who would be groggy from waking up; and the price was planned to fit the user’s budget. That’s design at work right there.
For me, personally, colour has always had a strong effect on how I view things. I like colours so much that I can relate to how people are feeling using colour. My son Ezra, for instance, is very energetic and very hyperactive – and I look at him and find that he’s more suitable wearing yellows, reds, oranges – that whole range of vibrant fiery tones. Interestingly, the Hindu religion has beliefs that extend to a theory of energy – their version of the Chinese concept of chi, so to speak. In this belief system, the left side of the body absorbs energy, whilst the right side disperses it – which means that what a person touches will have an effect on their own selves.
Of course, some people are born without sight – but they often are able to use their other senses to compensate for the lack of vision. And it’s true even in other circumstances. Ezra often comes up to me and sniffs me, and goes: “Ezra smell mummy!” And I can see that he feels comfortable becauseof it – because he just needed that whiff to know that mummy is back. He’s so used to it – because when he was small, he could smell me from a distance if I went out and then came back. The sense of smell for children is incredibly acute – so whoever designed the human nose sure knew how to calibrate them properly.
Everything that I choose to wear is subconsciously relate to design. I like how it feels, and I like how it looks, obviously – but it’s not just about that. Feel, touch, comfort – everything plays a role in our everyday lives. However, many Malaysians don’t really treasure design, despite the inarguable fact that it is essential and important.
Maybe it’s because people don’t really get what design actually is. They think it’s just pretty pictures or colours or structures – but it is actually way more than that; it connects with people emotionally and physically. That has an effect not only on you, but on the others around you as well. If you run your own company, it’s best that you design it yourself – how it works, how it looks, the fundamentals of the company, how you communicate with customers – not just the look, but the outlook as well.
Of course, the look tends to be the first thing that people see – so it’s important that at the first glance, people get it, since that’s where people are more drawn towards deciding whether to engage you or not. And if you look at it in another way, everybody has their own identity. That is already design; you design yourself. Who else can do it besides you? You pick what you like, you pick what you feel drawn too. That is actually design, but people just don’t realise that it’s actually design. They think it is just aesthetics. Who else is actually there to design yourself?
I have a friend who says that his late mother used to lay out at night the clothes and accessories that she would wear for the following day – and she took great care to match the shoes, the jewellery, the bags, and the dresses. She didn’t have an unlimited wardrobe – but she made it work for HER. And she is still remembered to this day by her friends and family as a wonderful lady whose manners were as immaculate as her dress sense.
The role of design in your life also doesn’t just cover the outlook – it’s about your health as well. For example, I’m a gym rat – and I not only want to look good, but I want to feel good too. So I choose health – it’s the way that I design myself.
Designing a healthier lifestyle has an even more important role in my son’s life. You see, Ezra has a form of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – and as hard as it is to live with, my family is making the best of it. We made a concious choice to acknowledge what is going on – something which a lot of parents are too scared to acknowledge. They don’t want to hear about it: “My son is fine!” – but the truth is, there are more and more kids these days who have special needs.
Possibly, it’s because we now know how to not only recognise the symptoms but – and this is even more important – we now know how to treat them better. Yes, your child will be fine – but if someone is pointing out something, do take it into account. From my own personal experience, I can honestly say that you don’t have to take the situation in a fully negative way – but equally, don’t be in denial either. You already see the signs, so you need to address them.
At the end of the day, I’m facing the bathroom mirror again (a nice one with a simple design), holding and using my comforting and useful toothbrush again before I head for the bed with the lovely bedsheets. And although my life is not as structured as that of my friend’s late mother, I too plan for the day ahead – designing my schedule, if you will. It makes me appreciate how fundamental good design is in my life – and I cannot imagine living any other way.
Jehan Hamid is the account manager for design consultancy Zachary Haris Ong & Associates.