deponti (deponti) wrote,

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Design in Everyday Life...

Here are my thoughts on the always, it's long-winded, so read at leisure...

Design....the word, to most people who are not engineers or architects,
means a vague concept of something that one reads about in the world of
construction or fashion. And the word "designer", prefixed to anything,
generally signifies, to the layperson, a synonym for the words "fancy" and
"expensive". It is a given that designer clothes will be horrendously
expensive, no matter how outre they may look and however unsuited for daily
wear(unless you are a bony, underfed six footer with that strange, swaying
walk) , and any household articles which have the "designer" label attached
will cost about twenty times their face value. I recently came across
handkerchieves which were advertised as being very expensive because they
were "designer" hankies! How does one "design" a hanky?

In this context, it would be interesting to explore the concept of design as
being not a subject that dwells in an ivory tower, but an element inherent
in almost everything that surrounds us in daily life. Design, to me, is the
form that anything takes in order to be economical, functional, or
aesthetic...and I feel that too often designers concentrate on the last
element to the exclusion of the other two. Let us look at a few examples
where design doesn't follow function.....

I have some friends, with a fairly orthodox lifestyle, who had a house
built by a well known architect, who "designed" the house.....alas, it was
obvious from the first that the house conformed more to the architect's
signature style than the lifestyle of the inmates.

As orthodox people , my friends (who themselves are well into the middle-age
bracket, with two grandchildren) often have elderly relatives visiting and
staying. The architect's design of defining various functions in the house
by using split levels has ensured the difficulty of having a set of steps
between almost every room in the house and its adjoining one. It makes for
great difficulty when traversing the space, and when
the maid sweeps and swabs the place; the steps often trip up everyone, and
result in
quite a lot of wasted space too.

Apart from this, my friends, when they leave the table after dinner, do not
put in used dishes into the kitchen sink. They have the concept of "jhoota"
which means that they must descend two sets of steps, go to the common
powder room provided by the architect, wash their plates there, with the
food matter accumulating in the drain, come back up the same two sets of
steps, go to the kitchen, and then leave their plates under the kitchen
sink, where no receptacle has been provided for them. Surely a good
architect would have examined their lifestyle and integrated this need into
the way he designed the kitchen, dining area and utility area, so that a
bathroom doesn't become a kind of vessel-washing area. and there is no
repeated traffic, with dripping plates, across the dining area.

After noticing such unpractical elements, I was amused to find that the
architect had not even made a study of the microclimate in the area, and
that during the monsoons, rain poured in from the sunlights provided high up
on the wall. This problem had to be solved with unsightly, added-on chajjas,
which certainly detract from the facade of the house.To me, the house always
will be an example of the failure of the architect in the design area.

Design is not only for clothes or living spaces; most things of everyday use
could benefit from imaginative design. Another example of bad design I would
like to cite is....the tabulation at the back of my savings bank account
pay-in slip book. The average person would not think this would need good
design....but it certainly does. It takes a person of imagination to
visualize how much space would be needed to write the name of the bank, the
cheque numbers, the dates and so pay-in slip book has tiny spaces
which are nowhere near enough, and not being able to microscribble, I find
myself wasting one leaf per cheque. The space assigned for the date is twice
as large as that assigned for the bank name and the cheque number; the space
for the Rupees column is very small compared to the space for the paise,
which should need just enough room to write two figures.

Lack of imagination manifests itself even in the most unlikely places.
Earlier, at Railway Reservation Counters, each person had to join an
individual queue, which might or might not move could find
oneself waiting to be served after several people, who came well after one,
had transacted their business and gone. To correct this, someone in the
Railways came up with the idea that has been implemented in the Reservation
Counters now. People come in and sit down, and the person at the front of
the queue goes to whichever counter gets vacant first, ensuring that the
"first come, first served" rule is obeyed with impartiality. This is
great...except for the lack of imagination that results in a really
hilarious, and continuous, process of musical chairs which goes on, with
people shifting from chair to chair as the queue proceeds. A simple
expedient of letting each person go to a counter and pick up a token, like
they do in banks, would ensure that people need not shuffle from chair to
chair but stay where they are until their token number comes up. Of course,
just to remind us that user-unfriendly days haven't entirely gone yet, some
Reservation Offices make a customer join the queue even if it is just an
enquiry and not actual purchase. I once spent about two hours in the queue
before being told that the tickets I wanted were not available; the clerk
would not give me this information if I did not "come in line", and since I
did not have a mobile, I
could not get this information otherwise. Another victory for
user-unfriendly design!

Another thing I would like to see redesigned is the corner at many petrol
pumps where one goes to check the air in one's car/scooter tyres. Often this
area results in a confused crowd of motorists and scooterists, with tempers
fraying over people jumping the queue. I remember that many years ago, in
Chennai, I wrote to the company operating the petrol pump and after they
implemented my suggestion to segregate the lines for four-and two-wheelers,
the process was considerably eased. It didn't take much to improve the
design...just a little visualization.

I keep noting how many buildings I visit have access for wheelchairs....the
number is abysmally low. There is no active negation of the needs of the
disabled, just a lack of imagination while designing the building. The steps
of the Alliance Francais de Bangalore, where the wheelchair ramp is so
cunningly integrated with the steps, always draws my admiration! The
building where I live has a nice ramp down to the basement where there is a
lift...but alas, stagnation of rain water has resulted in cement barriers
being built before them, and we are back to being wheelchair-unfriendly!
Amazingly, even a school for the blind nearby has a concert hall which is
totally wheelchair-inaccessible!

In the same vein, I wonder why trains and buses MUST have doors which are
several feet higher than the platforms or roads, with elderly people
scrambling into and out of them.....surely the platform height could be
standardized and doors fit flush with them, making it easier for everyone?
Or couldn't vehicular transport have stairs which could come down to the
floor level? Could pavements not be built with a sloping ramp at the
corners so that perambulators or wheelchairs, or even wheeled luggage, could
be used without difficulty?

But the top spot on my "bad design" list would surely be....that abomination
of abominations, the Railway Carriage toilet! Who, I wonder, is the
superhuman who designed toilets which have areas which the flush water will
never reach, flushes which deliver--when they are not dry-- a pathetically
inadequate stream of
misdirected water, and above all, with a population like ours and the heat
of our country, who continues to design open-drained toilets? The open-drain
design on a moving track ensures that waste water, and the water one
flushes down, flow down to the track at different
places; and fecal matter accumulates on the tracks or, worse, on the edges
of the toilets. Add to this, western toilets where the opening of the door
ensures that the lid of the toilet comes down, and linoleum floors which are
made to stagnate water.....and you have a living example of design from
hell. Why could not some idealist gradutates from NID or other top schools
take on such projects, instead of the glamorous and more lucrative fashion
and dress designing? To me, one of the masterpieces of designing has been,
not the Zandra Rhodes sari, but the design of the ubiquitous hand pump that
has, thankfully, overtaken the cast iron ones all
over our country, which has made it so much easier for the common to get to
his requirement of water.

Well....on a closing note I would like to mention a very small kitchen item
which was rendered so much more useful by imaginative design....I am talking
of the set of measuring spoons which an architect friend gave me a couple of
years ago. The standard measurements of quarter-, half- , tea-, and
table-spoons are there in the set....but what sets it apart is that the
spoons are oval instead of the regulation round shape. This makes it much
easier to push the spoons into the material and to take it out to be
measured. A very simple innovation which is, however, very admirable. It is
only after seeing it that I started wondering why, when spoons are oval,
measuring spoons are always round! Good design is always so simple that you
feel, "Why isn't everything designed like that?"

So keep your eyes open to good and bad design in everything that you see and
use, and if you can suggest some improvements, remember that it will benefit
a lot of people. Let us take "design" out of its ivory tower of elitism and
expense bring it to bear to yield more comforts in all aspects of our daily

Any comments?
Tags: article, design, musing, thoughts

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