Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Design Notes : Five Design Principles

Design is a process by which a global vision is brought into alignment with the technical (i.e. local) means available to realize it. This is never a linear process. It involves a seesawing between global vision and technical means, but also it means following serendipitous paths as they present themselves. Our ability to design is always conditioned by our understanding of the technical means to achieve those designs. I see the process of design as something akin to the process of "resolving paradox", since design often involves a series of tensions or paradoxes that must be resolved in order to produce good design. This is not so much an intellectual exercise, as one that consists of trusting one's intuition and unconscious processes, and letting elements emerge when they are ready to come.

While investigating the process of design related to fashion design, I have come up with five broad principles that condition the effort involved:

1) The tension between body shape and pure geometry : clothes are made, essentially, from two-dimensional shapes (i.e. geometrical forms) with a little thickness, but they must cover a three-dimensional body "manifold". Hence geometry is omnipresent in fashion design, an intrinsic part of the process. The geometry may be emphasized or efforts made to hide it in any garment or outfit. The tension between geometry and body manifold is therefore at the heart of fashion design;

2) The tension between form and function : This might seem obvious, but it comes up in situations where we don't think about it. For example, clothes that are designed to fit one body type may not work so well with another body type. Many sources classify bodies into five rough types, the hourglass, triangle, inverted triangle, pear or rectangle shape and wide rectangle or round shape, depending on the ratios between bust or chest, waist and hips. Thinking of clothes as different for different body forms and different functions is critical to good fashion design. This is even more true when one includes people with disability in the group for which designs are being developed;

3) The tension between enabling or constraining structures : All clothes are both enabling and constraining. They limit our ability to touch our skin, or to freely move certain body parts with respect to others, while allowing other movements to occur. There seems to be a common myth that all clothes should minimize constraints, but in fact constraints are a very important part of clothing design and should be thought of as an integral element;

4) The tension between what is revealed and what is hidden : Clothes are as much about what is revealed as what is hidden (this is not unlike the Japanese traditional tendency to treat empty spaces as positive design elements rather than as empty);

5) The pleasure principle : In the broadest sense of the term, all clothes are erotic. They touch us in many different ways, simultaneously. They hence give us pleasure in tactile ways as well as in terms of how they look, how they make us look, how they make us feel, what messages they send, and how they sound as we move. Designing clothes to enhance pleasure in different forms helps us be more fully human. In this sense, fashion design is a sacred task, it speaks to our relationship with the broader universe.

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