Michael Woolf, co-founder of Wolff Olins and now doing his own thing, tells us what the word 'design' means to him.

‘Design’. It’s a word that's rung in my ears since I first began to wonder why some things and places appealed to me, and others didn't. I'm still not sure why I'm attracted to some things and not to others.

Is good design just an agreement system that excites certain groups of architects and designers? Or is it a much more broadly based appraisal? Some things work well and are attractive or even beautiful. Others don’t work well and are ugly, scary or incomprehensible.

Did I start to like things that people I admired liked? Did I like things in order to be more like people I respected? Or are there some intrinsic and deeper personal reasons that inform my likes and dislikes?

Is choosing what one likes a question of discernment or an expression of identity? Is it how we conform or how we express what makes us different? And what is ‘liking’ anyway? Do we, as designers, understand the neurology at work inside us as we feel and express our passions for colour texture, form and meaning? I still don’t know.

Michael Woolf by Robin Grierson From a functional point of view I see design as an arrangement of three lenses. Through the first lens you see the big picture or vision - Paris, for example, or even a microchip. Through the second lens you see the entire process of bringing visual concepts into reality. Then, through the final lens you see the design of a finished thing or place – for instance, a house or a car, a sign or a form, a glass or a town square. A good designer sees through all these lenses, zooming and focusing from one to another. In this way, concepts, processes and the results and their consequences can all inform each other to the benefit of us all.
 
This blog was originally written for creative consultancy Arup. Republished with permission.