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When Design is Difficult

 
Image of a handgun. ©Getty Images / PM Images

"Tricky Design"

This important new area of design studies addresses the moral complexity of designed objects and systems. Guns, for instance, are created by designers. What is the correct ethical framework for such a designer to work within? Euthanasia - although an experience rather than an object - is a similarly controversial designed thing. In their edited collection Tricky Design, Tom Fisher and Lorraine Gamman explore the moral complexities which confront design practitioners.

Network diagram. ©Getty Images / Chuanchai Pundej / EyeEm

Changing Design

The definition of a 'designed object' has changed vastly in recent years. Thus, phones, laptops and fitness trackers do not take a purely physical form - they are networked, dynamic, and often capable of learning from us just as much as we - their users - are from them. In their book Changing Things, Johan Redström and Heather Wiltse address critical questions about the meaning of ‘designed objects’ which have assumed a fresh urgency in the context of these rapidly developing forms, and propose a radical new system for understanding and relating to objects.

Image of a passport. ©Getty Images / Tetra Images)

The Passport

Passports are small but powerful designed objects. In his book The Design Politics of the Passport, Mahmoud Keshavarz reveals the social, political and material practices associated with the passport. Combining design studies with ethnographic research among undocumented migrants and passport forgers, Keshavarz shows how the world is designed to be strikingly open and hospitable to some, yet highly confined and demarcated for others. He also demonstrates how those who are affected by such injustices dissent from their situation through the same capacity of design and artifice.

Portrait of Eva Zeisel, Courtesy Brigitte Lacombe, c. 2000

Designer in focus: Eva Zeisel

The Hungarian-American industrial and ceramic designer Eva Zeisel was born in 1906. She was the first female potter to train in a Budapest craft guild, and lived in both Germany and Russia before spending 16 months in a Soviet prison, on the false charge of plotting to assasinate Stalin. Once freed from prison and living in Vienna, she was again obliged to leave her country of residence, this time because of the growth of the Austrian Nazi Party, and she fled to London and then New York with her new husband, Hans Zeisel. In the US Eva re-established herself as a designer, teaching at the Pratt Institute and presenting an exhibition at MoMA. Zeisel lived in the US until her death in 2011, aged 105. Read more about Zeisel's life and work in the Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Design.