Some profoundly wise thoughts from design scholar Dick Buchanan, as quoted from his essay “Branzi’s Dilemma”, now almost 15 years old but still firmly relevant:
The ultimate purpose or function of design in society is to conceive products which express and reconcile human values concerning what is good, useful, just, and pleasurable. However, these terms no longer possess fixed and generally accepted meanings. Their meanings are the subject of our deliberations. They are essentially contested in society at large as well as in the complex processes of design and product development, although we seldom recognize the significance of the shift and are not well prepared to deal with it
And continuing further…
Despite the continuing role of mass-production in many societies, the task is to design for the individual placed in his or her immediate context. Our products should support the individual in the effort to become an active participant in culture, searching for locally significant coherence and connection. Products should be personal pathways in the otherwise confusing ecology of culture.
There is no reason to be unhappy with the pluralism of design explorations in the contemporary world, so long as these explorations are not entrapped in ideology and each of us may pursue our own paths in design within the reasonable bounds of responsibility, based on informed discussions of what is good, just, useful, and pleasurable. We may be distressed by some of the work that we see in graphic and industrial design today and delighted by a wide range of other work. Design is very young and has far to go in the exploration of its role in culture. For many of us, this means better understanding of the disciplines of design thinking, not merely changes in style and surface treatment.