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Authenticity and Community Make Good Design Possible

July 17, 2019

Design that helps bring people together in an authentic way can have tremendous impact on the places we create.

Coming off the heels of NeoCon, it’s appropriate that we look at authenticity and locality in design.

I had countless conversations with manufacturers and designers alike who celebrated the idea of community and bringing people together in a way that doesn’t feel fabricated.

Rather, we need to create spaces that encourage them to gather—and to isolate when needed—naturally.

In hindsight, lack of authenticity was the Achilles heel of the open office plan, or part of it anyway. The methodology presumed that removing all barriers was the most effective way to promote collaboration among employees.

Instead, it felt forced—fake even. And design is nothing if not genuine.

To that point, an article contributed by Be Original Americas cites the tremendous cost of counterfeits as it relates to product design and manufacturing. Not only do knock-offs infringe on intellectual property rights, but they come at the expense of innovation and American jobs.

“Supporting authentic design affords designers and manufacturers the resources and creative freedom to be innovative,” the article suggests. “It allows them to take design risks that may have the potential to fail and never come to market. It pushes the boundaries of what’s possible.”

Of course, advancing design extends well beyond product manufacturing and reaches into the realm of community transformation, which is at the heart of why so many designers do what they do.

Just ask Deon Lucas, creator of Beehyyve, a design and architecture collaborative dedicated to revitalization projects.

Lucas’ story is highlighted in this month’s IIDA column and illustrates how his passion to reconnect with his community in Chicago led to a vision for positive change through his work with the entrepreneurial collective, E.G. Woode.

“The work we do is deeply rooted in the community,” Lucas says. “It started out with me just volunteering and contributing my time and finding ways to serve the community, and as a result, [E.G. Woode] has gotten the opportunity to create a vision for neighborhood transformation.” 

The idea that design can be a catalyst for change is one that Joey Shimoda and Susan Chang, co-founders of Los Angeles-based Shimoda Design Group (SDG), are intimately familiar with.

The celebrated designers approach every project with passion and care while also pushing clients to explore the possibilities that design affords them.

“I really want to communicate the notion that we really do believe that ideas want to exist to make things better; that the concepts that we’re trying to bring [to fruition], the ideas that we’re testing, the artists we work with, or the methods with which we build something, we want them to make a big difference,” Shimoda says.

For SDG, it’s not the size of the project that matters; it’s the idea that “everything has some value if we care about it,” Shimoda explains.

That’s as true for product design as it is for interiors or for the community at large.

When we care enough to invest in design ideas that are thoughtful and original, those that celebrate and encourage community and meaningful connections between people, we won’t need to wonder whether our work is imbued worth. Genuine design is good design.

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About the Author

Robert Nieminen | Chief Content Director

Robert Nieminen is the Chief Content Director of Architectural Products, BUILDINGS and i+s, sister publications of Smart Buildings Technology. He is an award-winning writer with more than 20 years of experience reporting on the architecture and design industry.

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