WHAT DESIGN CAN’T DO, Essays on Design and Disillusion

What Design Can’t Do (Set Margins’, 2023) is a structured and theoretical – but fascinating – volume because it helps to think about the practice of Design, what the designer is doing, and in what context. The author is Silvio Lorusso, a writer, artist, and designer based in Lisbon, Portugal, and also a tutor at the Design Academy Eindhoven. The book’s design is by Federico Antonini. We mentioned the publication in our article on this year’s recommended ‘design gifts’, and today we try to tell you what the essay is about.

It is not a handbook of criticism, but a straightforward and honest – but never predictable and a little crazy (thanks to the presence of printed memes) – analysis that investigates some of the questions that even designers sometimes, perhaps increasingly in recent years, ask themselves. The point of view is that of Graphic Design, but a lot of reasoning can equally be applied to the Design sector as a whole.

It all starts from the condition of the professionals themselves and the definition we give to design: very often, design is presented as a way to give order to things to solve problems, but is it really like that? How can one contribute naturally if all the designer does is move a line in AutoCAD or contour an image downloaded online in Photoshop? What Design Can’t Make attempts to analyze the contemporary context in which we operate: the role of industry, the political system of culture and values related to design and designer identity, and education.

The text refers to what the author calls the ‘everyday designer,’ who designs in a world where everyone is a designer. A figure who constantly seeks to redefine himself accepts types of projects he has never done to prove his qualities, who – quoting Agamben from the text – “confuses vocation with his role.” A professional who has to fight with freelance service platforms, who devotes himself to research by abstracting himself from reality to the point of not being able to understand its mechanisms. Because the truth is stark, design is closely linked to Capitalism, it was born with Industry and the designer is a part of the chain.

In this ontological analysis of design and the disillusion of those who work in this sector, however, there is also light: that of compromise, of actual work, of the contribution culture that opposes the smart culture. What Design Can’t Do wants to trace “the shadows’ contour” of this smart culture, the result of this shaky modernity, “in the hope that other people, in other contexts, will dissipate it, together”.

An essay that helps us understand Design and its implications. The volume can be purchased on Set Margins’ website for € 22. Don’t miss Silvio Lorusso’s publications and projects. Here you can find his website, and you can also follow him on Instagram! Photo by Annette Behrens, portrait by Joseph Knierzinger

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