‘Today, there is no design for everybody.’ Read bell hooks’ earth-shak

The pioneering Black feminist Gloria Jean Watkins—finest recognized by her lowercase pen title bell hooks—handed away yesterday on the age of 69. She leaves behind numerous concepts that serve as the foundation to fashionable race, class, and gender criticism.

Largely due to hooks’ writings, society is starting to know the interdependencies of those elements of id. But till final night time, I’d by no means come throughout her 1998 essay on the subject of design—Design: A Happening Life—printed on her weblog Lion’s Roar. After it was quoted by Pentagram companion Michael Bierut, I found the unique essay is nonetheless obtainable to learn in full. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the type of conscious-denting writing that unspools concepts so satisfyingly that each sentence seems like a revelation of the trendy period…even though this was written nearly 25 years in the past.

hooks’ argument revels inside the foundational tensions in design—particularly that design has been coopted by white supremacist, capitalist energy buildings. We are inclined to rejoice design for its worth ascribed by firms and excessive class people. Yet as design is ascribed such worth, we regularly lose sight of its inherent price. hooks argues that, whereas appreciating design is a discovered ability to some extent, design’s best present is its potential to ship steady, existential pleasure. And that pleasure is robust to find for those that don’t have entry to good design.


“Today design has little meaning for masses of people for whom interbeing seems only a romantic dream as they scramble to fulfill materialistic fantasies, believing—as everything teaches them to— that consuming is the only way to ecstasy,” hooks writes. “Sorrow stirs in me every time I face the myriad ways in which advanced capitalism removes the cultural conditions that would enable everyone, including the poor, to have access to learning an aesthetic appreciation of design.”

hooks grounds the dialogue in her personal life, talking of the intricate quilts produced by her grandma, which taught hooks to understand design—however which have been additionally tempting to discard when in comparison with extra polished, mass-produced textiles. When most of us are surrounded by the low-cost, mass-produced designs we are able to afford—starting from items to housing—we are able to’t study to understand design at a stage it may well convey us happiness. hooks laments that the center class might afford good design as just lately because the Fifties, as gadgets like strong, handmade furnishings have been extra the norm.

“Today, there is no design for everybody. Design is primarily for those who can afford it and/or the people who are taught to think about aesthetics. Simply because people have money does not mean that they will have an eye for design, but there is an everyday pedagogy of design in our culture. Its lessons are brought to those of us with class privilege who know the right magazines to look at, the right stores to go to, the best designers to hire.”

finally hooks concludes that the appreciation of design—which she at one level sums up as “the art that proceeds from the very fiber of things”—is inherent to our enjoyment of life. Indeed, design is the intention that lives throughout us, whether or not we acknowledge it or not.


“For me it has always been a call to search for the beauty that is beyond that which can be made most easily apparent, to find beauty in the everyday,” she writes, later including this straightforward coda: “When life is happening, design has meaning. In such a world every design that we encounter strengthens our recognition of the value of being alive, of being able to experience joy and peace.”

Read her full essay here.

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