Paper submitted by Chetan Shastri
William S. Huff was and Architect and an educator, who studied at the Ulm school of Design. Basic Design was known since Bahaus by such other terms as Foundation courses.
Basic Design deals with certain complex human perceptions, mostly right brain activity, that forms the basis for all design. It deals with elements and conceptions such as rhythm, proportion, structure, form, even truth and virtue.
William S. Huff through his article examines the nuances of Basic design through ‘Structure’. He defines Structure as the relationship or arrangement of parts or elements. To design is, first, to structure and therefore, the study of structure is equivalent to basic design.
We observe objects and phenomenon through two ways: one being scientific investigation and the other being through the very human, detached and superficial way of experiencing. In the face of this dichotomy, William S. Huff considers two distinct areas in the study of structure: the physical and the perceptual.
The former refers to physical deformations and transformations constituting under lying patterns or motifs. Things that concern identities or those that create contrasts to the basic concerns of perceptual phenomena form the latter.
Much is yet to be learned about structure in both its manifestations of organic form and inorganic form. Structure can be studied through biology, mathematics and physics indicates D’Arcy Thompson.
He talks of the structure of the honeycomb for example. We can basically look at a honey comb and tell that it consists of hexagonal containers that meet back to back with geometric precision. It exists in a state of minimal surface configuration and its resultant equilibrium. The bees calculated the Maralidi angle before Maralidi himself.
He moves on to the Fibonacci series which mathematicians will say is their paradigm. This Fibonacci series is a mathematical order which is found extensively in nature. I would feel confident to say that the way a tree grows the angles at which branches sprout reflecting a visual aesthetic and a corresponding balance is proportionate to its mathematical equation. Maybe the degrees of perfection vary but that same golden spiral is found in sunflowers and shells too. It is perhaps engineered and we cannot say what branch of knowledge it belongs to but there is dialectic aesthetic. In the article I feel the words become perceptual so I will use my own vocabulary to better explain how I see it.
In order to be esthetic then structure has to be more then physical or mathematical, though so far I have always judged esthetic as visual or material.
Man he says has the possibility of arranging and rearranging structure- and along with the structures come possibilities and narratives. The structures may vary in form, space, dimension, and in other manners. With this infinite possibility the structures are limited by nature herself. It would be unfair to say like William S. Huff says that structures are defined by mathematical laws or theorems, but perhaps the esthetics of them can in an inane sense be defined by them.
Basic design is said by Anni Albers to be Use less design or design without a purpose.
This unadulterated realm extends over to graphics, architecture, sculpture and other fields of design. Where simply put the aspect of aesthetics is combined with function.
If we were to aesthetically arrange unknown objects in space we would perhaps look for an aesthetic but if those objects were to be a chair, table, bed and a lamp in a room we would adopt functionality.
This is perhaps the basis of difference between basic design vs. applied design.
It is termed as the problem of the bridge.
It so happens that the basic design problems are given to open the students mind and give the student a creative outlook. Although the student develops creative abilities freely during the foundation course during consequent years when the students are channeled in the directions of practical problems the smallest problem can turn into an obstacle. And the basic design education and creativity are sacrificed for the usual.
Personally I feel basic design generates a certain passion and understanding of principles which as it says in the document is followed by most design schools all over the globe. Being from one of those schools I have never felt any one pointedly say that the exercises don’t make sense. In fact I feel they are the key to the world I see now. Somehow things have lost their wonder but the framework of thought still remains, the passion is reduced but the quest is alive. These exercises I believe are the only exercises that give an integrated approach to design. Under broad classifications of space, form, structure and colour. These are a parallel world of existence. Design and design thought has come a long way since these articles were written. They conflicts they breach are perhaps no longer conflicts also different conflicts may exist in different minds. I grew up with these ideas now I realize where they came from and as clearly as I remember it every new idea was like entering a new world of possibility- not justified by science or physics but drawing from it and creating a parallel perceptual reasoning. It clicked.
I feel as a basic a structure would work in many places to illustrate if we were to design a structure as a basic exercise we would have no functional constraints it would lean towards a metaphor, form, joineries and perhaps material. I say this only as an example of what basic design would be. But if basic design were to be understood structure could mean anything and would ideally mean different things in different scenarios. A physical structure would be there to a building or textile and a perceptual structure would be there in a film or a narrative. Structure can also be defined in relation to space and form it is perhaps in physical terms just that. Structure may refer to the logic of an exercise or the process followed to derive something. Therefore it is basic and can be extended to any of the design disciplines.
I believe basic design is then primarily a philosophic activity and in most cases philosophic activity may help us lead practical life better. Hence, dismissing the idea that basic design is useless.
It is a very thought inspiring article that William S Huff has written. These ideas originated at the very beginning of design and still holds strong.