Stephen Todd, Design Editor, Australian Financial Review Magazine.
With an impressive background across a vast range of design disciplines, in your eyes, what makes good design?
Up until a decade or so ago, I would have responded that good design had to fulfill its function and look good while it was doing so. Doing something that couldn’t be done before – using a new material in an innovative way, developing a mechanism not envisaged before – these would score highly. But over the past 10 years or more, design has become more ubiquitous – not because there is more design around (even the ugliest, most useless object has gone through some sort of design process) but because the population, the customer, the end-user is more conscious and knowledgable of the design component of their consumer (hopefully) durables.
That means that, for me anyway, good design nowadays signifies a functional object but also a process – abstracted even to the point of a thought process – that reflects, embodies, challenges, or refutes an or many aspects of the culture. At the same time, awareness of issues surrounding sustainability and ethical production, distribution and eventually obsolescence of the artifacts of our culture – because, in the end, that’s what our objects are – are of increasing urgency.
Often, when looking at something new, I ask myself three things: What does it say about the culture at large? What does it say about the state of design right now? What does it say about me should I accept to acquire or otherwise consume it? The sum total response to those three questions will tell me if it is good design, or not.
Having spent a lot of time working overseas, especially in Europe alongside some of the worlds most established design houses, what excites you about the local Australian design scene?
What excites me about the Australian design scene is the same thing that excites me about anything surgent – it’s on the cusp of becoming, it’s amassing significance, coalescing. As a young colonial nation, we’ve spent over 200 years trying to find our feet on land that is not ours. We’ve still got a lot of reflecting to do about who we are and what we want to express of this new national identity. Inclusiveness and historical awareness are significant parts of our nascent national psyche. How design manifests those facts in the coming decades and beyond is immensely intriguing to me.
Since moving to Central West NSW, has your design aesthetic and outlook changed at all?
No. What has changed is that, living away from the hugger mugger of city life I have more time to reflect and to get to the essence of things. I am in Sydney or Melbourne or some other metropolis twice a month, and I use that time advisedly.
What will you be looking for in the winning design?
Clarity of intent and integrity of realization are essential. Sophistication of process (thought as much as production) accrues bonus points.