Style versus Design

16 Feb

This has come up enough recently to give me pause.  A lot of people comment to me that l like mid-century style.  Well, yes, I suppose I do.  But what I like more is mid-century design.  And well, yes, there is a difference.  (And being a total word-nerd, I push up my glasses on my nose and prepare myself to write a dissertation on said difference.)

But defining the delta between the two isn’t all that easy.  The distinction is paper thin and seemingly subjective.  These words are used interchangeably, often to indicate a visual definition of something.  ‘I like the style of that building’ or ‘I like the design of that wallpaper’. 

Dictionary definitions don’t really help all that much either. 

Style:  distinctive form: a distinctive and identifiable form in an artistic medium such as music, architecture, or literature

Design:  create detailed plan of something: to make a detailed plan of the form or structure of something, emphasizing features such as its appearance, convenience, and efficient functioning

Hmmm.  Doesn’t help much, does it? I want a crispness and a clarity to the definition.  From what I can tell, style relates to a visual characteristic that defines something as a distinct ‘type’.    Also, the definition of design seems more intentional and thought out.  I also appreciate style as a noun but design as a verb.

This reminds me that the best distinction between style and design I have encountered comes from Eames Demetrios, Charles Eames’s grandson. (Of course!)  In the Wall Street Journal Life and Style blog, Demitrios is quoted as saying,

“Newspaper put design stories in the style section, but style is different from design. Design is about problem-solving, addressing needs and working with constraints. I talk to a lot of young designers and say, “don’t worry about your style.” Take care of problems, and everything will take care of itself.

My grandparents said the role of the designer is that of a good host and anticipating the needs of guests. This is a really beautiful idea. It puts the human being and their experience at the center of attention in a very pragmatic way. We’ve gotten into this habit that says design is different from function.”

Ahhh…music to my ears.  Intention. Function.  Problem-solving. Yes, that’s the way I like it, baby.  And as you know my primarily conceptual nature leads me to need to understand versus just to appreciate. (I think I’ve waxed on about this before here.  Sorry if I am becoming a tedious bore.)

Here’s how I think about it now:  style comes from design.  And design solves problems for people in clothing and homes and mechanics.  And when I think of design influencing style, I think of:

Jackie O and Oleg Cassini

Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School


Mies Van der Rohe and Modernism

 Eames and that beautiful functional comfortable chair


All of which lead me to say that I am into both mid-century modern style AND design.  However, now I want to dive into the topic of mid-century versus mid-century modern.  But that’s for another post.


2 Responses to “Style versus Design”

  1. Dana@Mid2Mod February 16, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    Ah, a woman after my own heart. Some people may brush this off as semantic hair-splitting, but I agree that the distinction exists and is important.

    • Brandy February 17, 2012 at 9:11 am #

      Thanks, Dana. I am all about semantic hair-splitting. Say what you mean, you know?

      Happy Friday!

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