By Susan Yelavich
Design writing in India beats New York criticism and coverage of design hands down. That was literally my first thought when I opened the pages of the new design edition of “Lounge,” the weekend cultural section of Mint, one of India’s leading business newspaper. Edited by MA Design Studies alumna Komal Sharma, the May 13 issue (picture here) featured far more than the usual press release-driven pieces we have grown accustomed to in our newspapers. If design is covered at all here in the U.S., it tends to focus on style or technological one-upmanship. (Metropolis magazine is, of course, an exception but it is directed specifically at designers. And it isn’t a daily paper; nor are the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books or the Atlantic, my other go-to sources for (the very occasional) design essay.)
I can’t imagine any of our mass-market news outlets printing a headline like Komal’s inaugural essay, “An Ode to the Homo Faber.” I doubt that even the New York Times T Magazine would countenance using Latin, much less featuring stories with such a high degree of criticality. Whereas “Lounge” has no qualms about expressing skepticism about certain aspects of the design industry.
For example, Manu Joseph’s piece on Tristan Harris, “former product philosopher and ‘design ethicist’ at Google” is quick to note that the Ted Talk star’s cautions about media addiction are embraced all too readily to ward off even stronger reactions. Stories like “But What About Feeling at Home?” look askance at the future of ‘living smart.’ Its author Sidin Vadukut is concerned that the efficiencies afforded by artificially intelligent systems in houses increasingly controlled by our Alexa’s will only increase detachment from the physical material home, to the point where we change residences and digital appliances the way we change apps.
Unsurprisingly, “Lounge” balances its critiques with fairly normative coverage of products, furniture fairs, and food design trends. But it does so with an equilibrium that is all too rare. Yes, its writers tease us with purchasing possibilities and the ever up-and- coming. But with no sacrifice to the broader implications for the future that are inevitably embedded in design and designing.
A personal note: Warm congratulations to you, Komal, and best wishes on your trajectory as a design writer who understands how to reach the public realm without pandering or condescension. We hope to welcome you back to Parsons next time you’re in town to tell us how you do it!