In design school we learned about how, as the baby boomer generation grows older, the market for products directed towards the elderly would increase as the elderly population increased. This was followed by examples of the various kinds of products out there, serving purposes I had never even considered. Each one was designed to address a senior-specific issue, to improve the life of the user. Make their day to day that much safer, simpler, more autonomous. From pill dispensers to special handrails disguised as molding on the walls, it is up to the designer to find the most intelligent and effective (and yes, sometimes beautiful) way to solve the problem at hand.
The point of this lesson is that I saw in a new way that design is everywhere, and there are many ways to look at demographics. We all engage with designed objects, actions, and activities everyday. It is normal that we only notice those things that are relevant to us, as we each choose which designs to purchase or to engage with according to our needs and desires and means. We are sometimes asked to see through the eyes of others in order to provide assistance in making a choice. And it is the job of designers to do exactly that, channeling the needs of their end customer.
When a design is a solution to a problem, the aesthetics are rarely the priority. To make something ergonomic, for example, one must follow the form of the body- any alteration intending to indulge the aesthetics will compromise the effectiveness of the design. The same for much product design. Many argue, for example, that by focusing on the appearance of its devices, Apple sacrifices functionality. They can do it because the object has become a symbol that sends a message more powerful than the function. Only as other companies start to catch up on the aesthetic maturity will consumers have a choice where sacrificing aesthetics won’t be necessary to acquire the best electronics.
This all does tie back into fashion, believe it or not, when considering the question of form vs. function. Everyday fashion designers have to consider the purpose of the garment and what aesthetic decisions can be made to help the garment best do that job. But the difference between a dress and a tablet (well, one of many differences) is that the dress has a single primary function: to cover the body. All the rest is secondary, which is why it is able to take on so many forms.
Enter the question of aesthetics.
We all have different tastes. Our homes, wardrobes, friends, are reflections of that unique personality. We appropriate the function of our clothes to our own desires. One woman might wear a dress for comfort, another to accent her waist, another still to make a good first impression at an interview. The success of the design, in the eyes of each woman, will depend on how well it achieves what she is asking of it. And the personal taste of the customer will always, always be the overall deciding factor.
So if design fits into two categories: products that reflect our personality and products that are simply utilitarian, is it asking too much of fashion to provide both? I believe that in the not too distant future, we will be designing clothes for environments that make it a necessity rather than a novel idea. And, especially for outerwear, that means a lot of exciting possibilities.