Acclaimed design critic Alice Rawsthorn shares her thoughts on the future – hers and that of the profession.
Words Enya Moore
Are the contributions of design critics important in shaping the future of design?
Everyone’s contributions are important – the wider and livelier the discussion, the more sophisticated and dynamic design culture is likely to be. Design critics have a responsibility to generate such debates.
Design criticism is a growing field. How has it changed since you started out?
I started out as a newspaper journalist and was trained in the traditional way to write about politics, economics, corporate affairs and so on. I worked for the Financial Times for 16 years, as a foreign correspondent in Paris and as a specialist correspondent in London. When I turned 40, I decided that I wanted to focus on design – a subject I was really passionate about. I’m very much a self-taught design critic. Design was a fairly esoteric field at the time, but the coverage of it has since increased considerably, particularly in general media, like The New Yorker and The Economist.
Do you think the social-media explosion has enriched your profession?
Social media has been fantastic for design criticism. It is so much easier for people with interesting ideas to get them out there. When I started out in journalism in the 1980s, we had to wait for editors – invariably older than us and probably male – to decide to publish what we had written, and only a few people were ever able to break through. But now, if you have interesting ideas, you can share them instantly on a blog.
Has your focus shifted since you ventured into the design world?
Design has changed dramatically since then. The role of the designer is to act as an agent of change by helping to interpret changes of any type – whether they are scientific, political, economic, psychological, environmental or cultural – in ways that will make our lives better, so the discipline is in a constant state of flux. I was drawn to design initially when I discovered it as a student and realized that it distilled many of my interests. But it is the fluid nature of design that has held my interest over the years. I am inherently impatient and inquisitive, so I love writing about a discipline that constantly challenges me to explore new territory and to rethink my ideas.