On Tuesday, I attended the 11th Innovation Idea Award Reception. The highlight of the event was the keynote talk by Chris Martin, the CEO of the legendary guitar maker, Martin. Throughout his talk, he emphasized the importance of making good stuffs as an essential aspect of Martin's success. Time and again, he made the point how the company is obsessed with the thing it makes and relentlessly pursuing better products.
After the barrage of bad economic news that were primarily caused by frivolous attempts to disconnect the wealth creation and making stuff, his talk was like breath of fresh air. Chris Martin's talk reminds me of the wrings by Paul Graham who wrote Hackers & Painters, Robert Austin's Artful Making and Richard Sennett's The Craftsman. A common thread that connects these works is the tension between materiality and ideas. Materiality without ideas restricts human agency. It confines us with flesh and blood that relates to the materials that co-inhibit the space with us. Yet, ideas without materiality easily tricks us into illusion. That is why we spend hours reading novels and kids indulge themselves in the virtual world of avatars. The obsession with the superiority of ideas over materiality led us to believe into the faux wealth creation through exotic financial instruments, just as we are easily seduced into the power of brilliant Powerpoint slides prepared by management consultants. I have met many executives who rarely see their products being consumed by real people in real setting. They are surrounded by the bubble of ideas that are divorced from the material world.
This is why design is so important. Simply put, design is to give a form to an idea. By giving a form, we translate an idea into the realm of materiality. That is what keeps us honest and real.