Design as a morality of form

What had Jan Tschichold and his adversary Max Bill in common? Both equated form with morality.

During design’s high modernist phase, it was usual to talk about form in terms of morality, personal but, above all, civic.

Good form was a moral and not so much a political objective. On the old form/content divide, politics was on the side of content – on the client’s side. On the designer’s side was form as a moral imperative.

In a way, this stance inherits Kant’s formalist ethics, according to which you must do good for its own sake, not to expect any reward, any personal or political gain, even any satisfaction out of it. It’s an ethics of duty.

High modernist designers tried to turn form into an ethics of duty, separated from personal and political concerns. Design had a social value precisely because it aimed to be society’s moral compass regarding form.

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