Couched in Design

The toaster in which you toast your toast. The computer keyboard on which you type. The toilet on which you sit. Design affects us in myriad ways we don't even notice. A flawed kitchen appliance can yield a burned breakfast. A poorly assembled keyboard can contribute to a nasty case of carpal tunnel syndrome. A badly designed bathroom fixture can leave us with an aching rump. Few recognize the important role good design plays in their lives, but organizers of Design + Architecture Day hope that will change.

“It's [design] the most undervalued resource that we know in our society, particularly in the United States,” says Samina Quraeshi, Henry R. Luce professor in family and community at the University of Miami and former director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts. “I look at design as a strategic national resource. The full potential has yet to be realized.” (Emphasizing her point, the professor, on the phone from her office at UM, made sure that before answering questions, she moved from what she described as “not the most hospitable chair” at her computer to a more comfy perch behind her desk.)

Much like the growing awareness of design's all-encompassing power, D + A Day, long observed internationally, is only just coming to America. Celebrated last year for the first time in the United States, the holiday was surrounded with a series of events (tours, lectures, films, exhibitions) that occurred in only one city: Miami. The case is the same this year. The roster, however, is larger, expanding to include the first annual Arango Design Award, which will go to a creative type under the age of 40 who works in any category including landscape, urban, product, interior, and even interactive media design. (The award will be presented this Sunday at the Miami Art Museum).

Currently exhibiting items from established Italian plastics designers and manufacturers Kartell, the Arango design store in Dadeland Mall still carries some of the same product lines it opened with in 1959 (crystal vases by Alvar Aalto, silver by Georg Jensen), but it also features a slew of goods by up-and-coming designers. The store is loosely affiliated with the 23-year-old nonprofit Arango Design Foundation, devoted to spreading the gospel of good design and headed up by store co-owner Judith Arango. “We thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to call attention to emerging talent,” says Arango about the award, speaking by phone from her summer home in California.

After the winner is announced, Quraeshi will deliver a lecture titled “The Virtue of Good Design.” Well aware that the luminary of the day will be the work that garnered the award, she offers many reasons why such accolades are necessary: “To highlight a significant achievement in design and to make the public aware that it is praiseworthy, that it is noteworthy, that it makes a difference to our lives, and that we should stop and stare.”