Rhiannon Harries: 'No matter who you are, design matters – even if you're a punk'

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News coverage of Malcolm McLaren's death a week and a half ago featured an archive clip of an interview with the man behind the Sex Pistols in which he defined the punk movement as "anti-design, anti-fashion, anti-social, anti-establishment". From a man who sometimes claimed to have planned the demise as well as the ascent of the notorious band, an antipathy for design seems perhaps the least credible part of that manifesto. Nor is it possible to overlook the fact that McLaren's former partner, Vivienne Westwood, went on to become a figurehead of design in what is probably its most conspicuous form – clothing.

But McLaren's condemnation of design reflects a nebulous kind of distrust that hangs around the word itself. Mentioned in the same breath as "the establishment", it appears at best the dull, plodding enemy of spontaneity; at worst a sinister form of manipulation. It conjures up shop-floor layouts intended to prise the maximum spend from consumers, or dystopic cities constructed to regulate the movement of bodies as well as minds. (I can quite understand this – I did once live in Singapore, after all.)

And if we are not suspicious of design, then we may well be dismissive. Perhaps thanks to TV and glossy magazines, it conjures up images of monochrome penthouses whose owners would go into anaphalactic shock were I to confess that I have, on occasion, bought homeware from BHS. In short, a frivolous, poncey hobby.

But, whatever your instinctive reaction to the term, it is impossible to maintain that it is irrelevant to you. Saying you're not interested in design is as absurd as saying you're not interested in politics; both determine almost everything in your immediate environment. As design writer Peter Fiell (interviewed on page 16) put it to me, design is simply "conception and planning" – try counting the things in your immediate vicinity that doesn't apply to and you won't get far. Heck, if you're a Creationist you won't get anywhere.

And beyond its importance in our day-to-day existence, most of our individual passions are, at root, an appreciation of good design. You might not care less about vintage Scandinavian furniture and think that dropping a thousand quid on a Chanel jacket is the ultimate folly, but if you lust after an Aston Martin, pore over cook-books, or simply get a weird moment of satisfaction from emptying your Dyson vacuum cleaner, then whether you like it or not – I'm sorry to break it to you – you're a poncey design connoisseur too.

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