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Connect is a multivalent word that carries several potential meanings depending upon the context in which it is used: a connection may be a physical link, a personal relationship or an intellectual reference to something else. In design, the physical connection may be a structural component like a joint or a seam. Connection may also reside in the emotional response an object evokes in its user or in the references the object makes to history or to other concepts and forms in the realms of science, nature or art.

The most minimal of objects carries a message that offers the potential for connection. As a visual language that connects the object to the human being, the details of design express the potential to serve our human purposes and fulfill our needs and desires. The particularity of detail—the exact radius of a curve, the specific nature of the material, the shape and heft of an adjustment mechanism—connect the intention of the object’s designer to its user and give the object value and meaning.

When we interact with a work chair, we perhaps feel affection for our chair because of the way it greets our body and its swift response to any adjustment. We become attached to our tablets, smartphones and laptops because they are designed with an assiduous attention to the details that “connect” with the human hand and eye and intellect, creating what we know as the user experience. Ideally, detail is thoughtful and essential, a vocabulary of form that makes structural, functional, psychological and cultural connections that we can perceive with our senses and grasp with the tools of our intelligence and our intuition. We know immediately what an object is for and how to use it.

The concept of connection in design is perhaps most evident in its physical aspect, in the joinery of a chair or the points at which the legs of a sofa intersect with its seat, which may be either concealed or revealed. At this level, detail mediates between different parts or between the part and the whole. But even these physical connections offer evidence of prior, more abstract connection, between idealized form and material reality, between human concepts and values and their expression in the objects we make and use.


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There are as many ways to write about design as there are ways to practice it. We can describe, analyze, compare, judge and classify; propose theories about creativity, form and social function. We can characterize design as a language or a way of thinking. Or, we can consider one key aspect of design, the detail. For while a detail may be small in scale—a button, a stitch, a latch, a molding—the subject is not a trivial one. The design detail carries larger concepts no matter its size. It may be less encompassing than the whole, but its meaning is not less deep. Detail makes design not only intelligible, but also memorable and meaningful. Download No Detail Is Small and explore it in detail.

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