Pretense Design: Surface Over Substance
Per Mollerup is Professor Emeritus of Communication Design at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne. He is the author of Wayshowing: A Guide to Environmental Signage, Simplicity: A Matter of Design, and other books.
How some design appears to be something that it is not—by beautifying, amusing, substituting, or deceiving.
Pretense design pretends to be something that it is not. Pretense design includes all kinds of designed objects: a pair of glasses that looks like a fashion accessory rather than a medical necessity, a hotel in Las Vegas that simulates a Venetian ambience complete with canals and gondolas, boiler plates that look like steel but are vinyl. In this book, Danish designer Per Mollerup defines and describes a ubiquitous design category that until now has not had a name: designed objects with an intentional discrepancy between surface and substance, between appearance and reality. Pretense design, he shows us, is a type of material rhetoric; it is a way for physical objects to speak persuasively, most often to benefit users but sometimes to deceive them.
After explaining the means and the meanings of pretense design, Mollerup describes four pretense design applications, providing a range of examples for each: beautification, amusement, substitution, and deception. Beautification, he explains, includes sunless tanning, high heels, and even sporty accessories for a family car. Amusement includes forms of irrational otherness—columns that don't hold anything up, an old building's façade that hides a new building, a new Chinese town that mimics an old European town. Substitution pretends to be a natural thing: plastic laminate is a substitute for wood, Corian a substitute for marble, and prosthetics substitute for human organs. Deception doesn't just bend the truth; it suspends it. Soldiers wear camouflage to hide; hunters use decoys to attract their prey; malware hides in a harmless program only to wreak havoc on a user's computer. With Pretense Design, Per Mollerup adds a new concept to design thinking.
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