Fatma Korkut



By Fatma Korkut, Middle East Technical University, Turkey


What design is or about: Why do I hammer with a hammer?

I entertain the idea that "hammering with a hammer" is a fundamental assignment to understand my basic assumptions and beliefs about design. I perceive this simple statement as a challenge. One hammers with a hammer. Why? I feel that if I understand what design is or about, I am bound to answer this question. I also feel that my question is inadequately expressed. I need to clarify what I mean by why. I can think of at least three possibilities:


1. Why do I hammer with a hammer at all? (2)

Because hammering seems to deserve a hammer. I can hammer better with a hammer than without one. How do I know that I can hammer better with a hammer than without one? I can only say that I experience a need. I can do it better with a hammer. I say "If only I had a hammer."

I think design has to do with an urge to intervene. This intervention, it seems, has to be mediated by a with (a with with a promise of better). Now, with is a companion. (3) Then perhaps I can say that the ultimate promise of design is companionship.


2. Why do I hammer not with something else but with a hammer?

Because a hammer seems to be cut out for hammering. I can hammer better with a hammer than with anything else. But how do I know that I can hammer better with a hammer than with anything else? I think it is because I perceive a fit. It is a hammer which lets me do it better. I say "Here is a hammer."

Design, I think, is meant to fit. And this fit, it seems, has to be motivated. I mean, a hammer would look like a hammer, I would handle it like a hammer, and I would hammer with it. Fit indicates eligibility and competency; it calls for judgement. That is, the fit is not simply there, it has to be made; it is my experiences of hammering and the hammer which fit together. Then I would say the challenge of design is a perceptible fit.

I understand that a hammer is made to be a hammer, but I suspect that all would-be-hammers are not made to be hammers. But, again, I think it may not matter that a fist (or a shoe) is not a hammer par excellence. For the one who perceives a fit, a would-be-hammer is a hammer.


3. Why do I particularly hammer with a hammer?

Because a hammer seems to be better at hammering than at anything else. Hammering is the thing to do with a hammer. But how do I know that a hammer is better at hammering than at anything else? I think it is because I perceive a limit. Hammering is what a hammer allows me to do better. I say "I can hammer."

The difference between a perceived fit and a perceived limit is situational. If I aim at hammering, I would choose a would-be-hammer; provided with a hammer, I would recognize that I can hammer. Design, it seems, delimits in order to make it fit.


The concern of design: with

My arguments rests upon a single claim: Design intervention has to be mediated by a with. If there is no with there is no design. I cannot escape with. I think of design in terms of with. I cannot imagine a with which is not instrumental; I do not know an instrument which does not accompany. I do not know under what other circumstances I would say "If only I had a hammer." If there is a with there is inevitably a perceived fit/limit. With is an indirect but essential concern of design.


If only I had a hammer: The awareness of another world

When I say "if only I had a hammer", I mean that I caught a glimpse of a world where my hammering being accompanied by a hammer was (already) possible. I may not know exactly what I mean by 'a hammer' but my awareness of this other world (the instant ground I design) becomes the ground of my designing. This is the way I entertain the idea of hammering-with-a-hammer.


Biographical note

Bachelor of Industrial Design, Middle East Technical University (METU), Ankara. MSc. in Design, IIT, Chicago. Working towards a PhD at the Mimar Sinan University, Istanbul. Instructor at METU Dept. of Industrial Design, eight years of experience as design studio tutor, special emphasis on teamwork and new methods and approaches in design; teaches a graduate course on designers' rights and responsibilities. Former chair and active member of the Industrial Designers Society of Turkey. Current research interests include history of industrial design education and profession in Turkey, design protection in Turkey and EU, and users' new product experience.



(1) I borrowed this statement from Heidegger. Heidegger, Martin. 1962. Being and Time. Translated by J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson. San Francisco: Harper and Row, §69.

(2) I notice that I can also ask whether I need to hammer at all, in which case I am out of the hammering 'game'.

(3) For a brief discussion of with indicating both instrumentality and accompaniment, see Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 134-136.