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Posts Tagged ‘Good Design

“A picture is worth a thousand dollars”*…

 

Saval-Good-Design_02

 

In 1958, the American radical sociologist C. Wright Mills was invited to address the International Design Conference, in Aspen. The lecture he gave, “Man in the Middle: The Designer,” criticized a number of its audience members for being willing dupes in the grand illusion that was consumer society. “Wants do not originate in some vague realms of the consumer’s personality,” he said. “They are formed by an elaborate apparatus of jingle and fashion, of persuasion and fraud.” In this sublime hoax, Mills argued, the designer was central. He made people “ashamed of last year’s model”; he tied “self-esteem” with the purchasing of this year’s model; and he “created a panic for status, and hence a panic of self-evaluation” that could be sated only by the “specified commodities” that he designed. This was what came to be known as “retail therapy”—but Mills suggested that, partly thanks to designers, it had become fundamental to the American economy. The result was a perversion not just of economic life but also of culture. As he put it, “The uses of culture are being shaped by men who would turn all objects and qualities, indeed human sensibility itself, into a flow of transient commodities, and these types have now gotten the designer to help them; they have gotten him to turn himself into the ultimate advertising man.”

Whether the conference organizers regretted inviting Mills is not a matter of record—toward the end of his lecture, he softened his attack by suggesting that designers could adopt the intimate, use-value virtues of craftsmen—but I was reminded of his words as I walked around “The Value of Good Design,” a small display of goods currently on show at the Museum of Modern Art. A curious bit of auto-institutional history, as well as a plug for the museum’s wallet-shredding design store, the “Good Design” show looks back at the museum’s attempt to establish canons of taste in postwar America—to play, in other words, the man in the middle between designers and consumers. As in a suburban shopping mall, the center of the exhibit is a whole car: the huggable Fiat 500, one of the most charming symbols of the Italian postwar “economic miracle.” (Unfortunately, there is no contest to win it.) Elsewhere, there is the liquid sheen of Eva Zeisel’s porcelain ware, George Nelson’s exclamatory atomic-age clock, and a Japanese-influenced bamboo-framed chair from Charlotte Perriand. To view these items is to feel immediately the induction of “wants” diagnosed by Mills. This is MoMA’s second show in a decade about its “Good Design” program, and it makes one wonder about both the meaning of those terms and what they are meant to do…

An assessment of MoMA’s “The Value of Good Design” exhibit… and a meditation on the history and role of design more generally: “How ‘Good Design’ Failed Us.”

* Marty Neumeier

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As we curtail commodification, we might recall that it was on this date in 1976 that The Steves– Wozniak and Jobs– released their first product, the Apple I.  Designed and hand-built by Wozniak, the computers were sold wholesale by Jobs (at $500 wholesale, for a retail price of $666.66, the equivalent of $2,800 today).  In 2014, a working Apple-1 sold at auction for $905,000.

AL-apple-0311e source

 

Written by LW

April 11, 2019 at 1:01 am

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