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ditching design in a poor economy is, well…DUMB

November 19, 2008

dunce-cap-1Ok, the world is changing. Mine included. To say it has been a crazy past couple of days would be an understatement. I will not bore you with the details. Why, you ask? Well…because I have plenty of other things to bore you with….Ha! Actually, I do have a lot to get off my chest. It will be very therapeutic for me, so please, bear with me…..I know this is a long one….

Across the board, I think it is pretty safe to say that our economy sucks right now. Many industries throughout the country and internationally, cannot afford to stay in business and people are loosing their jobs. I work in the Design industry and have so for over ten years. It is a fairly broad industry and can encompass anything from product design, packaging design, building design, clothing design, blah, blah blah….. Let me get to the point of my little blog soapbox today. I heard someone say yesterday that “design is a luxury. In a tight economy, people will NOT pay for design”. Basically cursing my profession to failure and at the same time, labeling it as superfluous.

This really upset me. First of all because partially, I knew that what this person was saying is what most people think about design. When you pay for something that is “designer” you pay more. It is a “splurge”. You expect higher quality to come with that price tag. This thinking is not necessarily wrong. Typically you do receive a better designed, better fabricated item for a higher price. Designers or better yet manufacturers have capitalized on this way of thinking. As a designer, what I find is funny is why people pay for bad design at all? As far as I’m concerned, there is a huge error in the way our society accepts and pays for the quality of products and services…but, that is another topic for another day….   However, by allowing poorly designed items to be commonly accepted, we force good design to become a luxury because we are allowing manufacturers to capitalize on it.

What angers me most is that we are teaching people the incorrect definition of true design. “Designer” items are not the only things that are designed or designed well. EVERYTHING must be designed. Look at the smallest most typical item around you. Some skilled person spent hours observing, thinking, sketching, experimenting in order to come up with each simple item sitting on your kitchen table, in your bathroom drawer, in your refrigerator. From a common paper clip (a very ingenious and timeless design i might add) to a beer bottle to the chair you are sitting in, all of these things have been designed. Most of them designed well. As a common rule, things that are designed poorly will fail, things that are designed well, will endure. Here’s the clincher….Things that are designed well, do not have to cost more.

Good design is not a luxury. It is a necessity. In a poor economy, designers need to be a part of things even more. They are the innovative thinkers. I believe that things that are designed for a tight economy need to be better designed because they need to work outside of and exceed the norm. Designers need to come up with ways to use things more efficiently yet produce a product equally as effective if not more effective than current products. This includes better use of materials, time, fabrication, shipping….I could go on and on.

My point is this: This economy is the place where true designers can shine. Design as we know it can be revolutionized. Think back to the Bauhaus, International Style, where economic and political trials lead to the innovative use of new materials and methods of construction of buildings, products and furniture and changed the face of modern design as we know it. Can we not do this again?

Ok, I apologize, I will get off my little soap box….. but I need to say that if this country needs anything now, it needs better design. I am by no means an expert in economic studies or histories. I do know that better design can open new markets, while using our resources and scarce funds more effectively. I challenge all the designers out there to use this difficult time as an opportunity. At the same time, I ask businesses to realize the importance of design in their products and methods and to stand behind their designers. We need to move forward. The only way I see this happening is through new design and re-design.

Superfluous??….why I oughta……..

Have a great day! Whewww! that felt good 🙂

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 19, 2008 5:13 am

    “by allowing poorly designed items to be commonly accepted, we force good design to become a luxury because we are allowing manufacturers to capitalize on it.

    What angers me most is that we are teaching people the incorrect definition of true design. “Designer” items are not the only things that are designed or designed well. EVERYTHING must be designed.”

    Spot on! Great post.

  2. benji permalink
    November 19, 2008 5:21 am

    “Good design is not a luxury. It is a necessity. In a poor economy, designers need to be a part of things even more. They are the innovative thinkers.”

    Loving it…

  3. November 19, 2008 8:37 pm

    Thanks for the comments guys. Anyone want to start a new design movement?? I think its the perfect time!!

  4. November 30, 2008 3:06 pm

    How true it is… ‘good design is not a luxury…’ Good design is imperative, and the only thing that makes people aware of good design is the lack of… one of my favorite design quotes, or at least I think it is pertinent (I believe it can be attributed to Seth Godin):

    ‘Quality is the absence of ‘non-quality’ signals’

    Sad, but true. It is the saddest thing about our culture. I know people who have never read a book, but they sure as hell know how to send a text message.

    Nothing against IKEA, but unfortunately that is the mental framework we live in… and, for you and I design is important, but it tends to be expensive… only because it is not a matter of importance anymore.

    Just look at the back of our dollar bill, there are masonry symbols all over it. That is because the founders of this glorious country were…: yep… not only designers… but also builders… it was a pre-requisite for the American club… that is… until we invented fast-food… 🙂

  5. November 30, 2008 5:30 pm

    Thanks Alex, you have touched on some very good points. I would add that I know for a fact that good design does NOT have to cost more. It comes down to quality which is more an extension of lack of skill and laziness than cost. You can build two very different houses using the exact same materials and the same labor time. One can be designed and fabricated much better than the other depending on the talent and skill of the designer and craftsmen.

    For example, the American public settles for poor building standards. It blows my mind that people will pay millions of dollars for a horribly built house that is basically a piece of crap and will not last more than 5 years before it starts to deteriorate. We allow builders to put ridiculous price tags on these crappy houses that they mass produce by thousands. If we would acknowledge them as crap by refusing to buy them, we would force the builder to produce a better quality product. I think this is why I am drawn find places to live in older buildings. Because of my profession, I am trained to notice every detail of construction…good and bad. Unfortunately, there is much more bad than good in newer construction.

    Yes, our founders were skilled as well as intelligent. They were inventors, craftsmen, architects and scholars. I think they would cringe at our “fast-food 🙂 mentality”

    I mean this in the nicest way, but I think the majority (not all) of the American public is spoiled and lazy. Maybe we deserve crappy houses. After all, we are stupid enough to pay for them. It makes me sad nonetheless.

    Also….for the record….while IKEA is known for inexpensive items, the do have SOME things that are not only built better than most on the market, but also have some nice design thought behind them. Heck, even the things built out of cardboard have better design than most of the houses on the market today…which might as well be made out of cardboard 🙂 Ok….leaving my soapbox….

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