“Design is the reason you buy crap that you don’t need to live”

In conjunction with the Detroit Design Festival this last weekend, the Detroit chapter of the AIGA announced a poster competition.

Here’s their call for submissions.

…What is design? A universal language? A problem solving tool? Your obsession? This is your opportunity to show the Detroit design community what design means to you. All you have to do is design a poster that fills in the blank: Design is ______________.

I don’t know how many people entered the competition. I’ve spent the past several minutes looking around the web, and, while I was able to find several responses to the question posted on the Detroit Design Festival’s Facebook page, I was only able to find evidence of one poster actually having been submitted. I did, however, come across what I’m assuming was a non-official submission while walking around Detroit this weekend. I found the following plastered onto the side of an abandoned building near the offices of the Heidelberg Project on Saturday, while hopscotching with my daughter.

This message isn’t anything new. I’ve heard it said before, several times, in different ways, in different contexts. For as long as I can remember, for instance, I’ve heard people saying, “Advertising exists in oder to convince people that they desperately need things which they could easily live without.” It only makes sense that someone would extend it from advertising to design. But, I loved the context of this, as it was right outside one of the stops on the Detroit Design Festival itinerary, and thought that I’d share it. As someone who appreciates good design, I don’t know that I agree, but I certainly think it’s worth discussing.

So, is design, like advertising, evil?

[Tonight’s post was brought to you by the new iPhone 5. Order yours today!]

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  1. Larry
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    One shouldn’t conflate design with advertising. Clothing, our homes, the tools we work with, and any number of other things that we need to live, all need to be functional. (And it doesn’t hurt if they’re beautiful as well.) While occasionally a cult of design arises, as with the iphone, I think we should be careful to strain the proverbial bath water for babies.

  2. Edward
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    I prefer the Anti Design Festival.


  3. L
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Design is about making clear our intentions. It can be used for good or evil. Design isn’t a thing. It’s an act.

  4. Jean
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Design, like anything but more so, is not inherently good or bad, but functions to the good or bad depending on intent and execution. I’d like to think design, because intent is so weighted and deliberate, is more likely to function for the good. But I’ve seen plenty of evidence to the contrary– especially in the 90’s when the package became more important than the product. I think design is frequently confused with style and fashion — nowhere more so than in the style sections of the Times. As a visual person in the ego-shaming midwest, I often feel a need to defend my love of design and aesthetics as something of value (at least to me). i dont think this would be necessary on either coast. But i also think this questioning has a beneficial impact on design. Some of the best product design comes from the midwest or from midwesterners. (Auto design excluded…) Well designed products avoid excess and fluff– function defines form. Well designed lives do the same.

  5. K2
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Design can be truly illuminating when done well.


  6. Mr. X
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    From a 2001 article in Wired.

    “It creates an intense desire in people for new stuff. We’re responsible for making products that people feel a great need to own, maybe for just a short period of time. And then they pitch ’em. Let’s face it: Our standard of living is based on the demise of the planet.”

    Ensconced in Designworks’ chrome-and-glass digs on Corporate Center Drive in Newbury Park, California, Brew, the director of transportation design, and Marc Tappeiner, the director of product design, seem the unlikeliest of subversives. The pair leads a team that spends its days dreaming up new gear for Nokia (from the classic 232 model through the sleek 8110) and BMW, of which Designworks is a subsidiary. And yet here they are scheming to wrest the means of design from the polluting mitts of corporate America.

    “The amount of waste and energy that goes into an item as small as a PalmPilot is just horrifying,” Tappeiner complains, describing the life cycle of a product – from design to manufacturing, packaging, and shipping. “Then you drive it home, take it out of the box, and throw all the packing material in the trash. It’s killing us.”

    Inspired by a deep sense of guilt stemming from their contribution to the problem, and seizing on an idea circulating in the scientific community for years, Brew and Tappeiner have developed a concept study with the fervor of a manifesto. The two designers envision a production facility on every desktop.

    In the Designworks scenario, you could log on to the Web site of a company or an entrepreneur (think shareware for product design), download the relevant blueprints, customize them, and send them to your personal fabricator – a machine capable of “printing” silicon circuit boards, electromagnetic ink displays, and even three-dimensional objects. All the necessary materials could be bought at a regional center, something like a next-generation RadioShack. Assembly would be a cut-out and snap-together affair.

    After several rounds of brainstorming, Tappeiner and Brew discovered that researchers in the MIT Media Lab’s Personal Fabrication project were already developing the necessary technologies. A team led by Professor Joseph Jacobson has produced simple logic boards and micromachines using an off-the-shelf inkjet printer. When printed, their semiconductor ink self-assembles into atomic-sized machines. Although the researchers are focused on nano- and microfabrication, the concept scales up. The PF – described in Professor Neil Gershenfeld’s 1999 book When Things Start to Think as “the missing mate to the PC” – would contain a micromill that spits out machine parts and jets that spray epoxy, copper ink, and other substances.

    However, while engineers concentrate on the technical guts of the personal fabricator, Tappeiner and Brew are looking past the machine itself, imagining its implications for infinitely customizable design and waste reduction. As Tappeiner puts it (with apologies to Allen Ginsberg): “Minimum amount of packaging, maximum amount of design.”

    The project pushes high tech design beyond the aisles of the local computer superstore. Blueprints of an amulet, a juju, and a talisman – developed by designers Holger Hampf and Aris Garabedian – cover the bulletin board in Hampf’s office, which is a few doors down from Tappeiner’s. On the desk sit crude physical models, or at least the flat pieces of medium-weight Mylar that will form these gadgets.

    Folded together like a paper doll’s wardrobe, the talisman takes the shape of a cell phone complete with thumb and finger grips on each side. A set of palm-sized circles forms the shell of a PDA amulet. The pièce de résistance, however, is a wearable juju – a round device with a wrist strap the designers conceived as a GPS watch. Even in this unpolished, unassembled state, the objects are beautiful, both for their elegant, ergonomic lines and for their improbability: It’s a thrill to imagine the guts of a high tech device embedded in such lapidarian totems.

    Fantastic as the scenario may sound, personal fabricators are not only feasible, but inevitable, according to developers. The MIT researchers predict the technology will be here in 2009, but Brew and Tappeiner are confident that the PF could be on desks in just a couple of years. To skeptics who doubt that it will ever be an affordable consumer product, the Designworks team has a simple answer: That’s what they said about the PC.


  7. Posted September 24, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Yes, design was a key tool in convincing people to submit to religions they could easily do without.

  8. Brainless
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    “As a visual person in the ego-shaming midwest, I often feel a need to defend my love of design and aesthetics as something of value (at least to me). i dont think this would be necessary on either coast.”

    D”hurr-d-hurr… derp. Duh, thanks fur cleering that up. We ain’t so bright ’round these parts. Wish I coulda been borned on one o’ them coast things.

  9. Posted September 24, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I recently read: Emotional Design: why we love (or hate) everyday things.

    I recommend it. I’d rather not get into whether design is evil or not, considering I work as a designer for a living. But, that book goes into the behavorial, visceral, and reflective responses to design…and I can appreciate how thorough it is.


  10. Knox
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    I’ve heard Obama’s victory in 2008 attributed to design before. I’ll leave it up to you to determine whether that goes in the good column or in the evil column.

  11. Anti Doosh Squad
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Pete: your guitar was designed, wasn’t it?

  12. Alpha
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I reject the notion that good design is only for things that you don’t need.

    Case in point.


  13. jean Henry
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Oh @Brainless, did you read the rest of the post, or just stop at offended? I am a mid=-westerner by choice. Love it here. Think people here are just as smart or more so than any other place. (duh.) I also think people here generally care more about what kind of person they are than the kind of person they appear to be. This is a GOOD thing. I think this humility sometimes leads them to get defensive (and to disparage people trying something new and potentially rad as high-fallutin’). This is not often good(or necessary).

  14. Pickle Tree
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    Design is (visual) rhetoric. As rhetoric is intended to persuade, the statement: “Design is the reason you buy crap that you don’t need to live” has an obvious element of truth.

    As does the statement, “Words are the reason you buy crap that you don’t need to live.”

    Or, “Water is the reason you can’t breathe.”

    All true in some contexts. But a painfully small minded portait of full role design and words (or water or any other ubiquitous force) plays in our lives.

    The critic managed to marry both words and design quite nicely in his/her critique which is probably why anyone even considers buying his/her <a href="http://aviewfromthemeadow.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/normal_load-o-crap.jpg"crap.

  15. Pickle Tree
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Sorry. I’m learning to add links and wanted a visual: http://aviewfromthemeadow.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/normal_load-o-crap.jpg

  16. Gumnut Baby
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    To all at the Detroit chapter of the AIGA: “ask a stupid question, get a…”

    Congratulations. You did both!

    Surely, there must some grand award for that for members.

  17. SF
    Posted May 8, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Design, and even advertising, can be good, and even inspiring. It’s rare though. Here’s a recent example.


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