08 Ene Ariadna Rousaud: Democratic Design?
Those among us who live completely immersed in this exclusive world called “Design”, whether as creators, editors, spectators or simple admirers, have difficulties in conceiving life without objects that embellish our environs, without images that trigger emotions, without constructions that move us, or without materials that contribute to our wellbeing. We view design as a way of life, an attitude, a philosophy. Everything is design. Indeed, any product, typography or building has been conceived by a designer with a purpose.
Submerged in a sub-world where, all too often, functionality is subordinated to visual beauty, we look on our environment with a gaze that is deformed by the elitist lens of our own passion and trade, relishing in a kind of aesthetic orgasm.
Aware of the titanic endeavour entailed in the creation of a new product, we elevate simple everyday products such as an orange squeezer to the status of the work of art, praise designers of folding screens as if they had discovered a vaccine against cancer, and we justify the fact that a rubbish bin can cost 40 euro. Pathetic? Not at all! That’s design! That’s innovation!
As in any other trade, we have a somewhat ethnocentric attitude. We recognise what we identify as our own, and reject what does not abide by our aesthetic rules. We know that days, months—even years!—of work are required to create an amazing toilet seat. We regard some architects as “heroes of gravity” because their constructions are a compendium of wisdom, magic and of impossible equilibrium. We give value to the existence of the supermarket trolley because we know that it improves the quality of our lives. We buy chocolate bars because of their packaging. We admire footwear brands for their eccentric advertising campaigns. And we pay through the nose for a penis-shaped flower vase because it communicates joie de vivre and good vibes. We, design lovers, make sense of all that.
But, what about the rest of humankind? Despite the growing interest in making our surroundings as pleasurable as possible, do “ordinary people” understand that a plastic chair can cost 850 euro? Do they truly believe that the use of the physical-mechanical properties of plastic will improve their lives? Are they aware of who Verner Panton was? Do they care?
Bearing all this in mind, and even if the consumer market at large ignores the name of designers or the transforming properties of each new design, year after year it sells thousands of fake Panton chairs, Marquina cruet stands, Barcelona chairs, Tulip chairs… or Bic pens, telephones, egg boxes, coffee machines, nail clippers and staplers.
And so, reality invites us to engage in a twofold reading of consuming design. The fact that so many legendary pieces of industrial design are being commercialised, and that companies such as Ikea are sweeping all before them with their low cost furniture confirms the existence of an audience. This is obviously a positive sign: there is a market, an interest and a taste. On the other hand, it is a cause for alarm that the design being consumed is either plagiarised or extremely bland and cheap. It points to a gap between design and the market. Something is happening, and it is up to us, those who create, edit, look at and admire design, to either revert that situation or not.
It is in our hands to continue scornfully dismissing mass market designers, to criticise the public who consume copies or, on the other hand, we can rethink the whole situation. It is us who should be reflecting about pricing policies and decide whether we want design to remain elitist (only for the chosen few, for those privileged few who recognise its true worth, only for us) or whether we want to democratise it. Is design for all? More at Hiatus’ book.