Wednesday, November 21, 2007


The word design in the context I will be using it here can be a bit hard to nail down. I don't necessarily mean it as a verb. Part of my duties at work are to design things but within that context it actually means invent. Come up with something that does not exist to fill a certain need. The qualities that thing has after it exists are its design. That makes "design" pretty intangible when used this way. Design is also very subjective. Objects can be said to have good design or bad design. Many different criteria go into what constitutes "good" design. A coffee cup made out of toilet paper could be considered a bad design. However, maybe all the other elements of the invention are great. Keeps the coffee warm, keeps your hand insulated from the hot coffee, cheap to make, available in interesting colors/patterns. Sounds great until you pour coffee into it and it disintegrates. It's a good design except for the material choice. When you have to change the material to accommodate the one problem all of the other positive traits go out the window. These are the things that need to be considered with an invention and it's design. There are plenty of new, good designs out there right now but unfortunately many of them are uber-expensive. I know what it takes to manufacture most things Americans use in every day life. I've worked in manufacturing since high-school. Cost is always a big factor in somethings ability to be sold. If the market is seen to be small the price has to go up. Hand made items that a craftsman produces are going to have a higher price tag as well. The guy in his garage making custom widgets, one at a time, will not have the ability to get quantity price breaks on materials, shipping, etc... When I see mass produced things that have all the criteria for what I deem good design and the price tag is out of my reach I feel the manufacturer has failed. Not that the widgets should flood the market and be available at every Wal-Mart and Starbucks, but be available to people who can appreciate the design and have a need (want) for the item. I saw a coat rack in a museum and my wife and I liked it very much. I thought someone should start producing those again, they are very practical and would be inexpensive to manufacture. It turns out someone does manufacture these coat racks. They are $150.00.

Eames Hang-It-All Coat Rack image

The look of this may not be for everyones taste, but this could be manufactured very inexpensively. I believe the reason for this high price is because it was designed be Charles and Ray Eames. The Eames' are pretty well known for their designs and I , for one, love almost everything they produced. I'm not sure if Charles and Ray would like the fact that the everyman could not afford this item. It seems elitist and short-sighted. If all things that are considered to have good design are only available to folks with disposable income this drives a wedge between people. With that comes the mentality that good design belongs only to those who can afford it. Good design should be available to all people. If you don't like the look of the rack pictured above you still have the option of buying or making whatever else you want. There are many examples of good design made tangible by some very famous designers. Part of the high cost comes with the name of the designer or manufacturer. Of course this is America and capitalism is the order of the day so if Herman Miller wants to charge six hundred bucks for a plywood chair because people actually pay that then who am I to argue? Well, I might argue anyhow when DWR sells some of the coolest stuff I've ever seen but asks $1000.00 for a damn skateboard. That's insulting.

I feel we should be taking cues from the Eames' and Noguchi and Geo. Nelson and coming up with new designs that can be made available to everyone who wants one. All the examples I've given here are what is known as "modern" design. That chair looks pretty modern right? It was designed in 1946. Perhaps we should be thinking about what "modern" means. I love that chair and would love to have a couple but it's still just a chair. I don't covet or worship the chair. A five gallon bucket serves the same purpose. Of course the bucket doesn't have the same aesthetic and you could argue other low points of the bucket. Point is you can buy a brand new bucket for under ten dollars retail. That chair is not 600% cooler if practicality and frugality mean anything at all. Get busy designers of the present and future, let's build some well designed products that are affordable and beautiful so in 60 years my millionaire peers can quote your name along with their furniture and revel at how "modern" it is.

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