It is very rare, that design invokes a response beyond its aesthetics or synthesis. The craftsmanship, materials, proportions, truth to function and everything else that goes into making an object of great design. Even though good design can be recognised its description of what makes it an icon in its own right, is more of an evasive phenomenon. Design, being a generic term can hope to encompass a volley of objects, events and instances. However limitless as it might seem the term ‘design’ will be used only in reference to the ‘designer’ things we all crave for today.
A lot of effort has been put into classifying the styles that are unique to their times. A good look at the timeline will give anybody a fair idea of how socio-economic changes have changed the way objects were designed. What engineering is to science is what design is to arts. Art has the liberty to be expressive, make a statement, take a stand, be ugly or beautiful and most importantly be independent. Design on the other hand has to encompass everything that art symbolises and yet has to be acceptable to everyone. Art can piss you off; design almost always needs to please you. Art has the independence to be unique, design even being unique, must belong to all, manufactured.
Now beyond the distinction between art and design, the separation of the two became more apparent when the designer was further apart from the product. There was an artist and artisan, and now there was the designer. Specialisation has only made the divide more prominent. The advent of industrialisation bought along with it wide availability of products that were replicas of the original. Cost being one of the major factors influencing design, now could be adjusted for the user. Design which was once a luxury of the wealthy, now could be economised and mass produced for all. The immediate effect of this being the artisans were wiped out. Economising made its way into the manual labour, and many artisanal communities were lost, design was no longer an extension of arts, it stood on its own, an item waiting to be replicated and made available to all.
In a way, industrialisation did make good ‘stuff’ available to all, for some time. However, today all the designer things we see around are but the name of a man or two. In essence, we have finally realised that designer is equivalent to the design. Handmade, limited edition, have now become phenomenons in their own right. A well designed product stands out as a hero amongst the ordinary objects in its surroundings. Phillipe Starck with his ‘Alessi juicer’ redefined the aesthetics of a mundane object. The Alessi immediately garnered attention and has since then been unsurpassed. The juicer is a simple, yet elegant object. The manufacturing cost of the juicer could be safely assumed to be a fraction of the cost at which it is made available. An ordinary juicer on the other could be bought at as low a dollar.
The role of design cannot be undermined. The ‘Apple’ cult, loyal to commercial enterprise of Steve Jobs is not entirely because of the technological supremacy of the products, but the design of the product. The implications of good design are manifold. Apart from the inherent merit of being good, all the other aspects of a good design are more of a responsibility. A well designed product has to be almost always be exclusive enough, and this is done usually by manipulating he cost dynamics. We now have fewer good designs, and abundant not-so-good ones.
There will be always a debate as to how much of good design should be made available. With all our technological advances and fancy manufacturing processes we still don’t have parity in terms of design. The rift between the good and mediocre still exists, but in a more orderly fashion. Although the choice offered is now more diverse than before, the iterations of the ‘good’ design still feature on the sparser spectrum of availability. The death of the artisan has not made significant difference since the aristocracy. So, inherently the situation we have today is no less bad than before the industrialisation, albeit with the loss of the artisan. Technology, has not helped expand the inclusivity of design, if anything, it had made it more exclusive than ever. Consumerism is twisted to fuel the necessity to acquire designer goods that are priced higher. Design no longer is representative of a culture that is exclusive, but of a culture that makes exclusivity its selling point. A global culture with the mishmash of costly well designed products available to all has replaced the value of a truly unique exclusive design. The artisanal genocide, has not really served well.