Being a designer used to be like being on a crusade – we were fighters, evangelists. But in the last ten years, since the recession of the early Nineties, the situation has changed. Our establishment has suddenly “got it” and they want “creatives”. Creativity has become part of the business of social manipulation. The problem is that everybody got what they wanted.
The cultural adventure has been consumed by business. Making things better is a moral issue, but morality and business don’t go together – business is, if not immoral, then amoral. We know we should be keeping people out of stores but we all have to work with business. It can’t really be all about idealism and altruism.
Much of the work being done now lacks meaning and the designers know it. There’s a reasonable chair design once every five years and that’s usually the result of a new manufacturing or material innovation. We all see what’s happening at Milan – there are countless new chairs and they’re nearly all a waste of space.
Where are the NGOs?
Everyone does their best but you have to pay the rent. Even hospitals have to run to profit. You can’t avoid the issue merely by working for an NGO – even Amnesty and Greenpeace have to be “business facing”. The only bastion of free speech could be the art world, but even that is a precsiously engineered marketplace with its own complexities.
Creative people have to believe in the value of their work. If you don’t have any belief then you can’t give anything – designing is an act of giving, and a belief in the value of the work fuels the desire to express something. It’s important to know what your values are and to take care of them.
Post-war socio-cultural democratisation
It’s a long term, but broken down it’s simple. Over the last 50 years culture has been disseminated to the wider public rather than being the domain of the privileged. There is an inevitable loss of substance in the process of becoming a culture of entertainment. If it’s not popular, it’s not happening.
Design as drugs
Pop culture used to be like LSD – different, eye-opening and reasonably dangerous. It’s now like crack – isolating, wasteful and with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
In the early 20th century designers envisaged utopia, they were optimistic and visionary people. We now acknowledge the dystopian reality.
The new cause
I was part of a system that wanted to change the look of the everyday world. That ideal, manifest through consumerism, doesn’t sit well with me now. I am not wealthy and completely understand how we all have to pay our way.
Originally published in ICON magazine
Issue 404 | 2007