A recent conversation between me and my good friend Molly, an MFA student at CCA:

J.C.: Do you think there is a contradiction or paradox between the trend of people valuing craft and authenticity vs. the trend of democratization of high design? An example of the former would be wanting to buy Italian-made housewares because Italians are historically great houseware designers, or wanting to eat and buy whole food from farmer's markets. An example of the latter might be people who are willing to buy knock-offs of iconic products--the IKEA phenomenon, in a way.

M.A-B.: I don't think its a paradox so much as a challenge; people are trying to integrate the two. I think its about appropriateness, locality, human sensitivity. I think those things can be a part of democratized design. It's important to retain local culture and values without being overly nostalic about it

J.C.: So are you saying that to imbue these products with "craft and authenticity" is the challenge of the designer or the vendor?

M.A-B.: No. I don't think "imbuing" design is really right; I think if we value "authenticity" and craft we have to ask ourselves why--what are those things actually? What are the values in those things that we are looking to maintain and multiply? Is it diversity? Is it the low-tech usability? Is it sustainability?

J.C.: I guess what I'm trying to get at, at a more general level, is what kind of relationship, if any, do these two trends have? Are they correlated?

M.A-B: I think people are paying attention to the objects around them. My program has sort of taught us that the modern-day citizen is really looked at and treated only as a consumer. But people take pride and interest in their role as consumer; identity is all wrapped up in buying and owning and, as a result, people not only want to have a role in the things around them (hence DIY and craft), but they also want to be experts (hence democratized design). Plus, manufacturing is so cheap. The leaders in design are trying to figure out ways to integrate the two better--like nike's ID labs. And designers are building in variation into the manufacturing process.

But the real money is in services, so I'm told. You can't really make money off a product any more.

J.C.: Yes, Enric is always talking about "servicizing." It's true, just look at Flor carpet, Patagonia, etc.

M. A-B: Most ID [industrial design] people seem to think completely personalized ID products built on rapid prototyping machines are the wave of the future

J.C.: Which makes it both democratized design, as well as authentic, in a way--authentic to the consumer, for him- or herself.

M.A-B: Then, the question of the role of the "designer" comes into question. I think people still like brand (going back to identity issues).

J.C.: I think identity is how you combine brands and your own personal POV or remake of products. Ironically, at a meta level, all of this "eclecticism" (if we can call it that) starts to look the same.

M.A-B: It is pretty homogonized at this point. In his writings, Adorno talks about how, as new things are created, they are pulled towards the center, keeping everything much the same. I don't know if I completely agree with that. Maybe we're all just more accepting of differences, more accustomed to them. Identity is more subtle. That will be the tag line of my brand when it comes out! "Identity is more subtle."

J.C.: Yes, girlfriend.

Working online?

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The word has been going around and around that software would be going online and subscription based, or free, in the near future. This future is slowly becoming more evenly distributed. We all know about Google's apps and are starting to see Adobe and Autodesk come off the shelves and into the cloud with Photoshop express and Project Draw.

However, these tools don't leverage the richness of the online environment very deeply. In trying to replicate the functionality of their shrink-wrap ancestors, they have ignored many of the realities, let alone the possibilities, of working online. Google spreadsheets and gmail get it half right with the chat box in the window, but integration between google apps and gmail and calendar is shallow. The different parts of the "ecosystem" are strictly task centered, with little acknowledgement of the users' life outside of google land. Photoshop Express lets you upload to a few different photo sharing sites while the smart folks at picnik.com found a home in a real community of photographers. 
Compiler asks, "Are you more loyal to a photo editing site, or a photo sharing site?" but I don't think it is a matter of loyalty.  People stay with the things that match their values and needs. In the case of  Photoshop Express vs Flickr w/picnik, I doubt that anyone will feel the need to add that step to their workflow on a regular basis.

photo by: Maggie's World

Art vs. Design

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In Loic Prigent's documentary "Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton," the fashion designer, an avid art collector, is quoted as saying something to the effect of, "I am always so inspired by what these artists are doing. Fine art is like a higher form--I think of fine art as being up here [indicating a level with his hands], and fashion as being down here."

Which brings back that hairy, age-old question of the distinction between art and design. The borders are fuzzy, and now Jacobs has applied a hierarchy to the two areas of practice. Perhaps what he is getting at about fashion (and, presumably, other design practices as well) being "down here" is the fact that it is constrained by the consideration of use, whereas art is free of such constraints. Yet from an interaction and product designer's perspective, fashion is far closer to art on the scale of art to design than the type of work I dabble in on a daily basis--and I do consider myself a designer. After all, much of what you see in haute couture is barely wearable, primarily expressions of an artistic mind (or a team of minds) that happens to make use of the human body.

At first I resented the fact that Jacobs' statement implied the subservience of design to art, but now I understand that both coexist is this hierarchy to serve different purposes. Design is functional and for people, and art is commentary on or reflections about people, for whoever wishes to engage with it. In my world of design, if it doesn't work--and, increasingly in our socially-conscious society, if it doesn't last--it doesn't matter how beautiful it is, it's not good design. In Jacobs' world, whether it works (is wearable and a manufacturable) is less important than whether it effectively and aesthetically conveys the thoughts and feelings of a particular person at a particular moment in time.