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.


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