Saturday, December 12, 2009


Abstract to be posted soon. Click presentation to view video.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Click presentation to view video. To view the paper in its entirety click here.


We live in a world where business and the consumer are constantly changing. It is a constant struggle for business to establish a market niche and develop a product, which fits that niche. They must then develop a strategy with the use of technology and advertising to support their product.

The American consumer now bases their purchases more on instant gratification rather than basic needs. As a result, advertising and product promotion have a primary function to increase sales and profits. Products are no longer produced with the interest of society as a whole in mind. The live for today and don’t worry about tomorrow philosophy has created a moral dilemma for the American consumerism and its effects on society.

Materials: Plastics

Click presentation to view video. To view the paper in its entirety, click here.


The origin of plastics began as a technological breakthrough in synthetic materials. In the United States, in particular, plastics have experienced a meteoric rise to become a dominant material in the culture. Plastics are everywhere, from household products to technological devices to building materials to clothes. Plastics have been a major contributor to material culture in the United States. It is the driving force behind disposability. New applications for plastics continue to emerge, and as ubiquitous as these materials are in our culture, they are becoming even more pervasive. In this dawning age of environmental responsibility, new revolutions in plastics must occur. Innovations in eco-friendly manufacturing, sustainability, and processes and applications for recycled plastics are on the horizon. One important part of this revolution, however, is a societal shift in attitudes toward disposable goods. In short, we need to quit sending plastics to the landfill.

Materials: Glass

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Glass: Window to the Future

Building materials have been around since the settlement of humans. They have helped humanity move from a nomadic existence to a sophisticated society. One of the key materials that had a large influence on building design through the ages is glass. Although glass is an old material, it has undergone many technological advances and will continue to be enhanced in the future. Glass has brought us to where we are today and it will continue to move us forward with new and interesting materials that are already being developed.

Culture: A look at technology and how it affected culture in the 1950's

Abstract to be posted soon. Click Presentation to view video.

World Exhibitions

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World Exhibitions will always hold a place in societies around the globe because the benefits they provide are timeless. The concept of exhibitions has developed throughout the years from French and British predecessors into the events we recognize today. Clear evidence supports the theory that world exhibitions bring countries together, specifically through the common appreciation of design development, help nations build or strengthen their national identity, present social and economic gain to host countries, and aid future advancements in design through technology, including materials, products, techniques, and travel methods.
It can be argued World Exposition attendance is a thing of the past, because technology has advanced so far that we could much more easily watch an online broadcast of an exhibition than be physically present. However, numerous sources pointing to the past success of exhibitions makes it difficult to believe they will ever be out of date.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Post Modernity and the Current State of Design

The 1960s signaled the recognition of several co-existing cultural expressions in art and design, a situation sometimes referred to as Pluralism, in which no single approach to modernity dominated, and the value of all commodities overshadowed former distinctions between good, mass, and popular design (Raizman, p.354). Thomas Crowe summarized this situation by saying, “The avant-garde is the research and development branch of the culture industry.”


Dissatisfaction with modernism affected architecture and city planning before it reached design. In her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs stated her views against “monolithic uniformity of the modernist vision” saying that cities should instead be a sort of patchwork of new, old and renovated buildings that relate to the human-scale of the street level. Five years later (1967) architect Robert Venturi also declared a preference for “messy vitality” over “obvious unity” in a manifesto entitled Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. He flipped the script of Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more” by saying “less is a bore.” Denise Scott Brown’s Learner from Las Vegas launched the postmodern movement saying the building fa├žade should be a medium of communication, and forms of pure information. Ralph Caplan, a critic and contributor to I.D., claimed that boredom from the modernist movement resulted in an inclination towards flashy, colorful, ephemeral products. He stated, “after so many years of clean, stark, unlittered design, product designers, like architects, are saying, ‘Why the hell shouldn’t there be some fun in it?’” Form follows function was translating into form follows emotion, during post modernity.


For design, postmodernism includes projects and forms that mark the end to the ongoing argument between esthetically-directed or socially-directed design and commercially motivated design, which appeared as a strain of modernism that dominated design theory for much of the two decades following WWII. “Theoretically, postmodernism shares with mass culture a user-oriented approach to design that emphasizes multiple interpretations and meaning and often embraces the ephemeral rather than the permanent characteristics of the design enterprise, exemplified by… performance art and the inclusiveness of popular art forms,” (Raizman, p. 354). Postmodernism also is often discussed in conjunction with post-industrialism and late capitalism, where consumption is the subtext. It is marked by the readiness of businesses to design, manufacture and market new products with ever-increasing speed. Postmodern products were designed on a higher level of sophistication due to an accelerated interactivity between design, manufacturing and marketing through the use of digital technology.

Postmodernism, or Pluralism, was the overall theme for the Design Now: Industry or Art exhibition in the German Architecture Museum in Frankfurt in 1989. The Formic Corporation requested members of the Memphis design group to design furniture using their new ColorCore product, which could be molded and cut, yielding products like Stanley Tigerman’s Tete a Tete chairs of 1983. Another chair produced using Pluralism design values was Robert Venturi’s Chippendale chair of 1984, which mocked important tenets of modern industrial design, which flaunted its decorating through the use of colorful painting, rather than eliminating ornament or expressing it as subservient. French architect/designer Philippe Starck emerged in the mid-1980s with original furniture designs for sophisticated clients, working with Art Deco and using assembled industrial materials, simple geometric shapes and collapsibility for storage. American architect/designer Michael Graves designed a moderne-inspired tea and coffee service set with polished surfaces and non-functional blue knobs. He was also hired by Target to design a series of household products, for which he used an egg shape for inspiration, saying it was ergonomically friendly design.

Technology & Design

Digital technology has had a major impact upon the practice of graphic design. The interface of the computer experienced major developments and change during the 1980s, thanks largely to Mac computers. The experience of the user shifted from turning pages to clicking links, showing windows filled with information that was seen, read, and heard—often all at the same time. Programming changed from type and images in electronic code to creating and controlling those object with an interactive mouse that moved across a virtual desktop. Contemporary design is often referred to as “soft” design: the use and manipulation of virtual (rather than real) materials and forms through computer imaging, which allows one to work more dynamically and experimentally in a more interactive and collaborative process.
“In a sense, it seemed that the history of design in the US had come full circle. Although most people could not fathom the complexity of the software that enabled them to design their own websites, or that in the future might be enable them to participate in the designing of their own clothes, furnishings, appliances, or automobiles, the transparency of that software’s interfaces gave them a feeling of being closer to the source of things, closer to the basic level of the artisan or craftsperson, than at any time since the advent of the Industrial Revolution.” (Meikle, p. 210).
Do you think computer interface and software has helped you in your own design process? Do you think you would reach the same conclusions in your designs without the use of computers and computer programs? Is there a negative side to using computers as part of the creative design process?

Reform & Social Responsibility

Not unlike so many other contemporary products, phones have become a lifestyle accessory, which is tailored to our age group and aims to help us become the image we would like to be perceived as. Should shopping for a phone result in so many options? Are we really being presented with several quality options, or has the quality and durability of components and materials been degraded and combined with variety to make the phone market another case of planned obsolescence? Has our culture become a “throw away” culture? Or are we now moving away from this direction, heading towards a “green” movement? Perhaps we are only faking this so-called “green” movement as yet another marketing ploy to see more products when none are actually needed by the consumer?

(But not really because we’re living in Postmodernity/the current state of design!)

“Somewhere between universal standards based upon taste, safety, human factors, or environmental impact, and a democratic embrace of the seemingly insatiable desire for individual fulfillment through commodity consumption, there may lie a middle-ground that sustains hope for the future of design, a balance between the permanent and the ephemeral, between nature and the consumer-dominated culture that has emerged during the past 200 years,” (Raizman, p. 363).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Cultural Impact of Television

The New York World’s Fair in 1939 held some of the earliest exhibits for television, which was greatly influenced by the culture through the technology of radios.  The market opened with DuMont and RCA’s first black and white televisions to the public market.

During the war, although suburbs did struggle, the television helped to raise the market after the war.  The television, just like the image of the housewife began to take on the tool of what was necessary to keep up in social status of the home.  With the new development of the television within the home came the question of ‘Where does the television go within the house’.  (Spidel 1)

 In the past, the family sat around a fireplace, but now the television was taking over the living room.  Even pianos were becoming a thing of the past.  With this came the new terminology of ‘the family room’.  The irony, was this really a family room if the television was the center focal point of interest? 

The television created a world of dreams.  The past was called upon again after the war when women were expected to return home to complete housework while the men went looking for jobs.  The television definitely supported this imagery.  The woman was perceived as a housewife, the male as the worker for the family, and the children as a definite asset to the “American Dream”.  The television shows certainly portrayed the perfect life, but was life really perfect or did the television merely created a fairy-tale lifestyle? (Spidel 2)

 Similar to past generations where the upper classes would buy radios to blend in with their residential designs, the American consumers were beginning to buy television stands to hide the product.  The poor had their televisions on display, while the rich took it upon themselves to make to television seem as though it was secondary to their expansive lifestyles.

 The television certainly called upon a “glued-to-your-seat” idea for children and families.  Families lost “family time” and children lost educational benefits.  Television became the drug of the 1950’s and later generations. (Spidel 3)

 Today, we use the television as a means of our central entertainment on a daily basis with no second-guessing ourselves.  An online study states, “on average a child watches a solid days worth of television over one week” (“Kids”).  Do you think the television has taken away from family life and more important things back in the 1950’s and has exceeded the limit?  Do you think parents should still set time limits for their children? Do you think we move away from the more important things in life to watch our favorite shows?  How has the media used this exhibition and invention to their advantage both in the 1950’s and today?  How has television influenced children and their decisions?



Johnson, Chris. “Kids watching too much TV? Duh!”. 18 Nov. 2009.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Design and Mass Appeal

When World War II ended, it meant manufacturing no longer needed to be focused on creating goods related to the war effort. Instead, production could be targeted to the consumer market. And that market was growing in numbers, diversity, and economic strength. Returning soldiers ready to get on with their lives, households finally recovering from the Great Depression, and burgeoning business opportunity fueled demand. At the same time, the end of the war effort meant manufacturers needed the consumer market as a replacement market for their products.

This flux tended to swamp the “good design” movement, which had sought, among other things, to shape society and educate the public’s taste through exposure to high quality design. Instead a fairly broad eclecticism prevailed.

This eclecticism was further encouraged by the concept of “artificial obsolescence,” which had been championed by advertising pioneer Elmo Calkins early in the 20th century. Calkins viewed every-increasing spending, rather than saving, as the key to prosperity (Gorman 131). His idea to purposely design things so they would become obsolete before their utility was depleted was one way to promote spending.

Raizman notes that broad eclecticism not particularly concerned with design standards: “Standards suggest permanence and durability of products, while obsolescence and novelty imply a perpetual state of ‘becoming,’ of desire, where consumption itself becomes a way of life.” (Raizman 295)

Obsolescence, however, requires frequent change to the product, which entails risk, so manufacturers of the time tended to focus on changing superficial rather than integral parts of their designs, an approach not unlike earlier industrial designers.

A number of financing options for consumer goods, including credit lines and term payments, were also expanded in the postwar era as another way to encourage spending.

Companies used a variety of media, including radio and television, which were rapidly expanding into households, to reach consumers. Advertisements linked products to the achievement of status, beauty, and social acceptance (Raizman 295). This interaction of market and media and the interrelated attitudes of consumers is often referred to as “mass culture.”

The Automobile

The automobile industry made prominent use of the concept of artificial obsolescence, beginning in the early 1950s when the post-war market for new cars in the U.S. was nearly saturated. Ford had applied the concept before the War, but Alfred Sloan, president of General Motors, re-energized it significantly. Sloan’s idea was to differentiate GM’s product line, through visible differences in styling that changed frequently, and offer a variety of models from economical through luxurious to fit most people’s budgets. This differentiation helped to equate car buying with social and personal mobility. The variety of styles and features including massive tailfins, lots of horsepower, and options like convertible tops also provided consumers with a sense of personal expression that enhanced the feeling of freedom that came with automobile ownership (Raizman 296-298). America’s famed love affair with cars is generally traced to this period.

The 1954 GM Cadillac El Dorado

The 1954 Ford Thunderbird, modeled somewhat on Italian sports cars and priced for a broad market, pushed the idea of buying a car for self-indulgence rather than practical reasons (299).

There were critics of the extreme styles. According to Raizman (300), Raymond Loewy thought that the outer forms of Ford, GM, and Chrysler products had wandered too far from streamlined modernism and from the mechanical basis of the cars themselves. His own designs for Studebakers were critically well received but did not sell well enough for the company to survive.

The broader cultural debate that had begun with the Industrial Revolution re-surfaced around questions related to whether mass design is a means to manipulate the buying public under the “banner of freedom of choice and democratization of luxury,” (using artificial obsolescence and the advertising that went with it) or whether mass design and mass culture is an “expression of the desire for individuality for a diverse audience” (Raizman 300).

Resort Hotels

The postwar period also saw another defining contributor to popular design: the resort hotel. These hotels first appeared in Miami and Las Vegas where they were destinations for the expanding base of Americans with interest and means to travel and vacation. Notable among these is Morris Lapidus’s Fountainebleau in Miami, built in 1954 and characterized by sweeping curves, mezzanines, and grand staircases that “seemed to reduce the barrier separating Hollywood from the experience of Americans escaping for a week of vacation at the beach.” (Raizman 301)

Lapidus took much of his inspiration from France, which in the postwar period was again associated with the most cultivated tastes, particularly in fashion. His designs, like high fashion of the time, were rich in sensory excitement.

The Fountainbleau Hotel, Miami

Las Vegas hotels also emphasized sensory stimulation, extensively using neon lights and incorporating gaming and sexual allusions.

The movies, an important component of mass media, glamorized these design developments and exposed them to a broad swath of the American.


Housing in the postwar period is closely tied to the automobile and to the automobile industry, which lobbied for federal investment in highways. A more extensive highway system not only made motoring easier, it made it possible to locate homes further from the places in the cities where people worked.

Advances in manufactured and pre-fabricated housing also made it easier and cheaper to build further out from cities. Federal investment in low-interest mortgages made it easier for people to buy these houses.

This combination of factors contributed to the growth of suburbia in the United States where land was relatively cheap compared to Europe and where home ownership was more closely associated with stability and social status (Votolato 218).

Most suburban housing of the time was fairly traditional and rather modest (Raizman 306). The most common house type was the Cape Cod, but builders also offered Colonial, Tudor, and Ranch style homes. Houses continued the trend toward informality and emphasized comfort and entertainment. Emphasis was placed on the kitchen as the nerve center of the house (Votolato 222) and as a way to market to women.

A basic Cape Cod style house

New industrial materials like Formica and Naughahyde and materials like aluminum that were redeployed from the war effort reduced the standardization of interior design and decoration (Raizman 307-309).

Processed foods and advances in home appliances were targeted to women, often with the dual promise of better homemaking and more leisure time. These messages tended to reinforce the idea that it was a woman’s place to take care of the home (and increase her consumption of home-related goods).

Suburbanization is also linked to increased economic and racial segregation as people moved from more diverse urban (and also rural) areas to relatively homogeneous housing developments.

Critique of Mass Culture

The debate around mass culture that began to take shape in the 1950s continues, although it has new expressions.

Raizman (301) frames the debate this way: “…popular culture reveals a paradox, for its expressions may be viewed both as a form of resistance to conformity on the one hand and as acceptance of the ephemeral criteria of mass appeal on the other. In either case, however, the status of the commodity and the capitalist system that creates and distributes it remains paramount, for even resistance most often takes the form of consumption rather than threatening social or political action.”

How do you think mass culture has changed since the 1050s? How do people today interact with the market as a means of personal expression? How do people express themselves without interacting with the market or mass culture? What forms of resistance to you see people exercising? What effects do these attitudes and behaviors have on design?


Gorma, Carma. The Industrial Design Reader. New York: Allworth Press, 2003.

Raizman, David. History of Modern Design. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall Inc., 2004.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

International Modernism: The U.S. and Europe

International Modernism in the post World War II period was marked by a shift of material culture from production to consumerism. The consumption based culture made extensive use of graphic design and typography to create a strong corporate culture.

Throughout the late nineteenth and early-mid twentieth century, existing and emerging nations (like Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Scandinavian countries and U.S.) tried to create, express and promote their individual national identities through design (Sparke, 95). These identities were meant to demonstrate the status and power of a nation, to its citizens and to the world. Design was used as the “commercial face” of the identities, thus resulting in national style. While each one of these countries had their own unique national expressions, France and U.S. became the main proponents of consumerism.

France developed its national identity through the production and marketing of luxury items specifically targeted towards women. This created a strong consumer culture based on design. This was expressed in the Paris Exposition of 1925 where a retail culture, with shop fronts and department stores’ pavilions displaying fashionable and exotic merchandise, was evident (Sparke,106).

Around the turn of the century, the national identity of U.S. was that of a consumer society, defined by the wants and desires of the marketplace. Mass circulation of magazines, department store, shop windows and advertisements were seen as part of the ‘American way’- a consumer culture (Sparke, 104). In the New York World’s Fair of 1939, U.S. focused upon integrating design into its private corporate image, showcasing its large corporations- General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, AT&T etc. These formed the country’s identity based on industrial design, technology and consumption (Sparke, 108).

As other nations followed consumerism, Germany and Switzerland set up standards for graphic design and typography known as the International Typographic Style which was seen in books, posters, ads and trademarks. It was an exploration of visual components of graphic expression and their use in influencing large masses of people (Raizman, 277). There was a strong need for clarity in word and symbol to break barriers of language. Graphic design began to move away from illustration, photography and color. Ideas were communicated universally and effectively with simple reductive means. Swiss artist Armin Hoffman’s 1958 poster for performances at the State Theatre in Basle shows the use of different lines forming associations to stage, music and dance with a brief phrase “Are you a subscriber?” (Raizman, 279). This is a good example of communicating information through symbols and minimum words. Corporations needed international identification, and global events such as the Olympics called for universal solutions which the Typographic Style could provide.

During this period, many large multinational corporations adopted consistent policies towards design which translated into corporate culture that the employees of a company could identify with, and that provided performance guidelines to the company. The development of corporate culture led to the subordination of the individual to the company. Trademarks such as those for IBM, Knoll Corporation, ABC etc. became an important part of the corporate culture.

Is there an emerging predominant national design style/philosophy in U.S. at this time? What is it focused on? Is it being used to influence the corporate culture?
Weigh the positive and negative effects of having a corporate culture.

Does graphic design, specifically in signage, today have influences from the International Typographic Style? Do you notice any relationship between the two?

Design Theory of the Modern Era

This blog is intended for the interior design students in the college of design at the University of Kentucky. It was created with the intent to present students with information, providing them with a channel for contemplation and discussion.