Monday, November 17, 2008

Design and Mass Appeal/New Materials A

While the first post-war decade of the 1950’s initially brought about a much greater focus on mass media and consumption of goods, the 1960’s expanded on the use of new technologies and materials to create false obsolescence of goods. However, instead of merely focusing on better economic value and functionality to categorize a product as “new,” manufacturers and designers began to focus more on esthetics, combining art and functionality. The wealth of new materials and processes developed in the 1960’s and later began to obscure “the distinction between design and fashion, between needs and wants.” (Raizman, pg 318) This meant that functional design went hand-in-hand with current trends of the time and, as a result, wants became necessities. A few of the main materials used during this time were plastics and metals. Various new processes were used to make strides in areas such as furniture design, product housing, and sports equipment. Changes in furniture design were made possible by the process of injection-molding stronger plastic polymers, molding lighter weight aluminum, and using foam as a construction material instead of merely filler for upholstery. Seating design came to resemble many tendencies in the fine arts, such as abstraction and precision. A few great examples of this include Joe Columbo’s injection-mold plastic side chair and Pierre Paulin’s foam “ribbon chair.” Next, new materials and processes were used to make product housing much more compact, often allowing for more portable products. Called miniaturization, a few examples of this include a portable typewriter developed by Ettore Sottsass and Perry King, a portable television developed by Sony, and the Walkman portable cassette player, also developed by Sony. Finally, the use of metals instead of wood in sports equipment lead to many performance-enhancing changes to more simple designs. The professionals who advertised them endorsed the idea that the newer, lighter, more contoured designs were better for the athletes that used them. One primary example of this was how tennis rackets began to be made from aluminum. All of these new products and processes were supported by the development of brand recognition through graphic design of easily recognizable symbols. These symbols developed corporate identity systems based on the characteristics of those most likely to buy the products, which helped to advertise the products and make them more well known.

Do you think that these advancements demonstrate positive or negative changes to production of goods? How have these products and processes paved the way for products we see in stores today? How has the use of these new materials affected the economy and the styles of today? Are they supportive of the "green design" emphasized in today's society?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Design & Mass Appeal/New Materials B

In the 1950’s the expansion of both the middle and industrial class brought mass media into focus. Mass media, mass culture and mass market are all inter-related. The traditional standards of “Good Design” were influence by false obsolescence. Obsolescence is used to convince consumers that they need the next “new” thing. A critic, Reyner Banham aptly described this phenomenon as a “throwaway culture” (Raizman, pg. 295)
Many industries used obsolescence to market their products. During the 50’s the biggest example of this is the automotive industry. General Motors president Alfred Sloan used annual stylizing changes to “create a vehicle “for every purse”, defining a series of gradations from efficiency to luxury in terms of visible difference…”. (Raizman, pg. 296) The number of car makers began to decrease because of the competition to promote their annual changes. Brand identification was also very important.
Advertising for cars came in many forms. Hollywood helped to show the freedom and individual expression in movies like American Graffiti. Ads in magazines and newspapers showed attractive couples either coming in from a night out or at some fabulous restaurant. These ads helped to equate luxury with cars.
Obsolescence can also be found in the model home market. Instead of different models every year, it was used to show individuality. “And like car makers, they used styling to give buyers an illusion of choice”; this pretty much sums up the model housing in the 1950’s. (Votolato, pg. 227) Consumers were offered choices to make the model homes not so cookie-cutter. Practical considerations also drew consumers. Kitchens with picture windows, attached garages and appliances tried to tip the scale of conformity.
The 1950’s was about convenience. Time saving appliances, model homes, cheap products were all the rage. How has this affected today’s culture? Do you think design in this period had a large impact on design today? Give some examples of obsolescence today. Do you think false obsolescence is a good marketing tool?

Design and Mass Appeal/New Materials, C

At the end of WWII, the United States, Europe and Japan, the countries most affected by the outcomes of the conflict, experienced a phenomenal growth in all fields, starting mainly from economical.
Thanks to the long period of peace and political stability, the United States was particularly able to accumulate a large amount of money and rebuild its economical and political powers.
It is during this time that the development of new materials, such as Bakelite, Lucite, Vynilite, Rayon and Nylon, new techniques and the electrification of the assembly line brought new possibilities in all fields of design and architecture. Also, the time of peace allowed people to enjoy their leisure time and really look forward to achieve their desires. New luxurious beach resorts came to play an important role in Americans new vacation times because they offered services that were not available in the domestic sphere and because they opened a new market for travelling.
From the 1950s, we rapidly saw the development of a mass culture that appreciated money, beauty and luxury.
Thanks to magazines and catalogues, people were now able to choose from a wide variety of products, from houses to home appliances, cars and fashion products, sport goods and toys.
William Levitt, considered the Henry Ford of housing, introduced the mass production of houses. As people moved away from the city into the suburbia, they wanted new, cheap houses, and Levitt gave them what they needed. Thanks to the use of inexpensive materials, like concrete, wood studs, dry walls, etc., and the fast methods of construction, these prefabricated houses could be put up in a very short time and efficient manner at a very low cost, starting from $ 7900 (Raizman, page 305). Even though it created conformity and peripheral areas look almost entirely the same, everyone could customize their house the way the wanted to. Also, with the availability of new products (television, radio, home appliances, kitchens, chairs, home d├ęcor, etc.), people started to fill these places with as much stuff as possible, and, likewise the Victorian Era, they could show off their status by displaying all that they had. On top of that, if they could afford one of the new models of automobiles, they could park this one in their new garage, attached to the house – one of the new features of the prefabricated residence.
Because of the abundance of products and the possibility of customization, the new concept of obsolescence came to be of great importance in post war society. As new objects were produced and advertised, old ones became out of fashion. Everything, from fashion to interior design products, home appliances and sports goods, was affected by seasonal changes, even if minimal. The late 19th century society became known as a throwaway society deeply affected by advertising and vogue.

After the war, Europe started to rebuild what was left, trying to keep a balance between their historical past and the modernist influence coming from the United States and Japan. Because money was a problem and there was not much of it left after the war, obsolescence and mass culture less affected Europe, and did not allow the mass production of goods and especially houses. In fact, if you get a chance to travel to Europe, you will see that conformity and standardization are not as common as they are in the United States. Why do you think the United States opted for standardization instead of diversity? Even in clothing today, such as Abercrombie or Hollister, seasonal changes are very minimal. In the design of houses, we still see prefabricated houses and residences that look very similar. Do you believe that conformity is an advantage or disadvantage to American traditions and culture? How do you think the United States is seen from the outside because of this globalization within its own borders?

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.