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).


Jenna Martini said...

Should shopping for a phone result in so many options? Within today's society and the reliance on a phone, I don't believe we can turn back now. We have so many options, yes, but I don't believe this to be a bad thing. Phone's can be entertainment and consumer a lot of the average persons time, yes; and not to mention are expensive! But, phones also are used for emailing and staying in contact with friends/families/co-workers at a distance. I think variety is a great idea - I certainly cannot wait for the day you can tell a phone to text/call someone and it actually works!

As for the quality of these options, I know from a close friend the first touch screen blackberry is not of the best quality. Also, I have had several problems myself with cellphones in general. Although I do think several options is great, I do not agree with throwing products out there to say you created the first touch screen blackberry or what not, only to say you have. The product should be the best, no many the brand or cost.

Has our culture become a “throw away” culture? Or are we now moving away from this direction, heading towards a “green” movement? I believe we are turning toward more green products, but I also do not believe even with all of the sustainable design abilities that America will turn a new leaf. We have always been a "throw away" culture and although I am all for recycling cans, bottles, and paper/cardboard at my apartment because it is given to me; i cannot necessarily say I would pay to do so or set it up myself.

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? I don't think we are faking it - I think some of the new products is great! But, I also do strongly believe with the economy, green may need to hold off considering green products expensive edge in comparison to a non-recycled product.

kengelman said...

I agree with Jenna with saying that having a variety of options of cell phones is not a bad thing. I personally really enjoy going into the Verizon store and seeing all the different phones that they have. I like that I have different options to choose one. Options that are all different and can offer me certain things. I think it is also important to have more options so you can personality with your phone. I feel like that people can express themselves through their phones as some of the new commercials for the several phones to allude to. I also think that having different options is good for different people. A international business man is probably going to need to have everything, e-mail, phone, and texting, at his fingertips at all times but a 13 year old who just got their first phone only needs to be able to call people and perhaps send a few texts. These 2 people would need 2 totally different phones and that wouldn't be possible without the options we have today.

Like Jenna said if a company is going to make the "newest" phone it better be at the best possible quality. The worst thing in the entire world is having to deal with your cell phone problems and the phone companies. I think if you are going to make a phone make sure you have worked out all the kinks prior to putting it on the market. This will benefit the company much more in the long run.

caitlyn said...

I agree with Kaitlyn that the amount of variety in reference to cell phones is not necessarily a bad thing. I think that people should be given a choice as to what phone they would like to have because your cell phone, like the clothes you wear, represent what type of person you are. When I picked out my cell phone I liked going through and picking the model that "fit me". That being said, sometimes its too much of a good thing. Do people really need hundreds of different types of cell phones to chose from? not really... Due to the fact that there are many cell phone providers, they are forced to compete with one another to create the best of the best. A phone can't just make calls anymore; you need to have the newest model with hundreds of new apps.

I also thought what you said about "green" design being in fashion was quite interesting. It is possible that marketers are realizing that it is a hot button issue with Americans today and are subsequently trying to cash in.

Melissa Long said...

After the struggle with technology right before turning in Studio project, technology and I aren’t exactly currently on good terms. However, it is no secret that technology has allowed us to build structures that couldn’t have been dreamed about in the 1600’s. On the other hand, designs from architects before the invention of the computer, such as Da Vinci and Gaudi, are just as impressive, if not more due to the fact they didn’t have the help of the computer. At the very basic level, I believe design comes from the mind, and whatever means we can use to express and build it accurately, hand drafting or the computer should be used. I personally believe that there is a level of connection between the designer and a sketch where they can control how things are going to look in comparison to a 3D sketch up model. This lack of intimacy is a fault computers have created in design. The fact that computers can create anything can also be seen as a fault because design is not longer restricted by man’s ability.

The idea of artificial obsolescence that took root during this time I believe can still be seen in many aspects of today’s society, such as purchasing cell phones. As a society we like to have choices and we like to purchase the most expressive item as a status symbol if we can afford it. We don’t hesitate to level old ideas, products, or technology behind when the next big thing is available. To a level, green design simply is the next big thing. While we have better intents to help the environment, we are simply jumping on the bandwagon because everyone else is as well. The green movement has a lot of developing to do before it becomes a cultural value instead of just the latest fad, or movement.

Angela said...

Right off the bat I have to point out the negative side to computers, which is that sometimes information can get lost. There is nothing worse than spending hours and hours of time on something when your computer eats it alive and you never see it again. That is an automatic news flash that you have to start all over. Through that experience I have learned to always keep my work saved on a second source.

On the other hand, computers have affected our lives greatly for the better. Information is easily accessible, construction drawings are constructed properly and perspectives and renderings are able to be clear and precise. In ability to do these things with design, as well as all the other 1000’s of things the computer allows us to do, changes can easily be made by pulling up a document making a change and then hinting print.

Even though I could continue my design experience by doing everything by hand, I believe that an overall design conclusion would not result as effective as one used on a computer. Computer software’s at times are faster, accurate and beneficial in the long run if a change is needed.

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.