Designers designing for monetary value


This paper details the exploration of product design, with designers designing for monetary value and not the consumer - potentially causing the end of design through the many hundreds of unnecessary 'material' products that we don't need. The word 'Design' refers to theaesthetic and functional ability of everyday products. Due to the shear amount of different definitions to design, to create or contrive for a particular purpose or effect [Dictionary of the English Language, 2009], it neither gives the designer nor company a clear direction of what, exactly, design is. This in turn is causes the designer to become lazy, de-moral and money hungry while thinking he is none of the above.

To produce any meaningful product, many areas of the design movement need to be evaluated under the larger spectrum. These include consumer research, interactive adjustment, ethnics, social, environmental and design then re-design methods. Are these very important subjects being overlook and pushed aside due to the corrupt new mass retail market?

A designer's role is becoming more and more important within the society of today. Design is a wide and provocative industry with many issues surrounding it. It is time for Designers to become aware of what they design, how it evokes reaction and take responsibility for that reaction. Through this paper, I will be taking a hard look at Philip Stark and stating how this designer, among many, is collapsing design.

Key Words

Consumerism, Design, Socialism, Responsibility, Aesthetic, Stylist, Communication, Philip Stark, Monetary, Ethnics.


The environment we live in today is saturated with the medium of imagery. These images are part of a persuasive force to cause us to buy new and desirable products. Victor Papanek [1971] understood that design is actually value in which we persuade people to buy things that they don't need, with money they think they have, in order to impress people who don't care.

With the power to inform, inspire, and create an emotional response and to channel the consumers mood, designers, as communicators, need to understand the affect that is followed by the production of their products. With the power of visual communication being so colossal, designers have a lead role in consumerism and the direction of human life. Therefore, if there is too be any salvation for the designer, it seems as though the designers themselves have got to do it.

Usually design is overlooked by the masses, yet, it is one of the biggest human job titles around.

The definition and role of the designer

Two classes of designer exist today; the professional and the hobbyist. In terms of a professional designer, Urban Alliance for Sustainability [2009] conform to designing a product with a responsibility to the masses by making it consumer friendly incorporating economic equality, responsible technology and environmental protection. While Viemeister [2009] has a totally different view in that we are all designers explaining that the area of design is indeed basic thus anyone can do it. At the end of the day, we all design what we want to wear, what we want to have in our home. But surely design is a lot more complex than designing for ourselves?

As the designer's role continues to adapt and change with different economic and social times. Design must convince the individual that the quality, reliability and reputation of a product and organisation are of higher superiority than the competition. Ideally, without the consumer necessarily having seen anything that could support this assumption. There might be no continuity, no coherence in our opinions, but there is a hidden continuity and a hidden coherence in what we are attached to. This congregation of objects and parties triggers dispute and disagreements which ultimately maps out the public space into a new direction of usability and consumerism, causing the public to desire the latest products and the best life. With people such as Dieter Rams [2009] explaining that the correct approach to design actually consists of incorporating no design at all and engineering a product to suit the need, and then stylising it. Basically implying that to design something that is worthwhile, the company should not just re-stylise an existing product, but engineer it to solve a common problem. This, in turn, would create a product that has a place in the social consumer market.

Will tomorrow's world still need designers?

It seems that there are two distinct design directions that could be referred to as internal and external design. Blakley [2008] explains that the first direction, known as the internal enhancement, sees a new importance of user privacy and personal convenience. It would be a series of products only available to the wealthiest 10% of the world which will shadow the true use of the product through clever design and secondary functions. As a parallel to this it is understood that designers will soon start to produce objects that directly enhance their own profession which will, in turn, hopefully secure them a dedicated position within the industry for years to come.

The opposite view states that due to uncontrollable materiality, the design profession may have already been corrupted, beyond repair, by the products we have created. Blakley [2008] continues to explain that the responsibility of a designer has shifted - That they now create conditions for innovation instead of user objects and new experiences. In short, the designer, with the aid of tumbling technology prices is making the ability to 'self create' any product or service much more easily than before - causing them to put these services into the hands of the general public and making their own profession, slowly, but surely obsolete.

Furthermore to this, design, in its current form, is seen to be a talent - a natural gift to invent, to understand and to produce special products for the consumer market. However predictions from Kersweil [1999] explain that due to the racing technological advancements, the human brain could soon become a separate entity, one that will be able to design for us. Furthermore to this, he continues to state that in 10 years time a simple, user buyable, computer will have the calculating power of the human brain. 10 years after that it will have 10 times the computing power.

With this new superpower and extreme calculating power, will designers be living like 'God's', in terms of what they have created. Or, will they be so obsolete that they could not be employed?

Design and Business Vs Social and Engineering Systems.

Design and business now travel hand in hand with companies understanding the importance of advertising, marketing and a successful product. It is unreasonable to assume that the general public would do anything for money - but that is exactly the way the world works these days. With extensive budgets, it is becoming increasingly easy for a product to be promoted to the consumer, not based on its relevance to them, but it's 'want' of the client due to the clever marketing. A perfect example of this is the Macbook Air - the smallest laptop in the world. Jurrien [2008] explains that this laptop measures only 0.76" thick and does not even come with a CD/DVD drive. So Apple has successfully made the thinnest laptop in the world, one that is nearly 3 times the price of another equal quality laptop, and without the use of a CD drive. On the face of it, it seems pointless, but with clever marketing, Apple have solve thousands of these inappropriate material objects.

In recent years, competitive prices, company challenging and business profits have all filtered the designer into a money hungry state. One that designs for what the business needs and not what is best for the end consumer. Schlosser [2000] explains that corporations will literally sell anything as long as it makes a profit, from free-range, organic and grass-fed hamburgers, anything the user wants, they will sell. In terms of product design, with the Macbook Air, other companies feel the need to mimic and re-create their own versions of this laptop - increasing consumerism and materiality. Companies care more for their annual profit than the good it does for the community and consumer.

Ann Thorpe [2009] comments on how a few designers, such as Jonathon Kirschenfeld are improving social systems to limit consumerism and shopping. Kirschenfeld has created a simming pool for the Neptune Foundation on the Hudson River in the aim that people can socialise in a common location rather than want to go shopping to cure boredom. This is all part of a larger push to solve any further problems by getting designers to articulate a new social language within the consumer market. This would not include creating new material objects, but making shared applications like self provisioning (DIY) to sharing.

Philip Stark - Money Vs Meaningful Products

Philip Stark, the French Industrial Designer, spent most of his time creating objects that were controversial, different and unusual. He became famous through his obsession of difference and conceptuality, but not from what matters - the production of good products. Due to being such a challenging figure and being seen by some people as one of the best designers of the 20th century, Stark, has pushed design in the wrong direction, into consumerism and not out of it.

In a recent interview with ZEIT Magazine Stark [2008] clams that everything he has designed is an absolute unnecessary and that he will be quitting the profession of design in two years time. He continues to talk about his embarrassment to producing nothing but materiality and to never being interested in the area of design. For the limited minority, design is to solve a problem but with major designers taking all the money in designing obscene products the general conception is now - Design = Stylise.

With the profound debate on what humans really need and how the future will develop for us, Stark, states that design won't be within this future and only the ability to love, to be intelligent and humorous will be needed. In a distorted sense, he is right; consumerism and dematerialisation are destroying the earth, the environment, corrupting the governments and warping the public's sense of need. We need to strip it all back to basics and design ourselves a better future. This interview could be, once again, not to sound arrogant of Starks behalf, but another way to endorse a new sense of enlightenment of the current design direction. He understands that eventually we will destroy ourselves and is trying to make this publicly known.

So where does this leave the designer now? Stark initially set out to destroy design, to collapse the unique profession when objects of design were seen as beautiful, expensive objects that no-one could afford. A time when it stood for elitism, Stark quotes "elitism is vulgar. The sole elegance lies in multiplication". Here he is casually explaining that if you take a computer 20 years ago, these were massive horrible looking machines, totally silly and pointless. Now, however, computers are an everyday necessity, used by millions - through multiplication the design and reason for a computer is now overlooked and forgotten about. People take the technology for granted. So design as it was 20 years ago is not how it is now, and it's sure not to stay the same.


Design, moving from a vulgar, elitism object to now an overlook everyday piece of technology or product concludes that design is indeed failing. That consumerism, social want, monetary corporate company value and mass production have taken over the need for life changing products. As long as the product gains profit, and a market is there to buy it, the design direction we currently have mapped out will continue to progress.

I believe that Designers as a whole will no longer be a minority, design will be a publicly, mass produced topic that all of the human race will be able to undertake and produce with the aid of new technological super computers and ever developing interactive scenarios. That is, however, if the current direction of purposeless products is not turned around. For the sake of social behaviour, landfill and environmental factors, etc, We all need to make a shift once again back to creating user objects and new experiences and away from the new conditions for innovation.


The age of steam pushed engineers to the edge of what was technologically possible. It proved that design, with the aid of technical advancements, could be the way forward in years to come. Creating steam, as a form of propulsion, changed the human social and economic state from 'self reliant' to a more dependant use of technology. This is known as part of a wider modernisation process which is always evolving and developing.

During the 1990's designers generally acted as a go-between, from the manufacturer to the consumer, in an aesthetic and stylistic way. "the designer as a stylist - as a broker of ideas and value, a middle personage between the manufacturers, engineers and applied scientists on the one hand, and the consumer on the other," (Peter Dormer, 1990).

Today, however, the designer is moving from art to business, following the money and focusing more upon corporate client happiness rather than the consumer and social responsibility.

Dita rams approach to design, of leaving out the design, [which seems] more and more of the way forward." By this he means working hard to 'design out' designerly flourishes, so as to get at the essence of an object and reach an understanding of its appropriate position within a historical visual contextor as he puts it, crafting objects that know their 'place in the society of things"

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