Sound Off 2: Can green save design from sameness? (part 1)

“Sound Off” is an op/ed post by editors of the Tricycle blog. The opinions may or may not reflect those of the Company.

This year was only my 2nd Neocon, and when I arrived I was still a bit awestruck by the prospect of 1,200 product exhibits covering 1.2 million sf of space. So I set off on Tuesday morning to soak it in. I started out overwhelmed (and enjoying the feeling), but quickly my interest was dulled. By the time I’d walked two floors, it was just plain dull.

Product overload? OK, maybe... but something else too. Although there were many interesting products, there were very few exhibits that stood out as remarkable (Maharam's showroom was like a lighthouse in a sea of sameness). In truth, most of the exhibits looked like something bought out of a box at Target.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Target, that poster child for democratizing design. I’d even take things a step further and say that, by and large, Target is democratizing good design. Affordable good design? Yes, please.

But if we picture good design spreading like oil on water geographically and demographically out from major metro areas, we can’t help wonder who is shaping its form and future. We’re losing the old channel of distribution of design ideas, where mass fashion follows and mimics rich folks. In fact, P.Diddy lifestyle is for sale through Bloomingdale's (although in wrinkle-free and stain-resistant versions). My question is: since way that design ideas are distributed has changed -- at least for the present -- who is leading fashion into its next phases?

I suggest that social cause-based design is leading. In fact, new notions of class distinction are a great example: street design is not about slumming, it’s about the commodification of individual expression and protest, much like the blues morphed into rock in the 1950s. Note that street designers’ launches emphasize new labels rather than new products. An interesting concept -- the commodification of individuality and uniqueness -- but one with no lack of marketability.

Sustainability, the hot button in the interiors industry right now, is another example. In a time when many expos are struggling, attendance at the USGBC’s Greenbuild has more than doubled every year to last November’s crowd of ten thousand plus. Award competitions are re-shaping: this year, Business Week and the IDSA added Eco-design as a permanent category to the prestigious IDEA awards.

coming soon... part 2

Caleb Ludwick is Communications Director at Tricycle, Inc.

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