Designing the World
On May 27, Sarah Lawrence gathered three design educators to discuss some of the big issues facing designers—and consumers—today. The discussion was held at Parsons New School for Design in Manhattan.
The color of your KitchenAid mixer
MODERATOR: I’m curious about the explosion of design awareness that seems to have happened in the last 10 years or so. You have these big-name designers doing lines for Target and IKEA, there are a ton of shelter magazines, and it seems like people are just a lot more conscious about the way objects look and feel. Where did that come from?
JOE FORTE: I think it’s a natural outgrowth of three processes. The first was the end—or the technical end—of sexual repression in the 1960s. A kind of license to appreciate sensuality came out of the 1960s.
Secondly, in the 1930s, Americans realized that certain kinds of surface effects in products just had an absolutely amazing effect on sales. That took a hiatus during World War II. Because of the nature of the war—in particular, the early cold war—there was the idea that design had to take second place to war industries and the re-housing of veterans in the 1950s.
I think the last thing was … you know, the kitchen debate between Krushchev and Nixon1 was the best example. That became the paradigm for American identity. The idea of the object as one of the definitive elements in American identity, the idea of a certain kind of progressive object, came to be identified very clearly with the American vision. For better or worse, the American world, the capitalist world, has succeeded, and I think that was one of the consequences of it.
So, from a historical point of view, it was a weird confluence, I think, of these different circumstances that pushed design forward.
Maybe, one should also comment a little bit on the art world and how the art world, through mixed media and things like that, began to extend its reach. And, as it extended its reach, it began to engage itself with projects that traditionally were not in the fine arts, which allowed us to look at and appreciate objects that were produced mechanically.