Designing the World
(Page 4 of 7)
I wear Diesel, therefore I am
JOE FORTE: I do wonder about the problematic of branding when it comes to that, the way that branding works against critical evaluation. Branding is a tendency that’s as old as commerce itself, but I think that branding tends to confuse design appreciation and design critique. I wouldn’t say necessarily that everyone’s a designer, but I do think that everyone is a design critic. They know what it is that they have and whether or not it’s useful.
CAROLINE PAYSON: Right, and I think that the functionality of design allows them to be a more comfortable and natural critic than they might be for art. It’s accessible.
JOE FORTE: I agree with that.
CAROLINE PAYSON: What do you mean by branding?
JOE FORTE: Well, the idea that there are certain brands that, regardless of their functionality as practical objects, have an absolutely definitive centrality for our identities. Brands make you. There is no critical discourse about thinking about the brand or critiquing the brand or looking to the labor that produced the brand. Looking to labor was traditionally, in the Arts and Crafts movement, a movement against branding.4 People would fake these rococo objects and they’d be reproduced by very reputable large scale manufacturers and they would be junk. Looking at labor, on the other hand, made you think about the individual who made the object, and also yourself as an individual, and perhaps how you would use the object—as opposed to a more generalized notion of your identity.
So, that’s my only equivocation. I do believe that it is a good thing that we have become a more democratic consumer society. I don’t know what else would take the place of that. But I do worry about this idea of the brand that defines you.
CAROLINE PAYSON: I see your point, but I also think that a design education helps you develop an ability to understand what that is and what it means. If you’re a kid in the New York City public schools, there are all sorts of things about the design world that you don’t know. You tend to think that design people are architects—and you’ll never be able to do that if you’re not into math—or they’re fashion designers or comic book illustrators, for the most part.
TONY WHITFIELD: Nobody ever asked them, What you think design is? What do you live with that’s designed? But I even have to do it with, like, sophomores here. It’s like, okay, take me through your day. What is it that you’re dealing with that’s designed, who designed that?
MODERATOR: Is the answer “everything”?
TONY WHITFIELD: Virtually.
CAROLINE PAYSON: Virtually. For me, it’s all about, every person makes a wealth of decisions in relationship to design, whether it’s how they purchase something or how they use it. For some people, that knowledge and a desire to effect change on that level is what leads people to be designers, and that’s great. And, then the other case, if it just makes you be a more thoughtful person, that’s good too.