Designing the World
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TONY WHITFIELD: I think one of the things that governs design knowledge is the fact that there are recognizable prices that are associated with certain kinds of things. Like, if you go to a store, you can understand what a stack of Diesel jeans costs. If each pair is between $150 and $200 and if you look at 50 of them, that you get a sense of the fact that there is money being made off of these things. Products turn over all the time, but there’s always a need for more.
JOE FORTE: I think there’s something interesting in your point about the essential role of novelty in this. One of the things that design does, is because it turns over, it’s a very coherent way for students to understand how capital is produced. They can really look at this as an illustration of what they imagine economic exchange to be outside of their lives. Inside their lives, they may be struggling. Outside their lives, they see this novelty, and they think, Ah, this is the engine of change.
TONY WHITFIELD: But, there’s also a connection with identity, and so many, I think, so many young people at this point have a very hard time understanding or visualizing a life beyond a very short term. You’re told also over and over again that your life may not be as good as your parents’ life. Or, if you go to New York City and you came from the very large house in the suburbs, you may end up living in, like, one room. It’s like your own growth, your own sexuality, your own social relations, all of that stuff, much more easily becomes attached to a set of purchasing decisions you make on a daily basis that is responsive to your understanding of who you are at that moment.
The stuff of our lives
MODERATOR: I’d like to talk a little bit about sustainability and consumerism. Designers are really at the heart of the process of creating stuff, and stuff is at the root of a lot of our problems today, environmentally and otherwise. What do you think about that?
TONY WHITFIELD: As this economy tanks—or becomes more and more problematic—and energy is at the top of it, sustainability is really going to continue to be an issue. But, a lot of the issues that I think we’re going to have to deal with, they’re thornier, because they have to do with developing cultures that say, “You’re the problem, not us—however, we have many, many more people who we want to raise to the level of where you are.”5 That’s where issues around consumerism become particularly problematic, particularly for designers, who have their own ambitions.
JOE FORTE: Globalized culture has a problematic relationship to design. But, I do think that people who are coming out of design schools now are aware that sustainability is a component of the design process. I think this will start to argue against disposability of products, or disposability will become about recycling rather than rejection.
I mean, whether or not the American political system is a triumph, the American capitalist system is a triumph. The question is how does one modulate it, control it, focus it, drive it—and indeed, over time, whether or not that can be changed.