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Title: "I don't care what it is for, I want it!"* The flow of meaning of 'high design' in Flanders from 1980-2010, through the dynamics between producer, media and consumer.
Authors: Bouchez, Hilde
Issue Date: 2-Oct-2012
Abstract: <!-- /* Font Definitions */@font-face {font-family:Cambria; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin-top:0cm; margin-right:0cm; margin-bottom:10.0pt; margin-left:0cm; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:Cambria; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi; mso-ansi-language:NL;}@page Section1 {size:595.0pt 842.0pt; margin:72.0pt 90.0pt 72.0pt 90.0pt; mso-header-margin:35.4pt; mso-footer-margin:35.4pt; mso-paper-source:0;}div.Section1 {page:Section1;}-->Since 1980design has at the one hand become increasingly popular and is today omnipresent,at the other hand the design practice has since a couple of years beenemphasising the identity crisis of design. This PhDaims at understanding why and how design has become so popular and to whatconsequences. In order to grasp this quite complex and especially wide researchquestion, the research was narrowed down to 6 case studies, representing thethree moments of meaning-giving in the life cycle of a product: production-mediation-consumption,within the geographic scope of Flanders.The mostobvious reason why design has become omnipresent, is the hypothesis that thereflexive consumer buys into the goods as a means to construct an identitythrough consumption. In this respect the status-value of an object is ofprime-importance and explains why design has become so desired in neo-liberalsociety. In the course of its history design has expressed a growingaccumulation of cultural capital, with the success of designart as its triumph.However theresearch show that it is not so much the consumer who has ratified the highcultural meaning of design. The consumer seems to have mainly adopted thenarratives and labels bestowed upon it by the producer in positioning the goodsonto the market. Through very particular and successful branding strategies,the producer’s message has been confirmed and authorised by the lifestylemedia. This implies that design’s success is driven by commercial and economicimperatives, veiled under the pretext of high culture. Lookinginto the three major moments of mediation, shows that producers of high designinvest in high cultural branding, which doesn’t necessarily have a directeconomic outcome, but does generate a brand image of an industrial investor whois rather an altruistic maecenas,than an industrialist creating new desires inthe endless cycle of consumption. Alessi for example has invested in the Tea and Coffee Piazza, a collection ofsilver objects designed by internationally known architect. These designs wereonly produced in threefold in analogy of the limited editions within the artcircuit, and worldwide found a direct entry into the main art museums. Vitraand Tecta opened their own musem under the altruistic aim of sharing theprivate collections of their CEO’s with the world. Next to this obviousstrategy, it is especially the interplay between the created high culturalnarrative of the producers with the lifestyle media that has led to theaccumulation of cultural capital of the goods, but also of the producer, themedia and the consumer who does buy into the goods. Case 4 of the researchshows that the media not only echo, but enforce the narratives of the producer intheir own strive to accumulate cultural capital. In doing so, they present lifeamidst high design objects as an ideal to strive for. This interplay betweenproducers and media has proven producers to invest in cultural branding, ratherthan advertising. The products of for example, Vitra and Alessi are broadlyrepresented throughout different editorial formats. TECTA at the other hand,which does invest in cultural initiatives as for example a museum and bookpublications, is not covered in ‘Weekend Knack’, precisely because it is notwilling to provide the magazines with flattened-out, easy manageablenarratives, which can be directly copied and pasted into the eitorials. However theeconomically successful initiatives of companies as for example Alessi andVitra and the strategies implied by the media in advising the consumer in the obtainingof an ideal lifestyle, through high design consumption, has implications on themeaning of design in general and is symptomatic for the crisis in design.The abovebriefly described strategy of uploading goods with cultural capital, impliesmeticulously constructed narratives, which are layered upon the intrinsic qualitiesof design goods and can even be contradictory to the intended meaning and useof the designers. Thus erasing their mere reason for existing. Secondly, the commodificationof high design has lead to the spreading of the high cultural aura to allobjects with a related design-style, and thirdly, to the assumption that thefunction of an object is subordinate to its form and expression.The case-studyon the acquisition and assimilation of high design by the consumers in 2009shows the preliminary hypothesis: that the success of high design is linked tothe drive of the consumer to buy positional goods in the construction of anidentity, to be false. Most of the consumers claim not to buy design, preciselyfor its positional and non-functional aura. They do however all buy adaptedcopies of high design, or products expressinga design-style at cheap chainstores as for example Ikea or Weba. Surprisingly, most consumers do not labelthese goods as design. This implies that the meaning of high design, as beingartistic and exclusive has from the perspective of the consumer, becomesynonymous to the meaning of design in general, which of course does give reasonto believe that the design is in crisis.Theconsumer’s refusal to identify with the artistic and exclusive character ofdesign and the critique from the design practice and academia has led to theconstruction of a new and at first glance deviating narrative by producers andmedia. Vitra as one of the first producers started photographing its productsin everyday situations with a stress on the use-value of the goods and thereflexive capacity of the consumer in creating a personal home, which radiatescreativity rather than social position. However this shift in context: from thewhite-cube, museum kind of settings to a presentation of the products ineveryday homes, is not devoid of a high cultural meaning, on the contrary. Thesenew settings and images are complete in tune with art and fashion avant-gardeas for example the photography of JuergenTeller. The applied strategy of the producers and media is rather infused bytheir fear for a trickle down effect, and again contra productive to the realaims of designers, and needs of consumers. For producers of high design goods, thereseems to be no direct interest in promoting design as an innovation driven practisewith as intrinsic value and desire to improve things.In mappingthe narratives and labels of the three major moments in a product’s lifecycleit becomes clear that in order to understand the dynamics underlying thepopularisation of design it is not the moment of creation, nor the moment ofconsumption that should be solely looked at, but the interplay or mediationbetween those moments, and the generated flow or flux of meaning.<!-- /* Font Definitions */@font-face {font-family:Cambria; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin-top:0cm; margin-right:0cm; margin-bottom:10.0pt; margin-left:0cm; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:Cambria; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi; mso-ansi-language:NL;}@page Section1 {size:595.0pt 842.0pt; margin:72.0pt 90.0pt 72.0pt 90.0pt; mso-header-margin:35.4pt; mso-footer-margin:35.4pt; mso-paper-source:0;}div.Section1 {page:Section1;}-->Since 1980design has at the one hand become increasingly popular and is today omnipresent,at the other hand the design practice has since a couple of years beenemphasising the identity crisis of design. This PhDaims at understanding why and how design has become so popular and to whatconsequences. In order to grasp this quite complex and especially wide researchquestion, the research was narrowed down to 6 case studies, representing thethree moments of meaning-giving in the life cycle of a product: production-mediation-consumption,within the geographic scope of Flanders.The mostobvious reason why design has become omnipresent, is the hypothesis that thereflexive consumer buys into the goods as a means to construct an identitythrough consumption. In this respect the status-value of an object is ofprime-importance and explains why design has become so desired in neo-liberalsociety. In the course of its history design has expressed a growingaccumulation of cultural capital, with the success of designart as its triumph.However theresearch show that it is not so much the consumer who has ratified the highcultural meaning of design. The consumer seems to have mainly adopted thenarratives and labels bestowed upon it by the producer in positioning the goodsonto the market. Through very particular and successful branding strategies,the producer’s message has been confirmed and authorised by the lifestylemedia. This implies that design’s success is driven by commercial and economicimperatives, veiled under the pretext of high culture. Lookinginto the three major moments of mediation, shows that producers of high designinvest in high cultural branding, which doesn’t necessarily have a directeconomic outcome, but does generate a brand image of an industrial investor whois rather an altruistic maecenas,than an industrialist creating new desires inthe endless cycle of consumption. Alessi for example has invested in the Tea and Coffee Piazza, a collection ofsilver objects designed by internationally known architect. These designs wereonly produced in threefold in analogy of the limited editions within the artcircuit, and worldwide found a direct entry into the main art museums. Vitraand Tecta opened their own musem under the altruistic aim of sharing theprivate collections of their CEO’s with the world. Next to this obviousstrategy, it is especially the interplay between the created high culturalnarrative of the producers with the lifestyle media that has led to theaccumulation of cultural capital of the goods, but also of the producer, themedia and the consumer who does buy into the goods. Case 4 of the researchshows that the media not only echo, but enforce the narratives of the producer intheir own strive to accumulate cultural capital. In doing so, they present lifeamidst high design objects as an ideal to strive for. This interplay betweenproducers and media has proven producers to invest in cultural branding, ratherthan advertising. The products of for example, Vitra and Alessi are broadlyrepresented throughout different editorial formats. TECTA at the other hand,which does invest in cultural initiatives as for example a museum and bookpublications, is not covered in ‘Weekend Knack’, precisely because it is notwilling to provide the magazines with flattened-out, easy manageablenarratives, which can be directly copied and pasted into the eitorials. However theeconomically successful initiatives of companies as for example Alessi andVitra and the strategies implied by the media in advising the consumer in the obtainingof an ideal lifestyle, through high design consumption, has implications on themeaning of design in general and is symptomatic for the crisis in design.The abovebriefly described strategy of uploading goods with cultural capital, impliesmeticulously constructed narratives, which are layered upon the intrinsic qualitiesof design goods and can even be contradictory to the intended meaning and useof the designers. Thus erasing their mere reason for existing. Secondly, the commodificationof high design has lead to the spreading of the high cultural aura to allobjects with a related design-style, and thirdly, to the assumption that thefunction of an object is subordinate to its form and expression.The case-studyon the acquisition and assimilation of high design by the consumers in 2009shows the preliminary hypothesis: that the success of high design is linked tothe drive of the consumer to buy positional goods in the construction of anidentity, to be false. Most of the consumers claim not to buy design, preciselyfor its positional and non-functional aura. They do however all buy adaptedcopies of high design, or products expressinga design-style at cheap chainstores as for example Ikea or Weba. Surprisingly, most consumers do not labelthese goods as design. This implies that the meaning of high design, as beingartistic and exclusive has from the perspective of the consumer, becomesynonymous to the meaning of design in general, which of course does give reasonto believe that the design is in crisis.Theconsumer’s refusal to identify with the artistic and exclusive character ofdesign and the critique from the design practice and academia has led to theconstruction of a new and at first glance deviating narrative by producers andmedia. Vitra as one of the first producers started photographing its productsin everyday situations with a stress on the use-value of the goods and thereflexive capacity of the consumer in creating a personal home, which radiatescreativity rather than social position. However this shift in context: from thewhite-cube, museum kind of settings to a presentation of the products ineveryday homes, is not devoid of a high cultural meaning, on the contrary. Thesenew settings and images are complete in tune with art and fashion avant-gardeas for example the photography of JuergenTeller. The applied strategy of the producers and media is rather infused bytheir fear for a trickle down effect, and again contra productive to the realaims of designers, and needs of consumers. For producers of high design goods, thereseems to be no direct interest in promoting design as an innovation driven practisewith as intrinsic value and desire to improve things.In mappingthe narratives and labels of the three major moments in a product’s lifecycleit becomes clear that in order to understand the dynamics underlying thepopularisation of design it is not the moment of creation, nor the moment ofconsumption that should be solely looked at, but the interplay or mediationbetween those moments, and the generated flow or flux of meaning.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Department of Architecture - miscellaneous
Art History @ Leuven
Department of Architecture - LUCA

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