Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.


Design Will Eat Itself



Imagine a Faberge egg fertilized by a Monster truck and you've got the genetic pool that spawned Gillette's triple bladed M3 Power Razor, the world's first vibrating razor. The surfaces of the handle have been worked over completely. Rubberized nodules, a fine metallic grid, and faux titanium ribbed like a flight case tickle, grip, and graze my palm and fingers. It’s like an incredibly complicated handshake from a lecherous freemason. Sensation here is as important as performance—the action of holding the razor has been designed as an intricate, intimate experience. So much that it’s not quite clear if I am touching metal or plastic. Actually, it doesn’t feel like a material, more like warships, performance cars, and power tools within the stretch of my palm.

But my thrill at being on the bleeding edge of razor design has been somewhat dulled by the imminent launch of Fusion Power—a five bladed shaver. It will feature an on-board microchip and boasts a “Precision Trimmer” blade built into the back of the cartridge for shaping your designer facial hair features.

The ludicrous intricacy and density of razors increases incessantly, as though the desire to innovate, improve, and remake the shaving experience could never end. But perhaps Gillette’s need to innovate is less about improvement and more about shifting units, grabbing market share, and selling to a saturated market. Perhaps what they pass off as innovation is really creating obsolescence. Like all bathroom products, the M3 has a rhetoric couched in scientific/functionalist language, a modern kind of baroque. The initial problem becomes buried under Gaussian layers of solutions, improvements, and answers, which themselves become thrills and sensations. The tiny object bristles with curlicue technical promise. Its need to demonstrate improvement and functionality is purely symbolic.

Its not only razors that display this hyper-functionalist tendency. You can see it in products as diverse as moisturisers and mountain bikes, kitchenware and clothing. The traditional idea of functionalism is dissipating into a fog of features and add-ons, obscuring design’s sharp image of itself. Just as newspapers are published with roughly the same amount of content every day regardless of how much news has happened, design is iterated not because there is anything particularly new but because product cycles demand it. It’s a feedback loop that turns the Modernist mantra of ‘form following function’ into an ear-splitting, incoherent howl.

It’s the howl of a profession realising it has, accidentally, and without noticing, inverted its most cherished beliefs. A shriek of self-recognition that it has become a perverted version of itself.

How did it happen? How did honest, well-meaning, design end up twisted out of all recognition? My guess is that it was sometime in the 1980s, when design flipped from the socially worthwhile to the socially mobile. Workwear became haute couture, lemon squeezers became sculptures, advertising became art and warehouses became domestic houses. At the same time, the ‘high’ design canon became commercialised. The history of twentieth design was cherry picked. Plucked from its original context and placed in a Sade soundtracked, matt black, halogen lit room set.

In a sense, connoisseurship destroyed the things it loved most by separating the rhetoric of design from its objects. It taught us to look at design selectively and rewrote the history of design in its own image. Objects originally intended to translate industrial production into the liberation of the working class became fetishized as consumer products.
The foundations of the places such as the MoMA Design Store or the Conran Shop were laid in very different places, like the Bauhaus. Objects from the industrial age were recontextualised into an era of information, marketing and branding.

This process has left us rudderless. It has left a gap between the things we like, and the reasons we like them. Perhaps Conran has turned Corb and Mies into gimmicks. And if he has, then is it any different from the way Gillette use design?

Looking at the M3 Power Razor is like looking at the living end of the functionalist era. It is important to recognise that the context of design has changed. Out of this context we are beginning to see new kinds of design.

Over the last year, something small and green has been annoying Europeans. The Crazy Frog, best known as a ringtone was a promotion in search of a product. It treated medias like lily pads—hopping from one to another. Every hop saw it materialize into a different kind of product. It began life as an Internet meme, a sound post on a Swedish adolescent’s Web site, which was picked up by a TV show. The sound spread via file sharing and began to be attached to various animations and quizzes. Another Swede produced an animation of a frog-like animal pretending to drive a motorbike to accompany the sound. The animation and the sound were licensed by a ringtone company, Jamster, whose incessant promotion—May 2005 saw 73,716 advertisements across all UK television channels—led it to notoriety. From ringtone it became a chart-topping single that kept Coldplay off the number one spot. Then it shattered into a vast array of licensed merchandise: cakes, soft toys, computer games. An anatomy of Crazy Frog would reveal its Frankenstein-like nature: notable part Toad of Toad Hall, part Gremlin, part audio alert, with a pulse of 80s electro, software guts and a skin of pure marketing. Its design is a monstrous hybrid stitching the real to the virtual; the amateur to the corporate, bound together by a series of licensing deals. Cultural references are stuffed inside one another, and then squashed until they fuse. It’s ambiguous as to whether it’s an object or a logo, an advert or a product. Its use is not entirely clear either: solid function has become unexpectedly fluid like mercury. Perhaps it’s this ambiguity that is its most striking quality, the thing that makes it feel different.

Crazy Frog is a long way from the kinds of authenticities and truths that designers have traditionally craved. These are sentiments that, for better or worse, seem very distant to early 21st century culture. Traditionally, design came from within the object: function expressed into form. Now design comes into an object from the outside—because there are no insides anymore. Consequently, the cul-de-sac of form and function is unfolding into a broad horizon of possibility. There is a richness that is only just becoming visible.

A designer’s job used to involve the careful arrangement of mechanics into a coherent object. Increasingly, those machines are evaporating—leaving a concentrated residue of electronics and marketing in a box. The guts are miniaturizing, shrinking away from their wrapper, vanishing into discrete specializations. Design has become a kind of seamstress, patch working together technology and software licences. It’s the hooks, zips, and clips—the glue between box, hardware and software.

A Faberge egg is intricate beyond the expectation of this world. Shinier, more ornate, but always infertile. A Monster Truck is deformed like a steroid-riddled body builder whose abs, pecs and glutes exceed biology. They are polar opposites – extremes of function and non-function. They are the beginning and the end of a particular passage in design history.

. Objects are dematerializing into feelings and image: The click of an iPod scroll wheel, the clunk of a BMW door, and the sheen on an Alessi kettle – these are a kind of existential functionalism, closer to the feeling you get watching a movie or listening to a song. The traditional role of design has shrunk, but meanwhile, the spectrum of design has broadened. Contemporary design might now include plastic surgery, traffic management systems or the virtual manipulations of data - From the bone sawingly and bloodily ‘real’ to the beaurocratically, systemised ‘virtual’. Designers can no longer rely in the innate morality of materials or techniques – now so disparate that what can be considered ‘authentic’ and ‘true’ or even ‘better’ is much harder to discern. Turning away from the physical and functional, it is becoming a series of sensations – not exactly the way something looks, or the way it might feel, or the way it does whatever it is it needs to do, or the sound it makes. Instead, it’s the way it makes you feel.

That means design happens in the kinds of places that we’ve been educated not to look. Good design isn’t about making things work better anymore—because most stuff works pretty well. It’s about making you feel engaged with the present, allowing you to touch the moment - that elusive, slippery sensation of “now”. Fashion allows us to see what “now” looks like and what “now” does. Which explains why we need to keep on designing new kinds of chair. Fashion is an attempt to make sense of ourselves in a complex world. It might be easier to think of design as a form of cultural criticism, anthropology, or satire. Like science fiction, design looks toward the future, but more often than not it’s actually telling us about the present. Design objects sit between an individual’s intimate space and the wheels of global commerce. They work out a space that tells us about where we are and what we’re thinking—the kinds of thing you see and feel before you know. Its here that new design can find its own kind of truth – the place it makes you feel mighty real.



Posted by anothersam at March 13, 2006 7:02 PM.

Leave a comment





Contents:

More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta

Eiffel X-Rays

Beyond: Values and Symptoms

Sub Plan

Shenzhen: Window of the World

White Power

Generic Powerpoint Template: Delivering Bad News

Duplicate Array

The Best New Building In London

Book Review: The Infrastructural City

A Balloon in the Pantheon

Letters From The Pantheon

Henry Moore in Motion

On My Steel Horse I Ride

The Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition

Now Showing: John Baldessari Sings Sol LeWitt

Obscure Design Typologies: Life Guard Chairs

Osama bin Laden Cigarette Lighter: Novelty Products as Congealed Culture

Absurd Car Crashes: A Eulogy for J.G. Ballard

Candy Pistol

Now Showing: Dan Grahams 'Rock My Religion'

This Concrete 'O': On Serotonin, the M25, and the Motorik Picturesque

Church of the Literal Narrative

Philadelphias Floating Architecture

Now Viewing: Married To The Eiffel Tower

Le Corbusiers Image Hoard: Poeme Electronique

Giant American Signs: Original Learning from Las Vegas Footage

Giant Soviet Signs Cut Into Forests

Bricks Melted Into Icicles: Napalm Decorative

C-Labs 'Unfriendly Skies' & 'Bootleg' Volume

2 The Lighthouse: Self Storage & Architectural Hallucinations

Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe: Infrastructure as Architectural Subconcious.

Viva Sectional Cinematography!

Now Showing: The Installation of an Irreversible Axis on a Dynamic Timeline

Plug: Junk Jet

Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter

Geography in Bad, Festive Drag.

The Ruins of the Future

High Tech As Steampunk ...

On The Retro Infrastructural

Simulations of Industry: High Tech Architecture and Thatcherism

David Greene: The Big Nothing

From The Factory to the Allotment: Tony Wilson, Urbanist

Koolhaas HouseLife / Gan Eden: The Revenge of Architectural Media

Ruburb-ric: The Ecologies of the Farnsworth House

The Architecture of Divorce

Flagrant Delit: The Movie

Landscape as Clothing

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham Redux

Acts of Un-Building: Timelapse Demolitions

Yard Filth: Next Years Hot Look

Stonehenge: A Black Hole At The Heart Of British Architecture

The Popemobile: Mechanised Robes & Motorised Architecture

Tarmac Adam, Tarmac Eden

The Secret Language of Surface

Some Housekeeping

Information Fields: Agriculture as Media

My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance

A Cubist Copse: Gehrys Serpentine Pavilion

Olympic Model Protest

Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead

Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

Floating Homes

Vintage Tradeshow Surrealism: International Grune Woche

Moving Houses: Buildings In Motion

Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

Married to the Eiffel Tower: More Objectum Sexuals

60 Years of The Crazy Horse Memorial

Married to the Berlin Wall: "The Best and Sexiest Wall Ever Existed!"

Inflatable Icebergs: Sublimated Guilt Has Never Been So Fun

The Cinderella Effect: Phantom Architectures of Illumination

Two Deaths and a Retirement: The Strange Shape of British Architecture

If London Were Like New York: Antique Schizo-Manhattanism

If London Were Like Venice: Antique Geo-Poetic Speculations and Hydro-Fantasy

41 Hours in an Elevator: The Movie

NASA: Mapping the Moon with Sport

Lemon Squeezy: Design Tendencies after the Juicy Salif

Stadium Seat Mosaics

The Nihilistic Beauty of Weapons Arranged in Patterns

Light Vessel Automata

Dogs: Britains Greatest Design Obsession

Madison Avenue Modern

Detroit Sucks: The Motor Shows Last Gasp

Mies' Grave: Cut Out Model

All You Can Eat

Valentine Machine

The Tools of Re-Geography

Floating in a New Town Sky

Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place

Folk Football: Landscape, Space and Abstraction

Haystack House

A Wishing Well with a Fat Up Pipe

The Camoufluers and the Day-Glo Battleship

Pseudoccino: Instant Coffee Foam

Yesterdays Technology, Today

Blown Up: More Inflatable Military Stuff

On Christmas Trees, Folk Forests and Staples Office Supplies

Hampton Courts Shrouded Sculptures

Named Fabric: 20 Sponsored Pieces of Architecture at the New Museum

Form Follows Felony: The Secret Home of the Un-Dead Canoeist.

Architectural Magazines: Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold

Little Magazines Seen Today

James Bond Lives Next Door: Suburban Imagery as Industry

The Ghost of Christmas Futurism

Petrified War Machine

Military Deceptions

Chapters for an Imaginary Book About Architecture

Shrouded Plinth - Urban Striptease

In the Night Garden - Surreal Landscape of Nostalgia

Kim Jong II, The Great Architect

Pill Box Picturesque

Un Clear Monument

Place Faking: Instant Heritage for the Thames Gateway

The Marc Bolan Memorial Crash Barrier.

Warped Domesticity

The Nuclear Heritage Coast

Enjoy The Silence: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Story of O (2)

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

X100: A Design Exercise

How to Plan A New Town

Carpet Bomber

In Search of Britains Vehicular History

Scenes in Cartoon Deserta

Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

Re-Make Re-Model

I Like Your Manifesto, Lets Put it to the Test-o

How to Become a Famous Architect

Northampton - Sci-fi Pop Planning Promotion

Advertising Central Milton Keynes

Baltic Exchanged

Festival of Nostalgia

The Clapham Trainwash

Airports as Music

Test Card Dummies

The Velvet Underground at the Glass House

Duplikate: Kate Moss on the Production Line of Individuality

The Museum that Ate Itself

Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials

Revisions to the Architecture of Hell

Crufts: Dogs, Design and Aesthetic Genetics

Eos Airlines: Executive Bubbles over the Atlantic

London's Ugliest Buildings

1.51 Miles Of String

Google Earths Vertiginous Mapping

Church of the Ascension and Descension

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

Replica Bombs

The Invisible Bungalow

House / Boat

Reading Lines: Skateboarding and Public Space

Mountain Sculpting

Sint Lucas in BD

Bat House Competition

Old Walton Bridge

Kiruna: The Town That Moved

Spray On Magnetic Defense

Chris Cornish: Prototyping History

The Jubilee Gestalt Vase

The Most Visited Location in the UK

Anything to Feel Weightless Again: The Cargo Lifter and the Tropical Island Resort

'Its beauty will know no season'

2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia. Or How Half Timbering Made Me Whole Again.

Inside-out Aldwych

Backpeddling into the Future: The Historical-Futurism of British Architecture

Miss Selfridges' Feeling for Fake Snow. The Oxford St. Lights and Why We Need Artificial Winter

Nelsons Cavern

Foam Gargoyle

New Tory Logo: A Hazy Shade of Politics

Jeff Koons, Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine

Souvenir Empire

Celebrity Scents: The Bittersweet Smell of Success

Imperfect Pitch - Football, Space and Landscape

Product Placement: Making the Impossible Possible

Suburban Growth: Matthew Moores Field of Dreams

Perfect Sound Forever: The Secret Function of High End Stereos

Picture of the Week 1

A Little Light Product Placement

Some Advice To A Young Designer

London and on and on

In the Gallery of Ice Creams

Useless Proclamations for a Beautiful City

Mini Mies Chair

Topsy Turvy VSBA: Inverted Heros of an Upside Down Avant Guard

Harvest III: Buried Things

The Harvest II

The Harvest I

Estuary Urbanism

The Royal Families Trees

Everything Flows: ideological cartography

How Geostationary Was My Valley?

The Psychotic Utopia of the Suburbs and the Suburbanisation of War.

LegoLand London Cluster

In a Lonely Place - Under Construction

Design Will Eat Itself

Mach 3 Nitro Gel - Design that's foaming at the mouth.

Marchitecture. Architectural things to do in London this March

Metallic Jet Powered Cloud

"When we got married I had no idea he would do something like this, he just said he was going to do some decorating."

The Electric Cenotaph

Russian Rok

Commitment ...

Dinner in the Iguanadon

Trace

What happens when you cross a pen with a car?

Leg Table Leg

Florentine Building Sites

Good Morning Britain

Football Pitch: Best of British

The Sad Photographer

The First Cut is the Cheapest - Blenheim Palace: pop architecture that goes for the jugular

Book Now For Christmas

Requiem for a Toilet Seat

Architecture that Destroys

TomTom Mobile 5 / GO 700

Winning Design

Another Croydon

Holiday Snap II : Giant Glowing French Balls

Holiday Snap: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy, France

Pecha Kucha London

Anatomy of an Architectural News Story

Big Bens

First Cut - Case Closed

The Texas Tower

Its All About the Big Benjamins

G8 Security Tower

White Cubed Blues

Poundbury, unexpectedly, in the rain

The Exploding Concrete Inevitable. Lou Reed and the Casa da Musica

Swingball

Untitled (Plastic Sack and Timber)

Berlin 1945 - The Obscene Picturesque

Pizza Planet

Goal Sculptures

Interview: Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane

Previewing Cedric Price

The Mardas Touch

Building a Lionel Richie Head

Ornament is Grime 2

An Incredible Smell of Roasting Coffee

Flatpack Frenzy at New IKEA

Langlands & Bell - The House of Osama Bin Laden

Labour is kind of working

Happy Death Men

Build to Let

Architectural Criticism gets Sharp

Niagara Falls

Ornament is Grime

FA(ke) Cup

Q&A: Wouter Vanstiphout

X-treme urinals

Unigate Cowscape

Spray-on Snow

From the Baffler ...

One in a Taxi

The Queen Machine

The Knork

Venturi, Scott Brown and my love that dare not speak its name.

Polictical Placards

The Ketchup Conumdrum

Douglas Coupland: Design and Fiction

It's a Small World

Images de Parfums

Soft Carcass

Christopher Dresser at the V&A

Blow up Pub

Municipal Mummification

The Matt and Ron Show

Semi - detached

Half Timbered Van

Feltham Future

Favorite Things

Fugitives and Refugees' - Chuck Palahniuk

The Pop Vernacular

Design by Chefs

Just What is it That Makes Yesterdays Homes So Different, So Appealing?

Archigrams Pastoral Futurism

Sorry Mies

The Flaming Lips - Live.

Everything Counts - The Sound of Geography Collapsing.

Carlton Terrace Extension

Other:

www.fat.co.uk

www.samjacob.com

twitter.com/anothersam

Flickr:


Links:

IconEye
Archinect
Flip Flop Flyin'
Arts & Letters
Bldg Blog
City of Sound
Design Observer
Limited Language
Mcsweeneys
Things
Dezeen
Kieran Long
Arts Monitor
Loud Paper
Dwell Blog
David Barrie
Super Colossal
sit down man, you're a bloody tragedy
The Sesquipedalist
Londonist
Architecture & Hygiene
Pruned
Infosthetics
Aggregat456
A456Tumblr
Kazys Varnelis
Infranet Lab
Life Without Buildings
Landscape & Urbanism
HTC Experiments
Deputy Dog
Subtopia
The Dirt
Mockitecutre
Art Fag City
Triple Canopy
Where
Actar
Mechanophilia
Shrapnel
NL Blog