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The Good Argument

Posted: April 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: spring 2011 | No Comments »

Two words, good and design, both evoke ambiguous moral debate. The two words combined, good design, have been theorized to simply represent the opinions “of a particular elite at a particular time.”[1] But, if good design could only exist as a judgment, then bad design would have to be fleetingly subjective in the same way. With that in mind, what would we call a designed object where elements are misspelled, wasteful, or deathly? If such unintentional flaws are present in an object’s being, then we could assert that the object is bad design. Where there is bad design there is better design. When something can be better a hierarchy is created. At one extreme of this spectrum sits bad design, broken and misspelled, and at another end temporarily rests good design.

The hardest part about defining good design is where to draw the line, who gets to draw it, and does it matter that it is being drawn? Imagine a consumer in a world where good and bad design didn’t exist, only individual opinion. In this scenario a shopper walks into a Ford dealership in 1971. This car seeker is rich, happy, and has a strong will to live, let’s call him Gerald. He looks at his options and chooses the 1971 Ford Pinto, after deciding it is the best-designed vehicle in the lot. Who is to say otherwise? As he is driving away in his new ride, Gerald gets hit from behind by the Ford Bronco of another new car owner, because the 1971 Ford Pinto had a hazardous fuel system that “tended to erupt in flame in rear-end collisions,”[2] Gerald dies in combustion. Where as the owner of the Bronco only had to replace their bumper, and deal with the hypothetical guilt. Based on this situation we could infer that the Pinto, or at least the fuel component of the car, is bad design.

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In a world without the idea of good or bad design, the opinion of the unaware consumer would lead to the selection of the wrong choice of product creating a dangerous and wasteful marketplace. Illustrator Joel Nakamura once stated, “A bad painting might annoy you, but bad design can kill you.”[3] That being said, is the only distinction that bad design causes death or injury and good design does not? The combustibility of the 1971 Ford Pinto was a clear problem. But that example only shows that good design can be present in the moment as a result of the existence of bad design, how does the spectrum translate through time? To deal with any given issue a design thinker creates something to project an idea, or debate an existing one. If we analyze a tangible response to a situation then “its strength or weakness as an argument is a good guide to its value.”[4] This postulate depends entirely on being able to situate an artifact in its context.

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Take the Carlton Bookshelf for example, designed by Ettore Sottsass in 1981. Without context the object could be viewed as being oddly colored, inefficient in structure for storing books, expensive for a democratic consumer, and playful to the point of childish. The man who made it, Sottsass, was an Italian designer who grew up during the “European upheavals of the First World War” and was “largely defined by the economic and political legacy of the second.”[5] His philosophy for design work in the 1980’s, when the bookshelf was made, was to create a collection of “philosophical notes and statements.”[6] Therefore we can situate the Carlton Bookshelf with the argument of purposefully breaking an archetype. With this contention, Sottsass implies that good design is not creating an absolute object; rather it is to inspire ideas and understandings as time progresses. Even if the craft of a bookshelf is perfected for generations, by not questioning its archetypal form you limit the possibility to improve the idea of a bookshelf. Sottsass remarked that “a good design is like the possibility of going to the moon,” and the intent doesn’t have to be selling the objects but to “release creative energies, to suggest possibilities, to stimulate awareness, to bring people’s feet back onto the planet.”[7] This is a humbling perspective for Sottsass to design with, noting that his work is not a reflection for absolute perfect objects; instead his objects become a few words in the conversation of what good design can be.

By recognizing the existence of bad design the reality of good design is materialized. When we contextualize an object in its time period and analyze the argument of its creation, it is illuminated that good design can be both a useful object as well as a polemic idea. Even through this contemplation, it can still be argued that good design is simply the opinions of an elite at a specific time, such as the juried panels of designers who placed orange-and-brown Good Design tags on new objects during the MoMA exhibit in 1951. But without the critique and analysis of designed matter by some form of specialist, ideas on the effectiveness of an object’s argument would not be able to permeate the imaginations of future designers. In order to find an example of good design, which is not tainted with egos and economic reward systems, we have to look into the empirical trends of society.

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Personal water carrying devices were created as early as man could develop tools to carve the hides and bladders from other animals. In recent years, the trend of packaging water in discardable plastic receptacles for convenience has become a normal behavior. Over sixty million plastic bottles a day are disposed of in America alone. According to a study from 2004 to 2008 by the National Resources Defense Council “there is no assurance that just because water comes out of a bottle, it is any cleaner or safer than water from the tap.”[8] The use of a reusable personal water bottle is a trend that came out of an environmental demand for the reducing of waste. Although personal water bottles had been used for years, under a new ideological context they have been appropriated with the idea of limiting unnecessary material consumption. Brands such as Klean Kanteen have marketed and refined the idea of a reusable water bottle claiming that they provide a “safe alternative to plastic or lined aluminum bottles” with “no paint or plastic,” and that their product is the “first BPA-free stainless steel water bottle.”[9] Based on these clever advertisements, it can be argued that they were simply reflecting on the desires of the public around them. The good design for a “healthy, safe, earth-friendly alternative” that made their phone ring “off the hook to fill orders,”[10] predated Klean Kanteens entry into this market, giving insight into how good design can grows out of societal trends and become branded by a company.

Good design is enigmatic, but real. On the surface, the use of good design as a label or selling point comes from the elite. However good design does not come from the views of a few, but by analyzing the gradual developments of societal trends that manifest from dissatisfactions with the constructed environment.

 

Sources

Meikle,Jeffrey L. Design in USA. Oxford History of Art, 2005.

Neil, Dan. “50 Worst Cars of All Time.” 2007.http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1658545_1658498_1657866,00.html (accessed 3/20/11).

Marks,Terry. Good Design. Massachussetts: Rockport, 2009.

Hall, Peter. “A Good Argument.” Metropolis, 3, 2009, 73-75.

Burney,Jan. Ettore Sottsass. London: Trefoil, 1991.

Sottsass,Ettore. Design Metaphors. Barbara Radice. New York: Rizzoli, 1988.

“Bottle Water Blues.” 2001.http://www.bottledwaterblues.com/ (accessed 3/22/11).

“The History of Water Bottles.” http://www.ehow.com/about_5242430_history-water-bottles.html (accessed 3/22/11).

“Klean Kanteen Our Story.” http://www.kleankanteen.com/about/about-klean.php (accessed 3/22/11).


[1] Miekle, Deisign in USA, pg 150

[2] Time, The 50 Worst Cars of All Time, 2007

[3] Marks, Good Design, pg 65

[4] Hall, Metropolis, pg 75

[5] Burney, Ettore Sottsass, pg 13

[6] Burney, Ettore Sottsass, pg 77

[7] Sottsass, Design Metaphors, pg 1

[8] Bottledwaterblues.com

[9] Kleankanteen.com

[10] Kleankanteen.com

 


The Influence of Ideal Beauty and Body Image from the Entertainment Industry

Posted: April 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: spring 2011 | No Comments »

Over hundred years of advertising, the use of sex to sell in the entertainment industry influences the ideal body image and gender role for women in our society. This is depicted in La Loie Fuller (1893), The Seven Years Itch (1955), and Burlesque (2010).

Follies-Bergere: La Loie Fuller was created in 1893 by Jules Cheret. It advertises an image of an American erotic dancer La Loie Fuller for her Paris debut. La Loie Fuller began her career as a professional actress, and moved on to choreographed and performed in burlesque in the United States. As a pioneer of modern dance and theatrical lighting, she successfully improvised her own dance techniques such as combining her choreography with silk costumes illuminated by multi-colored lighting in the performance Serpentine Dance (1891). She wanted the public to take her seriously as a dancer. In 1893, feminists in the United States began the women’s suffrage movement, which promoted empowerment. She created the Serpentine Dance for Follies-Bergere and entered the Paris entertainment market as a sensual dancer.

Jules Cheret, lithographed poster of dancer Loie Fuller, 1893.

The Seven Year Itch American film poster (1955) features Marilyn Monroe, a Hollywood sex symbol. She started out her entertainment career modeling, and then moved into an acting career where she usually cast as a sexy blonde. The Seven Year Itch was one of the first movies that started selling her as a sex symbol. She played the role of a sexy young model, for a television commercial, who moves into an apartment floor above a typical middle-aged Manhattan man, played by Tom Ewell, whose wife and kids are away for the summer. The movie revolves around the guy being tempted, by her innocent, sexy talk and body language. Although nothing really happens between them, the movie raises erotic tension of an affair similar to effects of the burlesque dance by La Loie Fuller. This movie is also a good indication of the role women played in the time period after World War II. For example, married women who had taken men’s jobs were encouraged to go back to being housewives. Women that continued to work went back to low-paying and less-respectable jobs.

20th Century Fox Film Co., lithographed poster of The Seven Year Itch, 1955.

The movie poster for the 2010 movie, Burlesque, feature Cher and Christina Aguilera, as burlesque dancers. Although some career fields are still male-dominated, nowadays women are encouraged to be independent and pursue a professional career along with being a good housewife. The movie is about a talented small town girl who goes to Los Angeles in pursuit of fulfilling her dream of be a singer and she ends up dancing and performing at a burlesque bar. Christina Aguilera, seeing burlesque bar for the first time, is enthralled by the whole concept. Like Monroe and Fuller, she uses her sexual attractions, the burlesque dance, to start gaining recognition.

De Line Pictures, poster of Burlesque, 2010

As a medium of advertisement, the image of the three posters uses sexuality, at the same time, but attempts to keep the provocative nature within the boundaries of cultural acceptance. La Loie Fuller captures the viewer’s attention by exposing Fuller’s body, under a vivid-colored see-through garment, in a flamboyant sensual dancing movement. The way she is holding a garment and bending her head back reveals the top of her chest and shows a part of her leg. The garment is carefully drawn in so as not to reveal the parts of her body that would not be acceptable to show in public. The poster successfully shows her performance style and displays the entertainment of contemporary urban lifestyle.

Similar to Cheret’s advertising method, The Seven Year Itch shows Marilyn Monroe in her famous white dress pose revealing her legs to attract the viewer’s attention. Her signature pose is a scene in the movie where she is standing by the underground train that blows her dress up, and she is shown innocently attempts to lower her dress. The art director was careful in covering to show nothing more than her legs. The Monroe poster, 50 years after Cheret, is more risqué, showing that the public is becoming more open minded about sexuality in the mass media. The film itself also portrays this acceptance level. Although the film is about tempting sexual behavior, there are no sex scenes. Besides showing the woman’s body, the poster also shows Monroe dressed up in a beautiful white dress, high heels, make-up, and hair done similar to Fuller’s flamboyant and colorful style.

The Burlesque poster also uses the female in a sensual way to appeal to the audience. Cher, Aguilera, and other back up dancers all wore skimpy burlesque dresses that fully expose their legs. Compared to the previous two posters, this poster can freely expose women’s legs because, in 2010, it is socially acceptable to show it in the mass media today. Aguilera and the dancer pose in a way that shows off their body curves much closer to the way La Loie arched her neck. Even though the dancers are hidden and blurred by the light, they also pose to show their feminine figures. Although Aguilera plays a role of a talented singer; the poster shows no indication of this.

Each of these entertainment posters contribute to the viewer’s idea of ideal female characteristics and assign gender roles for women. The use of female figures in capturing the audience’s attention has a subtle influence on what the public considers “beauty” during that time period. According to Drucker and McVarish’s textbook, Jules Cheret said that the ideal height for a woman should be 8 feet high. In the 19th century, Fuller’s poster shows her as more curvy, skinnier, and taller than photographs of her Serpentine Dance, which was performed around the time she entered Paris. Her body in the poster is much closer to our ideal of a woman’s body. Then, in the 20th century, Marilyn Monroe’s role is an attractive model in the film, so the poster sends a message to the public that this is the what we consider as attractive: skinny legs, well groomed, and sexy. She, then, became a sex icon of Hollywood and contributes to how an attractive actress should look. In this century, the advertisement still sends similar message to women, evident in the Burlesque poster, where both Aguilera and Cher have what the public considers to be a good body.

These advertisements also subtly assign a specific gender role to women. According to the film Codes of Gender, advertisements depict women as vulnerable and insecure by using off-balanced poses, whereas men were shown in strong, rigid, upright poses. This is evidenced in all three posters: Fuller lifts one of her legs and tilts her head backward while Monroe and Cher tilt their heads sideways and spread their legs off center. Moreover, all of these women are performers: Fuller is an erotic dancer, Monroe is a model, and Aguilera is a burlesque dancer and singer. These are one-sided messages that are sent to the public and set the stereotypes for women to be entertainers rather than use their intelligence. All three are also know for their flamboyant personalities, especially Monroe, who almost always acts as a sensual dumb blond with a bubbly persona. While Fuller is also a pioneer for her theatrical lighting, very little of that is the selling point for her debut poster to Paris. Instead, the advertisement depicts the woman as something beautiful to be looked at. The Seven Year Itch poster shows Tom Ewell, the actor from the film, standing in smaller size and gazing at Monroe’s revealed leg. All three are looking sideways, inviting the viewer to freely look at their bodies.

The three posters representing the media from 19th, 20th, 21st century all uses the sensuality of women bodies as a marketing point to appeal to the public’s interest. As a result, they create impossible expectations for women in society: on how to look, how to act, and how to be. No matter how the role of women in society changes through the years, advertisements still depict women as entertainers to be looked at and as having vulnerable, dependent characteristics. This creates a specific gender role for women in society.

 

Work Cited

Burlesque [Blu-ray]. Blu-Ray. Directed by Steve Antin. Culver City, CA: Screen Gems, 2010.

Drucker, Johanna, and Emily McVarish. “The Graphic Effects of Industrial Production.” In Graphic design history: a critical guide. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009. 158.

Nelson, Richard, and Marcia Ewing. Loie Fuller, goddess of light . Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1997.

The Codes of Gender. DVD. Directed by Sut Jhally. Massachusettes: MEF Executive, 2009.

“The Seven Year Itch (1955) – IMDb.” The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0048605/ (accessed January 28, 2011).


Utopian Dreams: Failures and Successes

Posted: April 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: spring 2011 | No Comments »

Designers have the ability to solve problems with their creations.  One of these problems to solve is the betterment of the society they live in. The philosophical beliefs and ideas a designer has about the current condition of their habitations can bring about the creation of designed utopian societies that are often expressed in the form of architecture for communities. Designers use their views of the condition of their current environment to create utopian societal concepts for the future that push their ideological agendas. Although these utopias often fail to be successful in the way the designer had originally intended, they are usually adapted and integrated into contemporary society becoming successful in a different way.

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The post world war eras were times of reassessment of the living condition in urban environments. In the 1920’s in France, officials had been trying to deal with the squalor of the growing Parisian slums, and Le Corbusier sought efficient ways to house large numbers of people in response to the urban housing crisis (Huxtable). He believed that his new, modern architectural forms would provide a new organizational solution that would raise the quality of life for the lower classes. Le Corbusier designed and built a community of fifty-one homes in Pessac, a town near Bordeaux, in France that was meant to be a laboratory of new domestic, structural and esthetic ideas (Huxtable). The structures had a “raised ground floor, wide windows, roof terraces, open facades and open plans… corners could be breached, openings placed almost anywhere and made much larger, spans increased and walls treated as screens, rooms [were] opened to each other and to the light and view”.[1]

However this project was commonly seen as a failure, because of the occupants’ rebellious rejection of Le Corbusier’s doctrinaire modernist esthetic and elitist ideas, as they restructured and redecorated the homes (Huxtable). But French architect, Philippe Boudon wrote that “The Quartiers Modernes Fruges were not an ‘architectural failure’. The modifications carried out by the occupants constitute a positive and not a negative consequence of Le Corbusier’s original conception. Pessac not only allowed the occupants sufficient latitude to satisfy their needs, by doing so it also helped them to realize what those needs were.”[2] “The project’s strong identity absorbs almost anything.”[3] An observer can discern the features of the original structure from the changes that were made to it (Huxtable). Even though the structures designed by Le Corbusier are not being used in his original intention as a “machine to live in”[4] they are successful in the fact that adapted and assimilated well.  The project is a true expression of how life and art accommodate each other.

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After World War II, there was a renewed sense of progressivism in industry.  The 1939 World’s Fair, held an exhibition with the theme of “Building a Better Future”.  The General Motors building exhibit featured the utopian creation designed by Norman Bel Geddes.  Futurama, as it was called, looked at the concurrent traffic and congestion problems of the 1930s and tried to fix it with a plan for 1960. The exhibit constructed an ideological agenda through streamlining, which was “intended to soothe the tensions between the rich and poor and between labor and capital by suggesting harmonious slum-free society sustained by commercialized science and technology.”[5] Geddes’s Futurama was a diorama covering 36,000 square feet featuring sparse examples of futuristic innovations such as scientific orchards, a giant power dam, and a fourteen-lane superhighway system and a Le Corbusian metropolis (Henthorn).

Although GM used Geddes’ model to promote their business and never intended to make it a reality, he wanted his vision be fulfilled. Geddes tried for years to get support for his vision of utopia but it was never realized.  However, the urban freeway and the idea of a city structured for the use of automobiles were both taken from Geddes’ model. “Indeed, two seminal documents of US government freeway policy at this time…did not copy Bel Geddes’ schemes, [but] they did propose massive freeway construction in and around the cores of America’s central cities.”[6] The ideological theories of using the freeway system to have a cleansed city—free of slums—was never actualized but the idea of creating the highway system to ease congestion was.

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Looking for new ways, fix the problem of class division and pressure of growth in Brazil in the 1950s, the idea of Brasília was formed.  The city served to open the center of Brazil to new development, relieve the pressure of growth from the burdened old Capital Rio de Janeiro, and create a renewed sense of Nation pride by building a modern twenty first century city (Oscar). Niemeyer didn’t want his city to be a “recreation, on the Brazilian plateau, of an equivalent to the bourgeois life of Ipanema or Leblon, but the creation of something new, egalitarian, and powerful, with its roots in a shared sense of adversity.”[7] Brasília’s plan, designed by the urbanist Lúcio Costa, is shaped like a bird or an airplane (Williams 123). It’s wings, contain fifteen km of residential buildings and are bisected by a five km Monumental Axis containing the seat of government, the president’s office, the ministries, the national theater, and the bus station (124).

The city was never discarded as unusable, but there are many critiques to the design. The most common critique was that “civic life is something it conspicuously lacks and that its absence is a conspicuous failure.” [8] This is meant that the city seemed to alienate the people living in it. A further issue as Niemeyer recognized in 1963, was that the city exacerbated the social problems it was supposed to solve (131). The city’s spatial arrangement imposed a brutal regime on the poor, obliging them to live far from the center in a semi legal periphery and to endure a long and painful commute (131). There is evidence, as well, that the city “increasingly reproduces the bourgeois civic life that it was supposed to replace.” [9] But the city is successful in the way that it gave Brazil a striking, new capital to equate Brazil with industrialized and developed countries.

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As the world kept developing, and we became aware of the issues involved with wasting resources there came a need to consider environmentally friendly ways of living. The Cosanti Foundation began building Arcosanti, an experimental town in the high desert of Arizona in 1970 (Arcosanti). Arcosanti is based on the concept of arcology (architecture + ecology), which was developed by Italian architect Paolo Soleri. An arcology, is the integration of the built and the living, so that they act “as organs would in a highly evolved being. This means many systems work together, with efficient circulation of people and resources, multi-use buildings, and solar orientation for lighting, heating and cooling.”[10] Arcosanti was designed to house 5000 people, have compact structures and solar greenhouses that would occupy 25 acres of a 4060-acre land preserve.

While the city provides a good place for the discussion of environmentally friendly ways of building and living, the city for the most part is a dud. At the present stage, “about 3% of the city has been built in the last 30 years, and about 70 people, not 5,000, live there.”[11] Instead of being a city for people to live with the land, it is instead, an educational site where people can learn the architectural “building techniques and arcological philosophy, while continuing the city’s construction”[12] as well as create the clay bells that Soleri is known for.  The lack of funding is a major component of what kept this project from developing further but the city is still successful in the way of teaching strategies that one could use to create a more environmentally friendly city, providing working examples of these structures and giving a place where nature and people come together to have a full community.

Faced with countless societal problems that for the most part are never fully solved, designers have tried to find ways to make a more enjoyable society for everyone.  These concepts, based on the ideologies of the designer, are frequently presented in the form of utopian societies achieved through the structure of architecture.  But the idea of a utopian society is a set up for failure, due to a steady variable: human nature.  It is human nature that accounts for the downfalls, as well as the advancement of society.  Without this variable, there would be no advances that lead us to better societies. Although utopian societies will not be the solution to our problems, designing them is an important step that allows us to take the successful parts and use them to get closer to the overall betterment of society.

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

“Arcosanti : Project.” Arcosanti: Home. http://www.arcosanti.org/project/main.html (accessed April 17, 2011).

 

Ellis, Cliff ‘Lewis Mumford and Norman Bel Geddes: the highway, the city and the future’, Planning Perspectives, 20:1, 51 – 68

 

Henthorn, Cynthia Lee. “Weapons of Mass Persuasion.” In From submarines to suburbs: selling a better America, 1939-1959. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2006. 47-49.

 

Huxtable, Ada Louise. “LE CORBUSIER’S HOUSING PROJECT- FLEXIBLE ENOUGH TO ENDURE.” The New York Times (New York City), March 15, 1981. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D07E7DD1239F936A25750C0A967948260&pagewanted=1 (accessed March 28, 2011).

 

“Oscar Niemeyer – Brasilia – The Capital of Brazil :: arcspace.com.” architecture online – arcspace is an architecture and design magazine that features today’s most creative projects as well as the most influential of the past.. http://www.arcspace.com/architects/Niemeyer/index.html (accessed March 28, 2011).

 

Steffen, Alex. “Worldchanging: Bright Green: Recycling Arcosanti.” Worldchanging: Bright Green. http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/000793.html (accessed April 18, 2011).

 

Williams, Richard J.. “Modernist Civic Space and the Case of Brasília.” Journal of Urban History 32, no. 120 (2005): 120-137.


[1] Huxtable, Ada Louise, “LE CORBUSIER’S HOUSING PROJECT- FLEXIBLE ENOUGH TO ENDURE.” 3

[2] Huxtable, Ada Louise, “LE CORBUSIER’S HOUSING PROJECT- FLEXIBLE ENOUGH TO ENDURE.” 2

[3] Huxtable, Ada Louise, “LE CORBUSIER’S HOUSING PROJECT- FLEXIBLE ENOUGH TO ENDURE.” 2

[4] Huxtable, Ada Louise, “LE CORBUSIER’S HOUSING PROJECT- FLEXIBLE ENOUGH TO ENDURE.” 3

[5] Henthorn, Cynthia Lee, “Weapons of Mass Persuasion.” 47-49.

[6] Ellis, Cliff, ‘Lewis Mumford and Norman Bel Geddes: the highway, the city and the future’, 51 – 68

[7] Williams, Richard J., Modernist Civic Space and the Case of Brasília, 129

[8] Williams, Richard J., Modernist Civic Space and the Case of Brasília, 121

[9] Williams, Richard J., Modernist Civic Space and the Case of Brasília, 131

[10] “Arcosanti : Project.”

[11] Steffen, Alex. “Worldchanging: Bright Green: Recycling Arcosanti.”

[12] “Arcosanti : Project.”


Exploitation for Consumption

Posted: April 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: spring 2011, Uncategorized | No Comments »

John Millais was a talented artist who lived in the 1800s and was a main part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His early art included paintings that were eclectic, compelling, audacious and brightly colored. Over the years, however, his style changed into something much more nostalgic, with darker colors and looser brushwork. Some of Millais’ paintings in his later years were commonly known as “fancy pictures”, a genre of art in which “sentiment takes precedence over evolved narrative.” Emotive paintings such as these became popular during the eighteenth century; at the same time, Enlightenment philosophers were exploring newfound ideas of childhood innocence. Previously thought of as being born into sin, children were starting to be viewed in a different light—they became symbols of hope, innocence and joy.(Smith 125) The Victorian era brought different connotations to the idea of the fancy picture. The corruption found in sexual exploitation and child labor made the concept of the fancy picture a paradox of a sort, illustrating emotion, while also conveying anxiety.

The painting Bubbles by Millais was a good example of these notions and ideas.(Drucker and McVarish 157) Millais originally created this oil painting in 1886, when he was at the peak of his fame. He used his grandson, Willie James, as his model. In Bubbles, the young boy is illustrated holding a bowl of soap suds and a pipe. The young, chubby boy is also seen staring up at a large bubble with an expression of wonder and awe. Bubbles (and its copyright) were bought from Millais by William Ingram in 1886. Ingram was the owner of the Illustrated London News and published Bubbles in the Christmas edition of the magazine in 1887. Thomas Barratt, the managing director of A & F Pears was a clever individual and believed in forceful marketing techniques. Barratt bought the image and its copyrights from Ingram with the idea of turning it into an advertisement for Pears’ Soap. Barratt wanted to create a link between the beautiful child, innocence, purity, and cleanliness, therefore convincing the consumer to buy the product. (Smith 184) In order to do this, however, he had to change certain things about the image. Barratt added in a bar of soap at the bottom of the painting, and added in the text “Pears’ Soap” at the top of the image. By doing so, Barratt successfully created an advertisement by using a sentimental image of a child, provoking an emotional link in the viewer’s mind. This usage of children in advertisements has continued to play a large part in marketing since the 1800s. Since then, large companies such as Merck and Gerber Products Company have used this technique, and arguably even exploited children in order to further themselves financially. Over the years, however, the use of children has spun out of control, and the increase of objectification is significantly more noticeable than in the early years of Victorian beliefs.

Small children inspire trust, hope, joy and a multitude of emotions that attract consumers. In the book, Consuming Kids, psychologist David Walsh is quoted by saying, “Emotion focuses attention, determines what we remember, shapes attitudes, motivates, and moves us to act.”(Linn 51) Marketing strategies have been employed in various degrees over the years, but the fine line between displaying the product in a humanly manner and objectifying humans has been blurred.

In 1959, Joyce Ballantyne Brand drew an ad for Coppertone Sunscreen.This ad was to become widely recognizable as the Coppertone girl icon, which is still in use today. Brand was mainly known for her 1940s pin up paintings, depicting childlike-looking girls caught in compromising positions. In a similar concept of pin up girls, Brand drew her daughter; a girl of three years old in blonde pigtails at the beach.(Brand) A black dog is pulling down her blue swimsuit bottom, exposing her bare backside, which is considerably lighter than the rest of her body. Next to the ad, the words “Don’t be a paleface!” are shown in a loose script. The formal qualities of the Coppertone girl ad are similar to Bubbles in the sense that they are both drawn, giving the advertisement a sweet, soft look. Mass production of this image has made it openly famous and easily recognizable.

There is a dramatic difference in the use of children between the time in which Bubbles was used and the 1950s Coppertone girl. The way it is used in the Coppertone ad, although playful, is also visibly provocative and somewhat sexual. The girl’s exposed bottom is suggestive. Additionally, her pose is reminiscent of a pin up girl, and her surprised, angelic expression is also closely linked to the expressions used in pin up girl photographs and paintings. In this ad, there is a visible change in the depiction of children. In past advertisements, like the Pears’ Soap ad, there was a different tone of “innocence”; the Coppertone girl starts to become less childlike and more controversial. Although Coppertone has since then changed the image to make the girl look less sexual, the fact that adult consumers considered this ad “cute” gives insight to the present issue of increasing sexual objectification of children and the audience’s reaction to these types of advertisements.
Love Cosmetics was a company famous in the 70s for their cosmetic products for women. Owned by Menley & James Laboratories, Love Cosmetics had an advertising budget that went over seven million dollars.(Portals) Marketing was mainly geared towards young women, and in 1974, they started producing a line of Baby Soft products, except these were marketed towards adults. These products seemed to be based on the idea of innocence, and the soft smell of baby powder in their products added to this concept. Advertisements on television and print for the line of Baby Soft products portrayed this idea and emphasized a sense of dreamy, sexy innocence conveyed by their products and models. The ads for the line of Love Cosmetics, similar to Bubbles and the Coppertone girl ad, convey a sense of softness and appeal that is parallel to the “sweet and innocent” message they all attempt to convey.


One of these ads portrays a young girl, staring straight at the audience in a sultry manner. Her hand is delicately placed on a stuffed animal that covers a suggestively skimpy outfit. Her face has soft features, with big blue eyes, rosy cheeks and full lips that are reminiscent of a baby’s features. Her hair is light brown and delicately curled, adding to the childlike appearance of the girl in general. The product is shown in the bottom left corner, with an explanation. It describes Love Cosmetics as a “irresistible, clean-baby smell, grown-up enough to be sexy….Pure and innocent. It may well be the sexiest fragrance around.” At the top, the ad reads, “Love’s Baby Soft. Because innocence is sexier than you think.” The text stresses the smell and concept of the product and continues to mention the “innocence” and “sexiness” contained in the scent of the product. The progression of time from when Bubbles was considered controversial to the Coppertone girl, to the 1970s ads for Love Cosmetics, shows the manner in which children are becoming more of an object for display in advertising. Advertising methods are actively crossing lines and becoming increasingly provocative in order to capture the consumer’s attention and sell the product.

Formally, all of the images contain a sense of softness, achieved by hand painting/drawing in advertisements. This style is analogous with both the product it is trying to sell (soap, cream, and perfume) and it also makes the image appear even more childlike and innocent. The Pears’ Soap ad sets the stage for the advertising done later in the 1950s, 1970s, and even today. Advertisements are everywhere and children are becoming commodities as they continue to become mere props for consumption rather than symbols of hope, joy and innocence. Additionally, no one seems to notice the use of these children and the corruption of innocence that is used in order to gain wealth in society today.


Works Cited:

Gallo, Max. Poster in History. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974.

Irwin, Cheri Brand. “The Artist Behind the Coppertone Girl Ad.” Interview by Madeleine Brand. May 18, 2006. NPR. http://www.npr.org/templates/ story/story.php?storyId=5415067.

Linn, Susan. Consuming Kids. New York: The New Press, 2004.

Millais, John Everett. Pears’ Soap Ad. 1886. In Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide, by Johanna Drucker and Emily McVarish. Upper Saddle River:

Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009.

Rosenfeld, Jason, Alison Smith, and Heather Birchall. Millais. Millbank: Tate Publishing, 2007.

XI Lifestyle Portals. “Love Cosmetics.” Beauty Tips Hub. http://www.beautytipshub.com/cosmetics/love-cosmetics.html.


Inherently Good Design

Posted: April 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: spring 2011, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Throughout history and society, it has been a recurring element that those select few who bear specialized knowledge and skills regarding a specific subject hold the greatest power and influence over the masses. These groups of people fall under the category of elitism—a word that carries both positive and negative connotations. While it can be argued relentlessly over whether elitism is “good” or “bad”, there is no denying that it exists. According to Jeffrey Meikle in his book, Design in the USA, “’Good design’ simply denotes the tastes and aspirations of a particular elite at a particular time.” [1] However, while elitists do exist within the realm of design, they alone do not dictate what good design encompasses nor do they force a prescription for the masses. Good design can be inherently good through its progressive ideas, usability, and engaging discourse between designers and consumers.

Meikle’s provocative words beg the question: what is good design? Is it even definable in a way that utilizes objectivity? Whether something can even be labeled as such remains so controversial because opinions differ and will always remain subjective. However, it must be established that good design is unquantifiable on a purely aesthetic level; instead, it should be viewed as a progressive idea whose value is determined by the strength of its argument. For example, upon purchasing a reusable water bottle, there are a myriad of varying designs to choose from. Some have straws, others are made out of aluminum, but ultimately they all encompass the singular idea of a portable water system. It is an argument for getting water from the tap to the mouth [2], and through this human necessity for water, the idea of the water bottle is given the opportunity to evolve and progress in order to fit the needs of the consumer.

Furthermore, much like an infinite limit, the concept of good design is never final, but is something that is always being worked toward as a goal by designers. The way ideas continue to progress and become better design is not through an elite group of people, but through the discourse between the designer with specialized knowledge and the consumer who interacts with the idea behind the product. This dialogue comes in the form of action and response—the action being a designer’s idea or argument translated into some form and the response being the feedback from the consumer regarding the usability of the object. The combination of the two allows the designer to incorporate the criticism of the consumer into future design, thus creating better design. This is the reason why companies such as Apple and Adobe constantly update their products and interfaces to the point where some find it irritating. Because they bear specialized knowledge that the average person would not have, these corporations must be responsible for complying and responding to the needs of the customer. When the action is sold before considering the response, only then is elitism criticized of controlling the tastes and trends of good design. Otherwise, how could elitism dictate design trends when ultimately designers should be creating with the consumers in mind?

However, it is not to say that exceptions do not exist. Two designers, Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf, designed an ergonomic chair made out of flexible mesh for Herman Miller: the Aeron chair. Because of its unfamiliar form, the initial response to the design was terrible—those testing the chair criticized it for everything that it wasn’t supposed to be. They described it as “uncomfortable and alien” [3], even after the great amount of ergonomic research put into the design. However, with continued persistence, over time the testers began to like the Aeron chair more and more—but even so, it was not up to Herman Miller standards. Still, they stuck by the design and released it regardless, and luckily, the response from the consumers was extremely positive. In this case, the action seems to have been sold before the response, but it wasn’t as if the consumers were completely disregarded; a great amount of research was put into the design to make it as comfortable as possible for the human body. Needless to say, there are exceptions to everything. While the question on whether good design is achieved still remains, designers strive to reach closer to the answer through the improvement and evolution of ideas through conversation with the consumer, making the standards of good design a collective, rather than elitist, effort.

During the mid-20th century, modern design continued to flourish. However, much opposition arose, claiming that it was unfair for an elite group to force a certain prescription on the masses that didn’t fit everyone’s personal tastes. This was especially evident during the Museum of Modern Art’s 1949 exhibition entitled Good Design—a collection of modern household products that sought to reach out to American consumers and retailers. The name of the showcase alone sparked much controversy, as many took the title as the elitists’ pretentious, end-all-be-all label to the products displayed.

Edgar J. Kaufmann was highly criticized for his exhibition because he and a choice jury—all of whom carry strong backgrounds in design—made the selections. Meikle writes, “Although Larsen [a textile designer who supported the MoMA collection] affectionately referred to MoMA as the ‘mother church’ of modern design, that phrase suggested an institution that was setting and enforcing standards to control design’s explosive velocity. That is precisely what Kaufmann and MoMA were all about.” [4] However, it is not safe to assume that Kaufmann believed that his exhibition was the final say in what was to be considered good design because once again, good design is ever evolving and never final. The name Good Design was provocative, challenging the consumer to refute or at least question, “What is good design?” The controversy of the exhibition title allowed for discourse between the customer and the designer, and this was the intention of Kaufmann upon creation of Good Design. Good Design became the action, and the consumer feedback, the response. Furthermore, it was necessary to set a standard by labeling products as Good Design because otherwise, we would not be able to differentiate the good from the bad without anything to compare it with. If that were the case, then the conversation necessary for the progression of ideas would never occur.

Terrence Riley and Edward Eigen, in their article Between the Museum and the Marketplace: Selling Good Design, reiterate that, “The ultimate goals of this complex strategy…were to inform consumers and manufacturers about modern design products.” [5] And while many believed that the masses took on a completely passive role and were force-fed opinions from elitists, that was not the case. One of the most important functions of the Good Design showcase was the incorporation of the public opinion into the exhibition. The visitors would rate the pieces through polls taken at each door, and the results were distributed amongst the public. Kaufmann stressed that Good Design would provide impetus for designers to further progress their original ideas and arguments so that better design could be achieved. Once again, action and response is utilized to involve the consumer’s opinion, and thus, the status quo is not directed by elitism alone, but rather a collective group. Without the specialization, research, and impetus, a consensus on good design could never exist.

Not only in Good Design, but the importance of the notion of discourse between designer and consumer transcends even past modernism. Ettore Sottsass was an Italian designer active in the late 20th century who crafted the Carlton Bookcase. At first glance, it is easy to overly criticize this interesting furniture design. Not only is it extremely pricey, but also physically does not mimic the every day bookshelf. Its angled walls and unconventional composition prompt the consumer to think, “That’s not a bookshelf!” But upon that realization, they then wonder, “Wait, what is a bookshelf?” Radical designs such as Sottsass’s bookshelf appear to be another iteration of an elitist forcing a specific prescribed taste to an audience, but what it really does is stimulate conversation and idea between the designer and the people for whom they are designing. It challenges the audience to redefine a social norm and therefore redefine how to interact with the object. The Aeron chair example from earlier communicates this notion precisely—its supposedly “alien” form allowed consumers to redefine their idea of a chair’s form, and as a result, understand the design and designer better.  Ideas and insight behind products that initially seem elitist end up becoming catalysts that advance the world of good design.

There is no denying that elitism exists, and will always exist—especially in design. That is not to say, however, that it is the sole dictation of what defines good design. Good design is inherently good through its progressive ideas and communication with the populace. With exhibitions such as Good Design as well as catalytic designs that stimulate the minds of the consumer, evolution within design becomes infinite, and we are able to reach closer and closer to the holy grail of “good design”. According to Paola Antonelli, the Senior Curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA, “Sometimes objects are not immediately functional. They’re not to be sat upon, or to be used to eat, or to be used to turn on the volume. Sometimes objects just deliver emotions or are just part of your life. That’s also enough.” [6]


[1] Jeffrey Meikle, Design in the USA.

[2] Peter Hall, A Good Argument, p. 75.

[3] Malcom Gladwell, Blink.

[4] Jeffrey Meikle, Design in the USA, p. 148.

[5] Terrence Riley and Edward Eigen, Between the Museum and the Marketplace: Selling Good Design, p. 152.

[6] Paola Antonelli, What makes good design?, http://bigthink.com/ideas/2732 (video).


Works Cited

Antonelli, Paola. “What makes good design?” February 19, 2008. Big Think. http://bigthink.com/ideas/2732.

Gladwell, Malcom. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2005.

Hall, Peter. “A Good Argument.” Metropolis, March 2009, 73-75.

Meikle, Jeffrey L. Design in the USA. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Riley, Terence, and Edward Eigen. Between the Museum and the Marketplace: Selling Good Design. New York, 1994.


“The Cultural Spread of Design”

Posted: April 22nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: spring 2011 | No Comments »

At the turn of the 20th century, Glasgow was called the second city of the British Empire for its size and influence. Its location on the River Clyde made it an ideal port, and significant cross-fertilization occurred as a result. The end of Japan’s isolationism allowed their influence to reach Britain, and designers like Charles Rennie Mackintosh embraced Japanese aesthetics. The style eventually became widespread, but initially went against the then-popular idea that quality of workmanship could be measured through level of ornament. Designers like Mackintosh combined incoming Japanese influences with their own sensibilities, seeking beauty of form through simplicity and geometry. Japonism, or Japan’s influence on Western art, was predominant during this time, and countless designers became enamored with the Japanese use of clean lines and simplistic elegance. A look into Japanese-inspired furniture design around this period offers great insight at the style’s pervasiveness.

Mackintosh, Charles Rennie. Willow Chair. 1904. In Modernism in Art, Design and Architecture, by Christopher Crouch. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

In 1904, Catherine Cranston, more commonly known as Miss Cranston, commissioned Charles Rennie Mackintosh to design in full her “Willow Tea Rooms.” Located in Glasgow, the business was intended to be a hub for socialization that was affordable yet refined, and was touted as an establishment for “ladies and gentlemen.” Tearooms were beginning to appear at the same time as Cranston’s, but many others were costly. The combined atmosphere and accessibility of Cranston’s made hers the most successful.

Because he was situated in the port city of Glasgow, Mackintosh held a multi-cultural perspective. Mackintosh was an avid collector of Japanese wood block prints, and held an interest in the country’s culture. When devising the Tea Rooms, Mackintosh applied principles of Japanese design. These applications can be observed especially well in the “Willow chair” he designed for the Tea Rooms. While the chair isn’t without visual complexity, Mackintosh avoided the carved ornamentation that was popular with the Arts and Crafts movement at the time. He instead employed simple formal elements as building blocks for a more intricate design. The pattern on the chair’s back represents a willow tree, referencing the name of the Tea Rooms. Mackintosh made use of linearity and basic geometric shapes to imply the form, boiling down his idea to simplest terms instead of depicting it literally. The result of this was an economical yet elegant design.

19th century single-panel screen. Koizumi, Kazuko. In Traditional Japanese Furniture . Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1986. Google Books.

As Kazuko Koizumi states in Traditional Japanese Furniture, the aesthetics of Japanese furniture are simple in nature and echo “the rectilinear, exposed post-and-beam structural joinery of Japanese architecture.” These elements are clearly manifested in a late 19th century single-panel screen that appears in Koizumi’s book. While the designer of the screen is unknown, it is a fair representation of the traditional Japanese furniture style. The piece implements straight lines with little deviation from its rigid linearity. As in Mackintosh’s Willow Chair, motif is created through line rather than explicit ornamentation. This is seen in the latticework typical of much Japanese furniture design.

Another common thread in both Mackintosh’s work and this one is attention to finish. Surface treatment is a defining aspect of Japanese furniture design. The ebonized wood of Mackintosh’s chair and the staining of the Japanese screen each increase their elegance without over-embellishment. And though this specific screen was not, it was common to ebonize, or stain wood to be black like ebony, in traditional Japanese furniture design.

Edward W. Godwin Anglo-Japanese Sideboard. Ehlrich, Doreen. In Frank Lloyd Wright: Interior Style & Design. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press Book Publishers, 2003. Accessed February 23, 2011. Google Books.

English architect-designer Edward William Godwin gained prominence before Mackintosh designed the Willow chair, but parallels can easily be drawn between the two. Though he was never able to travel to Japan, Godwin experienced a similar influx of influences as Mackintosh did as Japanese isolationism ended. Godwin was also an avid collector of woodblock prints and other Japanese artifacts starting from the mid 19th century, and he stated that many of his designs were “more or less founded on Japanese principles.” He, too, strived for economy in design. He initially produced furniture for his own use, desiring it to be simple and functional rather than ornate.

Godwin’s most famous piece is likely the Anglo-Japanese sideboard. It has been reproduced many times since its initial in 1867. The piece of furniture is comprised of rectilinear forms and straight lines. Its simplified latticework is much like that of Japanese screens, such as in the aforementioned single-panel screen. Like Mackintosh, Godwin ebonized the piece in emulation of Japanese surface finishes.

Frank Lloyd Wright. Bookshelf. Ehlrich, Doreen. In Frank Lloyd Wright: Interior Style & Design. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press Book Publishers, 2003. Accessed February 23, 2011. Google Books.

Frank Lloyd Wright was another figure affected by Japonism in the early 20th century. Wright visited Japan in 1905, and his early furniture design is reflective of how the country’s aesthetics affected his sensibilities. Wright’s oak-paneled bookshelf was included in the G. C. Stockman house, built in 1908, and took inspiration from Japanese design in several aspects. It utilized “harmonious proportions” and excluded “carved ornamentation.” It was also comprised almost entirely of rectilinear forms. His use of line is especially reminiscent of traditional Japanese screens and panels. And although the bookshelf’s stain is not distinctly Japanese, his treatment of the surface of the piece embellishes it in spite of its relative simplicity.  Some of Wright’s other early furniture, such as a china cabinet, was built into the original plan or structure of the G. C. Stockman house. This built-in approach to furniture was common in Japanese homes and directly emulated by Wright.

Frank Lloyd Wright. Dinner Cabinet. Ehlrich, Doreen. In Frank Lloyd Wright: Interior Style & Design. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press Book Publishers, 2003. Accessed February 23, 2011. Google Books.

In Frank Lloyd Wright: Interior Style & Design, author Doreen Ehlrich states that Wright was a collector of Japanesewoodblock prints, and that he “had studied the refined proportions and use of natural materials in representations of houses” from the prints even before visiting Japan in person. It is also likely that Wright was drawn to Japanese aesthetics because their ideals so closely aligned with his own preferences. Wright favored elegant geometric designs without ornament, referring to his own ideal as “distinguished simplicity.” This philosophy, too, closely relates to the formal qualities of Mackintosh’s Willow chair, and Wright is widely considered to be a contemporary of Mackintosh by scholars.

The opening of communications in the late 19th to early 20th centuries between the world and Japan sparked an entire wave of design that became extremely pervasive. The exchange between the world and the previously isolated country challenged previous notions of quality design. Designers digested unfamiliar art and artifacts, and many took inspiration from them. The fresh cultural perspective dictated their resulting work, sometimes throughout their lifetime. By examining this highly specific cross-section of design influence during a narrow span of time, we can gain interesting insight into the way in which design thought is transmitted and exchanged globally.


Works Cited

Buchanan, William. Mackintosh’s Masterwork: the Glasgow School of Art.
Piscataway, NY: Rutgers University Press, 2004. Accessed February 23, 2011.
Google Books.

Crawford, Alan. Charles Rennie Mackintosh. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1995.
Ehlrich, Doreen. Frank Lloyd Wright: Interior Style & Design. Philadelphia, PA:
Running Press Book Publishers, 2003. Accessed February 23, 2011. Google
Books.

Koizumi, Kazuko. Traditional Japanese Furniture. Tokyo: Kodansha International,
1986. Google Books.

Soros, Susan Weber. E. W. Godwin: Aesthetic Movement Architect and Designer.
New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1999. Accessed February 23,
2011. Google Books.


Posted: January 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: spring 2011 | No Comments »

Welcome to Design History Lab 2011!

Please mark all of your posts as spring 2011.

You’re all going to be moms on the net.