Ray and I got into a lively discussion tonight about the accessibility of design. We talked about the philosophy behind the Bauhaus. Was it elite? Was it socialist? For those disinclined to dig for ‘what the heck Bauhaus was about’, my take (and anyone is invited to disagree with me here) is that there was an overarching concept of universality in reaction to the industrial revolution that sought a return to more purity and simplicity, as well as things that were hand-crafted. However, at the time, I believe that the aesthetic as geared to a “trained” eye — someone who valued the “no frills” philosophy of the deutscher werkbund which created entire homes in this image — from walls to furniture. As altruistic as it was, it still offered something so different from the aesthetic of the time that I can imagine that it may have been seen as aseptic to the “common man”. I should mitigate my comment by saying that, clearly, it was a movement with legs as it has informed the enduring modernist movement, an aesthetic which I greatly admire.
I do feel more comfortable, though, in the presence of objects that have more humanistic intent. I said to Ray that I thought Phillipe Starke gave usable things personalities and stories. I like that concept and thought it was compelling. Ray aptly pointed out that, try as he might to make his chatckas affordable, Phillipe Starke has been forced to worship at the alter of profit, just like everyone else. His creations are relegated to being described — and priced— as exclusive. Industrial designer Yves Behar of fuseproject believes in this storytelling and takes it further.His $100 laptop has gone further to make design more accessible. But then there’s the problem of giving laptops to kids who just need three squares or even a daily allotment of clean water.
So, does design need to be affordable to be accessible? Does making it affordable make it truly accessible? Is it only for the rich or the highly educated? Can altruism hide its products from profiteers? I think it all warrants some thought.
Casey Hrynkow, Partner
Herrainco Brand Strategy + Design Inc.