“As long as it is sells” is the usual slogan about success of commercials. It does not matter if it is good or bad taste. Many of us would argue in such a way. But some of these commercials you remember and survive for a long time.
One of those is the British TV-commercial for a cigar called Hamlet. It went on for 30 years with 93 TV commercials. I do not know how successful it was in terms of selling cigars but it was very popular. The brilliant idea was to present scenes in which a man, having failed dismally at something, is consoled by lighting a Hamlet cigar. Much of the humor come from the fact that the product being advertised is deliberately unclear until the telltale cigar appears, accompanied by the tune of Bach´s Air on the G string, played by French musician Jaques Loussier and the line ”Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet”.
It was and still is fun and very British in every detail. (Being a Swede I tend to love British humor). Watching them now long time after they where on the screen, makes me believe that commercials have an important cultural value. They are documents of their time, telling a lot about the society in which they where part of. Perhaps that’s why we tend to like to watch them, even the contemporary ones. As commercials are very short, they are of course suitable for slapstick.
In Sweden we have had a very popular TV-commercial for ICA (a Swedish food chain) that has been going on forever it seems. They have become our pets or pillow that we can hug. One of the main actors cannot work as a free actor anymore because he is now synonymous with his commercial role. He is ICA Stig, no more no less.
The Hamlet and ICA films have some aspects in common. A commercial has an obvious purpose. The agreement is clear with the viewer as the film begins. “Ok I am here to sell you this product.” But when you do not get the product message immediately or if it is playing a minor role the message is then something else. This else is what professionals call brand marketing, selling brand values and not so much the products in itself. But I wonder if commercials sometimes becomes to good for the company. It starts to live its own life and could fit any type of brand. You do not care, as long the content is as good as the one before.
Why am I doing this comparison? One thing that crossed my mind is that Swedish and British people perhaps have similar humor. But mostly it is because TV commercials to some extent are culture. Especially when they continue for a long period of time and have qualities that go beyond the regular ones. You enjoy watching them. And who is the winner-those behind it or those in front of it?
To end with a quote;
I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book. ~Groucho Marx
Or as Zygmunt Bauman’s put it; we now live in liquid modernity, which means that the individual are more and more involved in planning their lives and careers in short, time projects and episodes.
There is no solid forms or institutions that we can rely on. It’s no time for it. This means that the individual must act, plan actions and calculate the likely gains and losses of acting under conditions of endemic uncertainty. In that context design and art I would say comes into a situation that is completely different than before. One major implication is that Design has become more about exploring our dreams of solidness. I would give you one example. The kitchen machine and the trend of doing your own bread. In Sweden it has become a tremendous trend with buying or doing your own levain bread. For those of you who do not know levain is a French leaven and gives you fantastic great bread. The process of making it is not easy and a leaven is like a baby that you feed in your refrigerator. How come this explosion of leaven? Some would say it has to do with that we are more into back to nature and interest of having real stuff instead of preservative food. Others would argue it has to do with that we have more money to spend on it. I will argue that it has to do with a kind of substitute of the liquid life most of us live in, and that this trend represents a longing for living a solid life. There are Kitchen bakery machines on the market that more or less look the same since it was launched many years ago. And they still win the contests! For example this piece from Ankarsrum in Sweden http://assistent.nu/en/default.aspx
It was originally designed back in 1940. My mother had one but in those days it was Electrolux who made them. If you now buy one you can use the same parts as to a machine that was produced 70 years ago! But coming back to the user in 1940 compared to the user today you will have a long-distance call to make. In those days the machine represented the future, a tool for modernity and was a real help for the mothers back then. But the machines are used today to make the same things. But today you buy it not because it helps you to survive the modern life. Instead you buy it because you are not happy what modernity has produced. It has become a key for finding back to what it was all about – what a good bread could actually taste and also a longing for understanding and controlling the chain of life. Its connects you to nature and the understanding what you actually are eating.
When the Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt handed over the government’s farewell gift to Mona Sahlin in Parliament, few may have reflected over the fact that when he revealed that it was an Ipod with Mahatma Gandhi’s audio book thoughtfully uploaded onto it, he was helping to advertise a company’s product.
It probably didn’t occur to Reinfeldt either. Most of us perceived it as a gift of the times. In some cases, one may feel downright discriminated against if one happens not to be one of those not in possession of an Iphone. For example, when you ring Taxi Stockholm you are told that you may make your booking via your Iphone app. How is it that a single product can become a type of Trojan horse in our consciousness and daily lives? Could this be attributed merely to technically outclassing your competitors? Hardly. Attempts to explain this phenomenal success are many and have resulted in numerous books and theses on, above all, the founder Steve Jobs. Now, when Jobs’ personal health crisis is the focus of media attention, the question is once again on everyone’s lips. In other words, how is it that without blinking an eyelid, we can talk about concepts when in fact they are products. In his famous Commencement Address as Honorary Professor at Harvard in 2005, widely available for viewing on the internet, he said the following;
”If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on that calligraphy class and personals computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do… I learned about serif and sans-serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts, and since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.” Watch the video here.
The roots of Jobs’ project date back to European industrial history, more specifically, the German painter Peter Behrens’ comprehensive work for German AEG at the beginning of last century. Behrens is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of modern industrial design and corporate design. His office drew everything for AEG: fonts, marketing materials, products, exhibitions, buildings and personnel housing. Behrens’ assistants were not just any ordinary mortals. Among them were Mies van der Rohe, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier) and Walter Gropius (founder of the Bauhaus movement). Behrens himself remained in Germany while many of the others fled to the U.S. (Gropius, for example, became a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design).
Seventy years later, Jobs, in a similar way, unites artistic flair and training with industrial production. In other words, it isn’t just the Ipod, Iphone, Ipad or their apps that may not have existed if he hadn’t attended that calligraphy course. Neither Facebook nor Twitter might have come to dominate social networking to the extent that they do now. Sahlin might instead have been given a printed book. It is said that a picture can say more than a thousand words and, indeed, the longing for the consummate, perfect style seems, above all else, to be able to inhabit the imagination and consciousness of a whole world, or to quote the Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature, Joseph Brodsky:
”The purpose of evolution, believe it or not, is beauty. For it is beauty that survives it all and generates truth simply by a fusion of the mental and the sensual”. (1995)
In the end however, it should not be forgotten that without those original, essentially European visions, Apple itself might very well not have come into being.
-How has the role of the designer changed over the last couple of years?
In times of disruptive consumption the designer’s responsibility has been heavily questioned. Being a designer today you need to understand and take responsibility for the whole process. The need for understanding the whole value chain has affected the role in that sense that you on the one hand must be like a Swiss army knife and be able to get into areas that you did not had a clue of before. In that sense the role has shifted towards more like a project-manager in which you need to be able to work with many different competences. It is not enough to only focus on the product. In that sense the role has become more pro-active than re-active. Instead of asking what the design world can do for you the designer is today asking what they can do for the world as whole. On the other hand as we live in a society in which everyone more or less is branding him or herself, branding the designer is more difficult today than it was ten years ago. In the world of individual brands anyone can be a designer. It’s just a matter of time when we will see the next blog/Facebook-furniture designer that will come from the blog/Facebook-world. The reason is because companies value those who have built up a customer relationship and are aware of what the customers wants. This means that the role of the ivory-tower designer is gone. You need to be connected and to find the right interpreters of the future.
-Our world is multifaceted and problems are getting more and more complex – how can hybrid thinking and an open-minded holistic mindset take design into a new dimension?
By facilitating it in the right way to occur. For example, put the designer in teams that involves competences that they usually not work with in the working process. When did you involve a biologist last time you where up to design a new chair? To get started use the design thinking process as a tool for everyone involved. Empathy-prototyping-abductive logic is key words in the process. Risk and Fail is necessary ingredients to create a success and do not forget the analytical dimension. Make use of ethnographic methods to get as close to another person’s situation as possible. In the end you will probably end up with a design that is more relevant to the needs of your customer and not only a new product that reminds you of the last furniture fair you went to.
-How can we better use storytelling as tool when changing the predominated notion of ’objects’ into more memorable and sensuous experiences?
Storytelling as tool is used more and more, especially in marketing. Just take a look at the commercials on TV – The popular notion of creating characters and intrigues that you can follow. The best ones is when you do not realize that you look upon it not as an ad. You have empathy for the characters and do not take notice of the products. Bingo! Storytelling is what it is; Stories. And there are good ones and there are bad ones. It’s like when you go to a wedding or a 50-year anniversary party. Some speaches are terrible, others are brilliant. But you can learn. Some companies teach their staff to become storytellers. But the best storytellers are of course the customers. When that happens, you will probably hear some kind of a memorable and sensuous experience that they had. The trick is That experience must be good. Otherwise you have problems. The most well known storytelling book ever written is of course the bible. And how has these stories been kept alive during all the years? Better example of telling stories about memorable and sensuous experience is hard to find. So you need a certain place or forum to talk about them. Not necessary a church. I believe Facebook is better though it has no atmosphere.
Finally, companies tend to objectify experiences. Probably because they see it as a product. If that so, one way to improve the use of storytelling as tool is to translate the experience into the story. Use it as a metaphor.
-How can we design with a more humanistic perspective and thus contribute to cultural and social changes?
Involve designers and make use of design methods within your company to explore and develop whole value chain, from the coffee bean to the espresso cup.
Develop your methods how design can improve customer needs. Design needs to be more connected and contextualized to the overall societal and cultural changes that is now happeninge. Companies need to understand this process in order to know how to deal with design within their company. Days are gone when you could say design is a competetive advantage. Today its just a ticket to the game. So the challange is to get to know what is to come. Unfortunately the trendspotting trend that is exploding at the moment is not the solution. Its more like a quick fix. You do not create competetive advantage by runing in the same direction as the rest of the gang. To become a leader you need to take risks. Trendanalysts is the safe ride.
Educate management teams the importance of having a design strategy that is solid and will survive future generations of potential customers.
-How can you be part of shaping the future?
As a rector/president of a art and design school my role is of course to built a platform that meets the challenges for the future society in our fields of interest. How we as a school connects to the society , how we develop our curriculum and research. I will also take the opportunity to say that we need to be much more aware of than we are today, especially when you take notice of what is happening in Europe today in terms of economic cuts within education, that education and research is the most important tool to built a humanistic society with competitive advantages.
Konstfack’s education rests on an artistic foundation. We are also founded on a tradition of handicrafts, which has contributed to forming the artistic foundation for our education. For a long time, the school was what we call a craft school – crafts made by hand.
When we say someone is practical, we mean that this is a person who can solve a problem that needs knowledge of materials and techniques, and which rests in their hands. Practical knowledge most often leads to something useful. This is how we usually define a craftsman, someone who skilfully makes something useful with their hands. There is no equals sign between being artistic and being practically inclined. On the other hand, there is no obstacle to being artistic even if you are practical.
Handicrafts is connected to traditions, knowledge learned through practice and learned from people who are already skilled. It’s difficult to learn handicrafts theoretically. Practice is necessary, and you also make mistakes before you succeed. There are few shortcuts through this process. To be a practical craftsman, you have to keep at it a lot and for a long time.
Knowledge of handicrafts can be both a strength but also sometimes an obstacle, when it comes to the artistic. The courage to take the step from handicrafts to artistic expression is not always easy to come by. Perhaps you get stuck in your knowledge and find it difficult to accept a certain looseness, deformities, doubtfulness in processing materials, and the fact that usefulness disappears. Being a skilful concept artist does not require being a skilful craftsman. If handicrafts are needed, you just turn to someone with the knowledge.
But your own proficiency in handicrafts can have a profound effect on artistic expression. Some people argue it is decisive – that the work of your own hands exercises power over your artistic expression. Others say this is not necessarily so. One possible consequence of not managing to make certain items yourself is that the threshold for doing it gets higher, since you must turn to someone else to do it for you.
If handicrafts are closely associated with tradition and workmanship learned through practice, the question arises: When do new handicrafts arise, and are there handicrafts that are not directly connected to the traditions we usually regard as handicrafts? What I’m after is the very essence of what handicrafts are. Is a computer programmer an example of a new craftsman? Some of us would certainly say yes. Computer programmers create their handicrafts virtually, not physically in three dimensions. And now, when we can watch 3DTV, are we not in the three-dimensional world? Yes, partially, but it’s nothing we can touch, nothing permanent,
We don’t perhaps care as much about making that division these days. Just because it’s a big difference to me doesn’t mean it’s the same for a fifteen-year-old.
An important quality of craftsmen is that they know something that no one can take from them. They possess knowledge found within them, and even if they don’t practice it for a long time, their knowledge can be re-awakened. It is knowledge that is hard to copy. Handicrafts focus on the doing. It is in the practical item itself that the knowledge process finds expression. Regardless of whether it’s a technique discovered in the 1980s or the 1280s.
In a time when society is increasingly liquid in relation to time, space, institutions, and our strategies in life, as the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman describes our time, our students are also becoming increasingly liquid . This is nothing we’ve made up; rather it’s a reflection of social development. Today, more than ever, we talk about interdisciplinarity and its significance for the development of our field. But what consequences does it have for handicrafts? Does it mean that our future artists, designers, and craftsmen will be less manually skilled?
Yes, perhaps such a development will in fact arise. But there can also be development in the opposite direction, which has more to do with what Bauman outlines in his book. Liquid society can give rise to a counter-reaction, which we can partly see happening in today’s society.
Training to be a craftsman is more popular than ever. People are leaving their IT careers to be Upholsterer. This can be seen as a reaction to living in a society that is increasingly volatile and stressed, and where you have to be flexible to keep up.
It’s becoming more and more difficult to find continuity in our existence, because society favours those who don’t have that desire. At the same time, a desire for authenticity is washing over us. But when we go shopping, a changed situation arises. It’s not enough to buy a product that radiates a feeling of authenticity. The patterns of our lives are broken through changing our existence. This is where I think handicrafts come in.
Handicrafts are something you have within you. It connects your hands with your brain. You make something you can see the results of, and which few can emulate. It’s closely connected to the three factors that are important for shaping a meaningful existence, which Malcolm Gladwell takes up in his book on the success factor. Independence, complexity, and reward are the three elements work should have if it is to be perceived as meaningful.
Handicrafts are rewarding because you can clearly see the result of what you’re doing. It’s often independent since the craftsman possesses a knowledge that others don’t have. It is complex since every job has its own unique challenges. None of them are like any of the others. But above all, it gives satisfaction because you’re doing something with your hands; you’re making use of the knowledge your hands possess.
Long live handicrafts
Handicrafts and practice are not necessarily the same thing. Our students in the Teachers’ programme are out practising, in much the same way as our students in the Graphic Design & Illustration degree programme. We sometimes call the artistic process artistic practice. Practice can include the need for proficiency in handicrafts. If you can’t do it yourself, you turn to someone who can. Practice describes an act. You do something, which leads to something else, which in turn results in yet something else. What that something is can look entirely different, depending on the context you work in. Whether it’s a product, a residence, a film, a sculpture, an installation, or a performance has meaning for how you work, and which craftsmen you work with.
How can this best be connected with theoretical instruction? Should they be separated, or should we try to find a way where the theoretical and the practical can meet?
At Konstfack, we strive for integrating them into each other as much as possible. As I see it, practice is our starting point. How this practice looks differs, depending on what courses (programs) the student goes into. For us, it’s a question of finding the channel between theory and practice – between thought and hand, to refer back to the title of our yearbook published for the school’s 150th anniversary in 1994. It is not a question of making our courses more theoretical so that they encroach on practice, but rather how we can make ourselves more conscious of our own practical knowledge process, and how we can use it to achieve a deeper understanding and a higher artistic qualitiy in what we are doing.
Claude Lévi-Strauss, one of our foremost social thinkers, passed away last year. His departure made headlines all over the world.
I first came across his name 25 years ago when I studied social anthropology at Stockholm University. I was working on designing a new lamp collection at that time. The reason for this collection was that I needed a new lamp for my home but could not find anything to my liking. Some time before, I had started to sew, underwear of silk bought in India for example, and jackets made of a fabric my sister had printed. These printed fabrics inspired me to make lamps using all kinds of shaped wooden constructions and solutions, lamps which I then hung from strings in my living room. I ended up with some twenty different models in various sizes. My whole flat became one large lamp studio. The issue of what to do with these lamps evolved slowly. I had received positive feedback from my surroundings and this led to a search for a shop that might be willing to sell them. The first two shops to be tempted were: Studio Gasp on Tegnérgatan and Blå rummet on Sveavägen. Each lamp was unique as everyone was made from a fabric with a unique print. Fairly soon the lamps became popular. And then the whole thing was underway. First I produced everything myself, from the wooden construction, to sewing, and assembling the electrical elements. The design developed further and I started to use sheer white muslin to create transparency and better lighting. One of the designs was more popular than the others. I chose to call it Bricoleur (a Jack-of-all-trades) and this name came from Claude Lévi-Strauss’ book The Savage Mind. In the book the author describes how no fundamental differences exist between the thinking of primitive Stone Age people and the way we think today. We devote ourselves to a great extent to what he calls primary science; the activities of the ”bricoleur”. A ”bricoleur” uses what he/she finds in his/her surroundings – a never ending process of reconstructing available materials and impressions. The ”bricoleur” develops structures from previous events while science produces hypotheses and theories. If one were to take a closer look at the way many of us work today, one would in all probability find that the method of the ”bricoleur”, regardless of profession, presents itself readily. The artist is for Claude Lévi-Strauss simultaneously a researcher and a ”bricoleur”. He/she creates events by using structures and structures by using events. To return to my toil with the lamps, they evolved principally out of a kind of primitive science. I developed new structures from imprints and impressions that I had gathered from my surroundings. In this way Lévi-Strauss’s book came to be important for me, and I have often returned to this book. It put words to my own process of work and to how the lamps found their way out of my door. The design was to be manufactured and for sale for close to 20 years. The fact that this later gave rise to my dissertation about Sven Duchamp and the furniture company Pyra is a totally different story. Do read the Savage Mind. It might open a door for you too.
My daughter is 10 years old, and one of the things she and her friends like best is to play Sims. She shares this interest with many other computer users throughout the world. The new version of Sims, number 3, sold 1.4 million games just under the first week it hit the market.
A few weeks ago I was watching a commercial about a house builder on TV4 when I couldn’t help notice that the female role figure in the commercial both looked like and moved like a Sims figure. Was this just a coincidence?
For those of you that don’t know, in Sims you spend a lot of time building and creating home environments. I am guessing that this was not a coincidence. And why is that? The obvious answer is of course that children today are influential decision-makers when families are about to choose where they should live. The question is whether they have even become experts in interior design and housing due to Sims.
One can of course speculate as to how Sims will influence our future living conditions. Will it be like with the space rockets, where inspiration was picked up from the interiors in the film 2001 A Space Odyssey?
Perhaps it is that, in the future, we will educate the people who make these computer games so that we can influence the type of interior design we will have in the future? How much has the Sims influenced your home?
Every day we encounter an abundance of warnings that the ecological doomsday is nigh. Society’s vagueness in terms of its reactions and ability to take action at the prospect of this threat is even more worrying. Will we manage to save the world in time? Regardless of whether or not we do so, one has to ask whether we really want to. Surely the aim of life seems to be to make things as comfortable and convenient as possible!
Let me explain. Many people would assert that the origins of the ongoing climate change are to be found during the modern ‘project’ and the industrial era, of which we are still a part. One of the main principles of this project is to create better economic and social welfare for everyone in the world. Life is seen as something positive – something that gives us the opportunity to realise our dreams. Design and art are part of this journey of world change. Part of the remit of designers is to reduce sores and pains in the backside and to make things as comfortable and convenient as possible.
But these pains now seem to have assumed a new form – a fatter form, so to speak. One of our dreams is to live longer and improve our quality of life – including during old age. But this trend now seems to have been broken. It was recently ascertained that the generation now growing up in many parts of the world will not live as long as the previous generation. Whilst 800 million people are starving, 1.5 billion people are overweight – 300 million of them morbidly so. And 115 million of them live in developing countries.
The reasons for this are unhealthy eating habits and too little exercise. This has already had consequences in the world of design: as a result of this development the rides at the Disney World amusement park need rebuilding. Read more? Click here.
The new media age we are in the middle of is driving this development. Art and cultural consumption are increasingly fattening up our bodies. Gaping for an identity means that we unfortunately seem more interested in buying ourselves a sporty look than in doing exercise. You’ll soon probably be able to find corsets at Intersport. We will in all probability get fatter and unhealthier in a world that is heating up. So if we are now trying to look after our planet it seems we are forgetting to look after the people living on it – if one is of the opinion that people want to live a little longer, that is.
If we play with the thought that the earth will be habitable for a maximum of 1,000 more years, a shorter life span might mean that more generations could be fitted in. Surely that would be a good way of looking after future generations!
In the short term such a development means that more resources will be needed to take care of all the sick people – because unfortunately ill health and disease go together.
What has this development got to do with a college of art and design such as Konstfack? A lot, I would say. If we are doing our utmost to make our students reflect and learn to deal with environmental issues, we must at the same time also ask ourselves questions about the way we see ourselves. How can you influence an increasingly fat world, for example? Is it a good situation, or do we want to do something about it? Can one work on design that helps us become more aware of these issues and influences our behaviour? But of course!
How does one make culture proactive rather than just interactive? Is art debating these issues? How is it influencing the way we relate to each other? An important question in the context is connected with social class. What can we do to bridge the gap and help social classes who cannot afford to live healthily? If we at the same time have to become more aware of our external world, then why not take the opportunity of reviewing our state of our health.
And maybe an environmental approach will lead to an increasing awareness of ourselves. It goes without saying that environmental destruction and junk food go together. So to start with, how about finding out what junk design is. And instead of making the seats wider, make them narrower. Only then will people’s attention be drawn to the problems of our society.